Sunday, 28 September 2014

Bristol Poetry Festival 2014

So that was Bristol Poetry Festival 2014 and one of the very best I've been to so far.  It seems invidious to highlight a few moments out of so many, though in any treasury, there will always be random sparkles that catch your eye.



The Bristol Poetry Slam jam-packed. My strawberries were three relative newcomers.  Melanie Branton - a star is born!  A bit more experience and first prize will be hers for the taking.  I also hope to see more of Abi Newman and Hannah Teasdale in particular in future.  
(Above is a photo of Melanie I pinched from Poetry Slam's Facebook page.)

SIX! featured six poets with connections to the South-West: Dikra Ridha, Kate Firth, Victoria Field, Lucy Lepchani, Shagufta Iqbal and Alyson Hallett.  I knew beforehand, either from reading their work or by reputation, that each was a fine poet with her own distinctive voice; what I wasn't prepared for was the way the poems themselves interacted with each other, sharing themes, images and experiences despite a world of difference in the personal histories of each poet.  From a  moonlit walk around a quaintly named quarry to the unbearable tension of a horse race upon which a family's grocery budget for the week is riding to a discourse on Clark's shoes, I was hooked.  An especial mention here for Dikra, who wrote so simply and movingly about her family and their life in Baghdad during wartime.  The epitome of grace under (for me) unimaginable pressure.  

I was reminded of Dikra's work while listening to Mir Mahfuz Ali read his poems alongside Fleur Adcock, Robert Minhinnick and Vidyan Rabinthiran.  'Midnight, Dhaka' chronicles his experiences growing up in Bangladesh in the 1970s, from cyclone to civil war.  Much of what he describes is horrifying and yet the poems' evocative detail - indeed, their very existence and the voice in which they are read - is a celebration of human resilience and renewal.  

A very different struggle at the Tobacco Factory a week later:  Bite-Sized by Fiona Hamilton is the story, told in poetry and dance, of a mother whose daughter is hospitalised with anorexia, which was by turns harrowing, enlightening and amusing.  It was billed as 'in progress' so it will be interesting to see where Fiona takes it next.

As usual there was also a beautifully stitched and decidedly luxuriant fringe of events.  Highlights for me were the Spoke on Spike with Bob Walton, Lizzie Parker, Paul Deaton and Poetry Slam's Claire Williamson, Can Openers with one of my favourite local poets, Lloyd Fletcher, as guest, and the last ever Acoustic Night at Halo Cafe Bar, guest starring Matt Harvey and the wonderful Lou Bell.  This was a bit of a gutter, as Acoustic Night has long provided a warm welcome and empathetic ear to new poets stepping up to the mic, myself included. But as Dru Marland said, it was a fine swan song if swans have to sing. 

Then there were events with which I was involved: the IsamBards' guided poetry walks on the Suspension Bridge which were more or less fully booked in advance and exposed people who might otherwise have missed it to some fairly light-hearted poetry and the Festival itself; and my own book launch for Map Reading for Beginners, which again was well attended and had people saying nice things.  Thank you so very much if you came along, and if you didn't make it, here's a link to my special guest, Lou Bell's Soundcloud, so you can pretend you did.    

Finally, there was Claire Trévien's show, The Shipwrecked House, at the Cube last night which looked and sounded gorgeous and tasted quite definitely of salt, as a result of which I've ordered her collection of poems upon which the show was based to read at my leisure.

I have to wonder whether any of the people from Bristol City Council who decided to stop funding Poetry Can  back in the summer attended any of the above events to see for themselves the triumph that is Bristol Poetry Festival year after year, and how mistaken their decision is.  My guess is no.  Meanwhile new initiatives will be launched over the coming weeks to inform poetry lovers everywhere of how they can support Poetry Can so that the festivals, and all the other invaluable work in the fields of education and lifelong learning, can continue.  Please look out for them on the relevant Facebook pages here and here, and on the Poetry Can website.

Oh and finally finally, I'm reading more - and different - poems from Map Reading For Beginers at  Can Openers this Friday 3rd October, 12.30pm onwards, at Foyles, Bristol.  Hope to see you there.  




Sunday, 21 September 2014

The IsamBards: Poetry Walks on Clifton Suspension Bridge

It's 150 years since the Clifton Suspension Bridge was opened and to help mark the anniversary, the Isambards - Pameli Benham, Stewart Carswell, David Johnson and I - were approached to participate in some guided walks, thus turning them into poetry walks.  


