I hope you have all kept up with the marvellous collective post about the meetup in July. It has contributions now from thirteen people – VERONA BASS, AMA BOLTON, RACHAEL CLYNE, CLAIRE COLEMAN, SARAH GREGORY, MARGARET HEATH, CAROLINE HEATON, ROSIE JACKSON, MICHAEL LOVEDAY, ANN PRESTON, LINDA SAUNDERS, CONOR WHELAN and SHIRLEY WRIGHT – to all of whom, many thanks.
For those of you who were spellbound at the July meetup by the Mikis Theodorakis’ song, Ena to Helidoni, and its place in history, here is a link to his own extraordinary performance at the open air concert on the Rosa Luxembergplatz in East Berlin in front of a huge audience just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. https://youtu.be/QOKBFtKZmOQ
Bath Writers & Artists has been gathering some very interesting new followers and I am looking forward very much to discovering how they choose to develop their personal Pages on this blog. Of the original 20 subscribers, I am abashed that only VERONA BASS and SUE BOYLE have updated their Pages in July. Do check out PETE SMITH‘S new Page. He is busy finishing a project at the moment, but is managing to come to the Bradford Homeric Afternoons and will soon be featuring with us in Queen Square. We have also been promised content by Corsham designer JOHN MAGGS. The second Homeric Afternoon will owe a great deal to CONOR WHELAN’S inspired suggestion that we should look at some of the Odyssey and The Waste Land in one afternoon. Reading great literature followed by great food seems a winning formula. Do get in touch if you feel like hosting something similar to extend the joy.
Plans for the October 6th Programme are well advanced, thanks to the terrific contributions which have already come in from so many of you. There is a Page for the Meetup on the Header Menu which shows the evolving programme for the afternoon, and another, dropped down from that, titled Writing the Wilderness where I am collating the stunning variety of concert pieces which have come in. Do read these as soon as you have a moment, not just for their own sake, but in case you would like to be one of the readers during the meetup afternoon.
There is a Page on the Header Menu for Writing Workshops, which at the moment is looking rather sparse. If you are a member of Bath Writers & Artists and you give open workshops, or workshops to which people can come by special arrangement, please broadcast them here. My workshop, Sharing Our Bright Fields, for Moor Poets in Devon is coming soon. It will be good to have some company on our Page!
I am altering the Header Menu Subscribers Page so that all our Friends, Associates and Followers appear on the same Page with the rest of us. For anyone who doesn’t already know how our regrettably hierarchical system works, it seems a good moment to explain. Bath Writers & Artists has no public funding. We raised enough money to rent space for our bi-monthly workshops and meetups by finding twenty wonderful people willing to split the cost. Those twenty subscribers get a share of the available morning workshops and the privilege of launch readings for their new books. This makes it possible for the afternoon meetups to be free for everyone. Everyone involved in Bath Writers & Artists gives their time for free, even when they are so prestigious that in other circumstances they would rightly expect to be paid to read.
I’ve recently been asked to write about us ( and had the article accepted ) for the Artemis Journal. I will tell you more when I’ve seen us actually in print.http://www.artemisjournal.org
Lastly, for the moment, a little plea to everyone who has a Page on this blog. If you can keep up the habit of monthly updates – inserted at the top – it is so interesting for everyone as well as being a useful little exercise in reflective thought. I have stripped out the preamble about Project 2017 from my Page now, just to give the ongoing text a fresher start. And when you do read Pages, if you enjoy them, please click the ‘Like’ button…..
These are the last lines of a poem by Mary Oliver called Wild Geese ………
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Thirty three people shared the Odyssey-inspired meetup in the Bath on Saturday 28th July.
Here are the messages THIRTEEN of them sent in afterwards….. we would all love to hear more of other people’s thoughts … I am also posting up a few of the slides from the afternoon to underscore some of the comments made.
I am adding new pieces to the top as they come in, for those of you who revisit this post when you are told that there is new material to read.
Rachael Clyne ( read Comments to see this )
I’ve just read with great interest all the comments so far from last Saturday. What I can say is that having heard the background to Odysseus Elytis’s “Ena to Helidoni” which Verona and I read I did wonder if I would be able to hold myself together to be able to read it, I was so moved by what you told us. The whole afternoon was extraordinary and I echo all the well thought out comments I have read with such interest on the blog.
