Thursday, 26 March 2015

Happiness is a Hamlet called Maxine Peake

I don't write about everything I go to see, and this was just a non live screening of a performance recorded at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre last October, but I'll be very lucky if I see a finer, fiercer and more believable Hamlet than Maxine Peake's.  I really hope it will be released on DVD. 




Photograph: Jonathan Keenan

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Yate Primary Schools Slam 2015

Libraries are generally fairly quiet, backwatery places - at least they're supposed to be - but this morning Yate Library rocked to the sound of Year 5 pupils from three local primary schools, Abbotswood, Tyndale and Woodlands, participating in the Yate Schools Poetry Slam, under the tutelage of superhero poets, Claire Williamson, Glenn Carmichael and Jonny Fluffypunk.



I had the pleasure of being one of the judges, along with Colin Brown of Poetry Can, who organised the event, and Leeds-based writer and performer, Liza Sylvian.  


The hardest thing about being a slam judge is remembering that when you hold up the numbers, you have to ensure they're the wrong way around, otherwise you might inadvertently give a team 19 points when you meant to award them 91. 


After the professional poets performed their sacrificial poems - a chance for members of the audience to appreciate that under the rules of poetry slamming they are not just allowed but required to make as much noise as possible, and for the judges to give poor marks and be roundly booed - the poetry proper began, and what a treat it was.  Four teams from each school gave their all, and judging the winners was a very close run thing indeed. 


In the end, a team from Abbotswood Primary School scored the highest mark with their poem about a homeless street sweeper, while the teams from Tyndale Primary School scored the highest aggregate mark, but it was so so close, with only one point separating the other two schools, hard on Tyndale's heels.  

I really hope that all the pupils who took part, as well as the members of the audience who clapped, whooped, cheered and poetry-gasped so effectively, were very proud of themselves and will take into their future lives the notion that poetry can be liberating and fun.  




Friday, 20 March 2015

Back To Earth

Eclipses, eh? You wait 16 years for another one to come along and it's still cloudy. Or rather hazy.  

In 1999, during the total eclipse, we sat on Holcombe beach in South Devon and though it was too cloudy to see the sun at all, it turned very dark indeed and all the sea gulls went quiet and settled on the sea.  And a wind arose and it felt somehow like we were on a rollercoaster.


Anything less than 100% totality lacks drama, but even 85% merits some sort of commemoration. Liza, Jennifer and I gathered in Bristol and went up the park.

Hard to avoid dire warnings about how looking directly at the sun causes sudden blindness. My feeling is that eclipses are rare things, and if you keep one eye shut, you not only get a better view of it, but you'll still have at least 50% of your vision left afterwards.


'Don't stare too long at the sun,' warned Liza's friend. 'It'll think you're creepy.'

Today was always going to be special.  
With the eclipse comes a new moon, of course.  And it's the Spring Equinox when I have to try very hard not to think about how the getting lighter part of the year is half over already and embrace the next six months of light instead. So yes, welcome to the light half of the year.  Plus, it's a Friday and I am Friday's child.  And finally, it's Friday the 20th, so it's doubly my day. 

 

Therefore,  I took advantage of all of the above and did something long mooted, symbolic and timely in the company of those who shared the bad times with me.    

Not so much ashes to ashes, dust to dust as back to the mud it came from.  













The eagle-eyed might have noticed names and a date engraved inside my accurst wedding ring. It is my fervent hope that it makes its way down to the earth's molten core to heal a tiny wound there, rather than get swallowed by a fish who is subsequently caught and gutted by a do-gooder who makes it their lifetime mission to get the ring back to its grieving owner, studying marriage registers and calling in documentary film makers, etc, in the process. Because if they do, when they turn up on my doorstep with cameraman in tow, the programme will suddenly become unsuitable to be broadcast before the watershed.

Before you say as if, when I was 11, I threw a message in a bottle into the middle of the North Sea, only for it to wash up years later and for me to get loads of letters from Danish pre-teens.  So I have form.






Thursday, 19 March 2015

Review of Map Reading For Beginners in Reach Poetry

Reach Poetry magazine contains a lengthy review by poet Lynn Woollacott of my latest poetry collection, Map Reading For Beginners, which I'm reproducing here.

Map Reading for Beginners is Deborah's second poetry collection and follows Communion, 2011 (Indigo Dreams) and a novel, Dart, 2013 Tamar Books (Indigo Dreams).