Being Bristolian, I'd never seen the need to go on an official tour of the bridge, but our guide, Laura Hilton, was informative and interesting, I learnt stuff and it was good to give our bridge-related poems, some of which had been written especially for the occasion, an airing in the spot which inspired them.  

Here's a link to one I read, a poem about Sarah Ann Henley, who was jilted by her lover and who jumped from the Clifton Suspension Bridge on 8th May 1885, only for her dress and petticoats to fill with air, parachuting her onto the muddy river bank. She died 63 years later, a reluctant celebrity.
Another woman associated with the bridge is Ann Wood-Kelly, an American aviator who flew with the British Air Transport Auxiliary in the second world war.  There's some dispute as to whether - as her Guardian obituary has it -  she twice flew under the Suspension bridge, but let's pretend for the sake of this fabulous picture (and the poem that accompanies it) by IsamBard artist, Dru Marland, that she did.
An updated pamphlet of IsamBard poetry, including all the new poems, is available to buy for £5 in the Visitor Centre of the Suspension Bridge. 


Friday, 19 September 2014

Juno And The Paycock, Bristol Old Vic

Plays don't come much more seminal than Seán O'Casey's 'Juno and the Paycock', a production of which is currently playing at Bristol Old Vic and an absolute must-see. Here's a review I wrote of it for the local rag.  




Juno And The Paycock, Bristol Old Vic

This production, put on jointly by the Old Vic and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, of Seán O'Casey's seminal 1924 play 'Juno and the Paycock', feels very timely.  Set in the tenements of Dublin during the Irish Civil War period of the early 1920s, the story of a family moving from hardship to destitution and disintegration plays out against a backdrop of unemployment, religion, working class impoverishment and a country struggling to assert its independence of British control.

At the start of the play, the Boyle family are living at subsistence level in their bare rooms.  The head of the family, 'Captain' Jack, a malingerer and the 'Paycock' of the title, spends much of his time drinking and telling tall tales about his sea-faring days, while his long-suffering wife, Juno, works hard to hold the family together.  Hope of betterment comes in the from of a bequest in a cousin's will and in anticipation of wealth, the couple splash out on new furniture, while their daughter is poised to marry the solicitor who brings the good news.  Only their son, who had been physically and psychologically maimed in the Easter Rising and is now in hiding, remains impervious to the atmosphere of optimism that pervades the family. 

Of course, what goes up must come down and as the inheritance proves illusory, daughter Mary falls from grace and is violently rejected by her father, and civil war engulfs the family, all that is left is the cold comfort of religious dogma and Juno, disabused of her illusions regarding her husband's nature, bereft at the killing of her son, but still fighting for her daughter's well-being.  

Despite its comic moments, this is pure tragedy, an eloquent depiction of the fragility of hope and how easily you can begin with nothing and end up with even less.  Niamh Cusak in the role of Juno is riveting, seemingly inhabiting the role rather than acting it, and whilst I felt that Des McAleer as the Paycock lacked the necessary veneer of charisma, the supporting cast members - in particular, Maureen O'Connell as the ill-fated daughter Mary and Donal Gallery as her brother Johnny - were excellent.  Very highly recommended.  





Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Poem For Scotland



The old stories are often the best and by the best I mean the scariest. One of the most terrifying creatures of Celtic folklore is the Kelpie or Water Horse.  It comes trotting up to you, all My Little Pony, tossing its long mane and floppy forelock – however! Should you be so foolish as to mount it, its eyes flame, you find you are stuck to its back with no escape, and it leaps into the nearest stretch of water where it will eat you.

This is a true story told to me by a friend who lived for a time on Skye. 


Cailpeach

The horse is white, not grey. Not
a runaway from a field. Nobody here or hereabouts
owns a white horse.

What’s more, your dog, the Kerry Blue,
is doing what dogs do when they chance
on the uncanny,

standing motionless and staring
at the shore where Saint Columba
made his landing.

This horse is whiter than any dove,
so bright it stings your eyes
like salt,

sears itself into your mind,
drags your hesitant feet
towards the brooding Sound,

as it surges over shingle, rocky skerries,
vanishing behind sheer cliffs,
reappearing.

