As evening falls on National Poetry Day…

5 Oct
In the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air, Swindon Festival of Poetry In the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air

Since my last post I’ve had a swim, eaten breakfast, been to a workshop, missed lunch (my bad) and given a short reading as part of a marathon open mic session. But more (or less) about that later – I’m playing a game of catchup here!

First of all … the night was young and the (faux) stars were out in the Tent Palace as National Poetry Day at the Swindon Festival of Poetry continued yesterday.

Chaucer Cameron gave heartfelt introductions to three readers all with new publications: Stephen Payne, Louisa Campbell and Josephine Corcoran.

Stephen Payne told us a little about his background as a psychologist and academic cognitive scientist – it’s always interesting to find out what diverse world poets come from. He read from a sequences of poems he’s called ‘Euclid for Beginners’, in which seemingly simple geometric shapes (box, point, line, triangle for example) are explored (‘…a plane is a surface where deep stuff happens’).

I have a soft spot for the word ‘box’ – when I once drove through a village near Bath called ‘Box’ I was beside myself with joy – I want to live in Box! but I digress.

Another poem came from what Stephen told us was a scientifically proven fact: that overconfidence is something women suffer from more than men (really? Maybe I heard that wrong!) His poem on the subject certainly drew murmurs of recognition, in particular ‘… most poets leave their own readings with heavy bags’. He finished with a nice poem called ‘Misc.’ (‘hooray for the things that are labelled only for what they are not’.)

Louisa Campbell was for some time a Mental Health Nurse and her pamphlet The Ward (Paper Swans Press) deals with issues of how mental health is treated in hospital. She read movingly – poems exploring how it feels on both sides of the nurse-patient divide, often harrowing to hear.  Apparently the collection is being used in training situations. The power of poetry indeed.

Josephine Corcoran Josephine Corcoran

Josephine Corcoran‘s debut collection is What are you after? (Nine Arches 2018).

She began her reading with ‘Honeymoon’, telling us how she had a gap of ten years without writing any poetry, but when she did it was to write ‘Honeymoon’, a poem that was a runner-up in the Bridport Prize in 2010.  What are you after?, she explained, covered a wide range of subjects from telephones to Harry Potter. In ‘Exquisite Corpse’, a writing workshop exercise turns into an imagining of what it might be like to lose a loved one through war or a terror attack (‘Which one of us will lie for days unnoticed? Who will be blown into a million pieces?’) Josephine’s final poem was the excellent ‘Working Class Poem’, which was a good segue into the late session hosted by Peter Raynard of Proletarian Poetry

Peter Raynard and Hilda Sheehan Hilda gives Peter Raynard a hand

Peter told us he started Proletarian Poetry soon after he began writing poetry, as a way of publishing and thereby meeting other poets. As the name suggests, PP showcases what Peter broadly terms ‘poetry of working class lives’. Before each poem he writes a thoughtful and always interesting introduction.

Peter read some poems from his first full collection, Precarious (Smokestack 2018), a fine book I’ve talked about briefly on my own blog.  We heard tales from family history, hard truths about mental health, and coping with illness. Peter managed to deliver difficult subjects with directness and humour. The paired poems ‘Conversation with a son’ and ‘Conversation with a dad’ were particularly moving.

Richard Skinner Richard Skinner

Second up was fellow Smokestack-publishee Richard Skinner. The two have been touring the country doing readings together, and this was evident in the warmth and camaraderie between them.  Richard’s collection is The Malvern Aviator, and one of the first poems he read was a call-and-response piece called ‘Bardo for Pablo’. It was inspired, Richard told us, by Leonard Cohen’s narration of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (‘bardo’ being the state that Buddhists believe a person goes through between death and being reborn) – ‘How can we make our days simpler? Expect nothing.  Prepare for the others to follow. What should we aim for? People don’t change, they only stand more nakedly revealed.’

Richard’s subject matter is intriguingly wide-ranging. His final poem ‘The Strata Building’ was a meditation on the Syrian refugees homed temporarily in this landmark tower in London’s Elephant & Castle – ‘perhaps they’re ghosts – the hungry ghosts of people who never made it’ .

The evening carried on with a working class film quiz devised by Peter (which we all gamely had a go at, and which descended into ‘rock paper scissors’ – don’t ask) poems from a handful of poets who had contributed to Proletarian Poetry plus much interest in pool-playing women, salad and whether your class is defined by what you call your weekday evening meal… I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Which reminds me, it’s nearly time for my tea supper. Next update tomorrow morning. If you’re enjoying the blog please share and comment!

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