I was enchanted by the cover illustration of Map Reading For Beginners.  The image gives us a place to begin, under a blue sky, a river running through hills, deep places with symbolic creatures scuttling around and rooks flying overhead, mystery and surprise mirror imaging the opening poem and title of the collection '... the tunnelling lanes that take you down / to where the stories first began ... '



Cover illustration © Dru Marland 2014

In lyrical contemporary language Deborah's collection takes us on a journey through ghostly land/seascapes, historical stories and poems of a mystical/spiritual nature. For example, 'The Bakestone' in nine couplets and sparse punctuation, Deborah conjures history and mysticism from a simple object.  There are other half-familiar stories, 'Fallen Woman' (1885), whose skirts ballooned and saved her from a suicide attempt when leaping off a bridge, to 'Mr Brunel's Atmospheric Caper' (1848), the railway which ran for eight months.  Other poems drew me in with their intriguing titles, 'William Wyrcestre Dreams Of Brygstowe', for example, a topographer who lived in Deborah's home city of Bristol in 1480 and links in to the book title.

A most beautiful poem is 'The Poet And The Boatman', not surprising the poem came 2nd place in the Chipping Sodbury Poetry Competition, 2012. Here are the beginning stanzas:

Tidal here and salt
the final turn of Teign
before its fretful merging with the sea
creates a harbour in the lee of land,
this curved blood-coloured beach.

Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths
I glimpse the poet stripping off his white
ballooning shirt and britches,
bathing in a manner far from gentlemanly

the water's cold, he'll catch a chill

The story behind the poem is about Keats and his brother's consumption, the emotion comes through, and Deborah later in the poem refers to a boatman (mystical association with carrying the dead across water), and the symbolic colours, blood-coloured beach, linen wraiths, and later in the poem, a red-stained shirt. 

Deborah explains in footnotes on the historical poems to fill the facts. I didn't read them until after I'd read the poems, which made me re-read them, which is always a good thing, and though I understood the poems without footnotes there were moments of clarification.

Shipwrecks and land/seascapes feature: 'Cailpeach', a mysterious white horse at the shore, 'The Wreck of the Nornen' full of imagery, and there are contemporary ghosts, 'The Dream-Catcher' ... 'He's attached a discarded dream-catcher / to his trolley, now it is state-of-the-art; // the same sky above him swabbed of beauty / by an always falling rain that shines / a universe of gum on wet black tarmac', lines that leave an after-glow of images and sounds.

Couplets, triplets, sonnets abound, and occasional techniques such as anaphora, which propels the poem 'Winterset' forward, 'Between dark and dawn, the sleep-smudged sun / between sun and moon, the scavenger flood ... '  Other poems have a subtle rhyme, never forced because beautiful words are appreciated in the collection.

For me the contemporary poem, 'The Seventh Sign', sums up the links: snakes, corvids, coast/water, history, churchyard, love and the number seven. There are so many poems I'd like to have shown you, so please visit Deborah's Indigo Dreams book page and see some examples referred to here and others.

I leave this review with two stanzas from another favourite poem, 'An Approximation': 

... late autumn days
out on the Levels
mistletoed trees in orchards flutter
star-scattered wings

and as countless cacophonous voices fly
I might dream
an approximation of angels 
on Peckham Rye.' 



Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Romantic Poets and Bristol: A New 'Lyrical Ballads'

Since I broke my leg, I've only got out of bed - or at least off the settee - for poetry.  A marathon 12 hours yesterday at Bath Poetry Cafe's annual event, Voices In The City, was preceded the night before by a remarkable gathering of poets at @Bristol, under the auspices of the Festival of Ideas.  

Both Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth had links with Bristol, and so to celebrate Bristol's year as European Green Capital, 23 of the UK's most prominent poets were invited to respond to poems from Lyrical Ballads, for this reading and a two-part Radio 4 documentary.  

The evening began with a series of introductions including one from Mayor George Ferguson, who spoke about how the evening would celebrate Bristol and the richness of its urban wildlife.  He also mentioned the city's commitment to promoting and developing poetry, especially for children.   Then it was the turn of the poets, the great majority of whom had been able to travel in person, to read their particular poem, each introduced by honey-tongued Ian McMillan, who also read a poem of his own.  

Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, remarked that it had been a long time since she had taken an entire reading from her pocket, and indeed it was odd to see such luminaries as Makar Liz Lochead, Sir Andrew Motion, 
Don Paterson, Alice Oswald, John Burnside, Paul Farley, Fleur Adcock, Jean Sprackland, Ruth Padel and Sean O'Brien shuffle on and off the stage as if they were at school assembly.  As much as I was delighted by the opportunity to hear so many of our best contemporary poets, I wished the event had been divided into several throughout the year, so that the poets had a chance to introduce us to some of their other work, to give these new poems some context.  My guess is that it was done like this partly to create a one-night extravaganza and partly to facilitate recording, but after a while I began to feel slightly sick, as if I'd opened a big tin of Quality Street and eaten all the orange and strawberry creams, one after the other.

My favourite poem was Alice Oswald's elegiac description of a dead swan, which she'd passed on her daily walk for a month earlier this winter, as a counterpart to the rotting albatross strung around the neck of the Ancient Mariner.  It was a beautiful, startling piece and I am in awe of her fearless nose.


Other quibbles - no, actually, these are complaints - include the description of the evening as a celebration of Bristol and its urban wildlife.  In fact, the city was largely overlooked, and when it was mentioned, it was in reference to the natives' 'somnolence' or as being a place where its inhabitants 'slur their words like drunks'.  Of all the poets present, none were born in the city and only one lives locally.  As for Thomas Chatterton, our own Romantic poet, Wordsworth's 'marvellous boy', he was completely ignored.


Finally, that far from promoting poetry, as the Mayor claimed in his introduction, the city council has this year ceased its funding for Poetry Can, the lone poetry development agency for Bristol and the south-west, thus jeopardising not only its programmes of work with school children and resident, council tax-paying poets, but also the biannual poetry festivals and the agency's very existence.  I saw quite a few seething local poets exit the reading, their faces almost as red as Mr Ferguson's infamous trousers.  


  Bristol urban wildlife

Photo montage © Dru Marland






Thursday, 5 March 2015

Broken Leg Blues Part V: The 7/6 Penny Woman

'Do you have any tennis balls?' asked the doctor as he issued me with a list of exercises to do while I wait for my physiotherapy appointment.


The answer to that is yes, though I might be pushed to find one that isn't all slobbery.

Meanwhile, my leg doesn't look like my leg at all.  Although the bruising's gone, my ankle's still double its normal size and the whole area seems to be wrapped in disintegrating cling film, which is, in fact, dry skin.  Plus, there's a disconcerting hardness under the muscle on the right hand side of my leg which must be the metalwork.  (I expect I'll get used to that.)


Most disturbingly, there's a very real disconnect between my brain and my foot.  When I try to put weight on it, it feels as if my shin is about to snap, and I am seized with the conviction that I am too old, too weak, too useless, and my tribe will leave me for the wolves.

The same member of staff who'd omitted to reassure me that the circular saw wouldn't actually slice through skin, flesh and bone while he was cutting off my cast, fitted me with what would be a really cool motorbike boot if it were made of leather and buckles, but is plastic, foam and velcro.  I still have to use crutches and can't drive yet, but will be back to work on Monday, which means there are some logistics to work out, like who's going to let Ted out for a pee as I won't be able to pop back home at lunchtime.

Back on the Settee of Suffering, I think back over the last six weeks, during which I have:
  • acquired a plate, nine pins and a four and a half inch scar on my lower leg.
  • read.  A lot.
  • written fewer poems than I thought I might (though I've made reams of notes from my reading, and had a long overdue sort out of folders on my laptop).  For me, the link between walking and writing poems is even more symbiotic than I'd realised.
  • become an expert on 'Wolf Hall' (TV series, not the novels).
  • rediscovered my needlepointing mojo. I've nearly finished stitching a top for my sewing stool and dug out a wall hanging I abandoned in a state of near completion 16 years ago because my ex husband didn't like it.  I do, though, and will finish it for my new home.
  • managed to control my frustration at not getting my house on the market. I am now six weeks behind schedule, but really looking forward to opening the front door of my new life, so what needs to be done will get done as soon as I'm able.  
Having been sequestered for so long, I'll define this time by sound.  Rain and hail battering the skylights, the click of Ted's nails on the kitchen floor, the quiet roar of the gas fire, the bleeping of a new hob I don't know how to use because it was installed the day I fell off the doorstep.  The endless chak-a-chak of police helicopters overhead, searching for a girl who will never come home. 

And light. Waking up from post-anaesthetic afternoon naps and not knowing what time it is because although it feels quite late, the sky's still blue.  Spring is on its way and I'll greet it with same in my step, metaphorically if not physically just yet.