When you reach the tideline
the beast will be gone.
You’ll see no hoof prints in the sand

and you’ll question the memory of a horse,
dreamt from spindrift,
beating its ancient bounds,

even as your dog 
explores and sniffs, barks for you
to throw her sticks.


© Deborah Harvey 2014 


This poem is from my new collection, Map Reading for Beginners, which is published tomorrow by Indigo Dreams and available from them, Amazon if you must, and all good independent bookshops ... or from me personally at the launch in Bristol on 26th September. It would be good to see you there!


Friday, 12 September 2014

IsamBards on Radio Bristol - again!


My fellow IsamBard Pameli Benham and I will be on Phil Hammond's show on Radio Bristol tomorrow to publicise our forthcoming poetry walks over Clifton Suspension Bridge from 11am to 12pm and 2.30 to 3.30pm on Saturday 21st September.  

So if the thought of that Saturday morning trip to Cribbs lacks appeal, stay in and listen to us instead.  

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Poems, Pints and a Harvest Moon

The  full Super Harvest moon in Pisces looked stunning over Bath last night.  This is Dru's photo of it.  I'd left my camera at home as I'd been  focused on getting to my poetry reading at Poetry & A Pint in St James's Wine Vaults without forgetting the folder of poems that I was reading from.  (I have actually done that before now and had to wing it, which I don't recommend unless you're a poet of a rather more performery persuasion who doesn't need written prompts anyway.)

No such basic errors last night, which was as well as I was reading alongside Rachael Clyne, who has acted professionally and Knows. Her. Stuff.  She a pretty good poet too, so I was very pleased to be on the same bill.  
Our poems do seem to converse quite well, so we hope to do some more readings together over the coming months.  

Here's another of Dru's photos of our latest collections together on NB Eve, now moored above Caen Hill Locks.  

And if you're based in the Bath area and fancy reading your poetry to an appreciative audience - or simply like listening to the stuff - get thee along to next month's Poetry & A Pint, presided over by former Bard of Bath, Richard Carder.  It's been running since 1986 and is an excellent evening out.  



Monday, 1 September 2014

Wodwo and the Carolina Chocolate Drops

Between stints of poetry brochure and kitty cat delivering, and manuscript checking and book launch planning, I've managed to squeeze in a bit of culture over the last few weeks.  One Saturday afternoon in August we broke off from brochure lugging to see the Bristol Young Vic's 20th anniversary production, a conflation of Ted Hughes' poem, Wodwo, about a strange woodland spirit with original material from the cast to make a 50 minute play that was creative and challenging, yet lost none of the original's mystery. 

And the week before last it was the sumptuous Carolina Chocolate Drops at St George's Hall. What a delight!  Here's a review I wrote of the gig for the local rag: 


The Carolina Chocolate Drops: St George’s Hall, Bristol

The Carolina Chocolate Drops is an old-time string band, formed in 2005 to promote a wide range of African American music, from country and blues, early jazz and string band numbers to African and Caribbean songs and spoken word.  Its line-up has changed several times in the intervening years, the sole remaining founder member Rhiannon Giddens currently joined by multi-instrumentalists Hubby Jenkins and Rowan Corbett, and virtuosic cellist Malcolm Parson (surely the coolest man on the planet). 

A rapt St George’s audience listened and even jigged in their seats a little as vocalist Giddens took us on a historical journey through her native North Carolina and the southern United States.  Not that anyone should assume that the respect with which the members of band approach their musical heritage makes for a staid and unimaginative performance.  The variety of instruments used, from fiddle, cello, guitar and banjo to cajón, djembe and bones, and the exuberant skill with which they were played, was riveting.

But for me it was Giddens’ sublime voice that defined the evening.  Whether she was singing her own songs, inspired by the slave stories she’d encountered in her research, covers like Hank Williams’ ‘Please Don’t Let Me Love You’ and Ethel Waters’ ‘No Man’s Mama’, an upbeat song about divorce, or an almost incantatory piece of Gaelic mouth music, its power and  versatility was never less than astounding.  My absolute favourite was ‘Waterboy’, a traditional American folk song based on the call ‘Water boy, where are you hidin’?’, one of several water boy calls in cotton plantation folk tradition and positively bone-shivering.  

Rarely have I seen such uniformly ecstatic faces exiting a gig.  If traditional music is your thing, do yourself a favour and check them out.