When your mother calls you smart she doesn’t mean it as a compliment

9 Oct

Mona Arshi was really pleased to be at Poetry Swindon Festival. ‘I wanted to come here for so long,’ she said, looking around at the Tent-Palace, ‘This is beautiful.’

She brought her husband and two daughters. The older of the two also looks smiley-faced but the younger lounges on a pouffe with her coat mostly covering her face. Mums are meant to be embarrassing but when your mother is a poet who dedicates her work to you, that’s another level, ‘When your mother calls you smart she doesn’t mean it as a compliment.’

Earlier in the Festival, Matthew Caley described a Tanka as a Haiku with obesity; Mona calls it a mini echo of a sonnet – this is her gentle style.

She ended her reading with a blessing and dedicated it to fellow poet, Mimi Khalvati.

By contrast Todd Swift from Eyewear publishing is a loud Canadian. He calls the day unexpectedly beautiful. His intros are funny which masks the somber tone of some of his poems – ‘Memory can be the only thing that achieves justice.’ and ‘Autumn makes sorrow taste good’ or ‘Lies hide around the corner coming true’.

One poem, Polish Builders in Hammersmith, seemed like the first line to a joke. Someone can’t help but laugh but I’ve learned to hold back on things like that. And, indeed, this wasn’t a funny – Todd is relating his Canadian fish-out-of-water affinity with the sometimes maligned Europeans.

A few minutes from the end, some of the audience left to resume their masterclass with Daljit Nagra. Todd wryly commented they have cost him a few hundred pounds in therapy. I stuck my hand up to say I stayed, as a humourous reactionary solidarity, and he thanked me. He asked if Daljit will be teaching how important it is to keep on the good side of publishers and editors. We laugh. This is a difficult one for the  British – help! Do we upset the person in front of us or the person waiting? Which group do we stay with?

Todd said, ‘most of you have been a wonderful audience’.

He finished with It’s a shit show, and Mona’s embarrassed daughter sat up, came out of her coat and smiled.

Mona Arshi and Todd Swift read at the Poetry Swindon Festival, 9 October 2016 at the Richard Jefferies Museum Tent-Palace of the Delicious Air.

Chronicle by Louisa Davison

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