Claire Coleman, Radstock
Saturday afternoon was a haunting, a voyage, many voyages, across both Greek and Scottish waters and others of the imagination only. Inland voyages too: on the African continent and back in time in Verona Bass’s evocation of her childhood and into the surreal landscape conjured by Ann Preston’s artist-cousin where a brilliant white egg-shell is also a floating moon, its broken edges mirroring jagged mountain ridges, a strangeness she explored in her signature poem. Accompanied by exquisite paintings – Malcolm Ashman’s English landscapes in lemon and blue washes – and extraordinary photographic images, we were transported from our mundane selves, a sea-change, to contemplate the meaning of journey, which is also the meaning of home. Ama Bolton’s Warp, both beautiful and caustic, reminded us that there is more than one way of journeying and even the stayers-at-home, the peace-weavers, are changed, journeying through time, as we all are. A strange wind rose in the afternoon, stray doors crashed shut and sea-gulls keened outside the building, as if orchestrated: who can forget the haunting Greek music which accompanied the words of Odysseus Elytis’ poem? – a cry of grief and defiance in the face of oppression and a reminder of the griefs and demands of our own troubled era …
I consider poetry a source of innocence full of revolutionary forces. It is my mission to direct these forces against a world my conscience cannot accept, precisely so as to bring that world through continual metamorphoses more in harmony with my dreams.
posted by Caroline Heaton
The programme of readings based on a Homeric theme made for an enthralling afternoon. The extracts were extremely varied, ranging from old favourites to contemporary classics and from translations of Homer to a short reading in the original ancient Greek. The readings were skilfully arranged into thought-provoking sets and accompanied by rare and striking images including a series of landscape paintings by Royal West of England academician, MALCOLM ASHMAN. One of the highlights, and there were many, was a reading by AMA BOLTON of her sequence of poems entitled Warp inspired by a performance of Odysseus Unwound. Ama’s poems are refreshingly irreverent and written from a distinctly distaff perspective. Penelope wonders whether her wandering husband will be able to shut the hell up about Troy or settle down to an honest life in peacetime. But the most hauntingly original part of Warp is Penelope’s chant packed tightly with the technical vocabulary of spinning and weaving as she unpicks her day’s work ready to start all over again. Ama’s plaintive, ethereal song was as irresistible as the Sirens’.
Ann Preston, Bath
The morning workshop was a discussion of a varied set of poems (brought by Sue), each drawing upon images of birds of prey – poems by Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn, Robert Penn Warren, Yeats, George Mackay Brown. A rich and thought-provoking session.The afternoon was miraculous – tying together ideas of journey, sea and The Odyssey, into something startlingly profound. The room was stilled by the second half in particular, which situated Homer’s myth in the context of modern Greek history and the fight against Fascism. Unforgettable images and words and some excellent performances. A privilege to be in the audience. Thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.
Michael Loveday, Bath
A triumph! How well everybody reads now and what a breadth of poetry, with those lovely slides to give variety. Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, a treat if ever there was one, inspired an afternoon of poetry and art celebrating journeys, the contributions including writers from our group reading their own poems. AMA BOLTON, whose idea the event was, brought the house down with her reading of her 2006 sequence Warp, written with insight and humour about characters in the Odyssey . SUE BOYLE’s reading of her poem on those who perished in a submarine nearly had me in tears. All the readers did well and it was a delight to listen to the variety of approaches to the subject, with emphasis on the journey not the arrival. The slides added visual enjoyment and the display of MALCOLM ASHMAN’s pictures introduced variety. There were laughs in plenty but Sue led us to consider, more seriously, the influence of Homer on politics in Greece in the C20th. His work covers the great themes and understandably continues to thrill and influence. The life journeys of the 33 who attended were surely enhanced by the afternoon. I am so grateful to be included in the wider circle of the Bath Writers & Artists group.
Margaret Heath, Bath
Yes, it was a wonderful event that wove a spell on us all: beautiful poetry, new and old, delivered in languages both new and old, with everything held together by the theme of journeying and The Odyssey never far from our thoughts. I found many of the readings surprisingly moving and, as usual with Bath Writers and Artists, I learnt a great deal. It was a pleasure to be part of the afternoon. Many thanks to you for masterminding the occasion and linking the various parts into such a harmonious whole. I look forward to our next gathering.
Shirley Wright, Bristol
I hadn’t expected the afternoon to be so rich and illuminating. Such wonderful poetry, different voices, but most of all bringing in that political slant at the end was sheer genius. I learnt so much and am hungry to learn more now about Greece etc. Thanks for making such a great and inclusive atmosphere and for inviting me.
Rosie Jackson, Frome
What struck me about the afternoon was how the acoustic power of poetry created such vivid and recurrent images. The ones that stuck with me were: going down into the dark of caves and coming back to the light; the death and rebirth of the vegetal world each year; sea and shore; home and journey. The images acted on different levels: as relating to or translating our everyday experiences (aren’t we all seduced by the words of one sorceress or another? Or gotten distracted from our task somehow?); as political (such as Sackville-West relating the suitors to the Nazi Occupation of Greece); as personal (do we all long for a lost home? Do we all long for an inner Spring?). The evocation of these images invoked some big presences that seemed to haunt the room, especially with the pictures of past poets on the slides. All this will lead on well to The Hero’s Journey in future, for as Robert MacFarlane puts it, to journey out is to journey in.
Conor Whelan, Bath
Yesterday was the end of the heatwave. The City of Bath was assaulted by tempests of Homeric ferocity. The trees in Queen Square seemed about to be torn from their roots. And we fortunate people (eleven for a challenging and rewarding morning session with Sue Boyle, 33 and a delightful dog for the afternoon performances) were safe and dry indoors in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. The afternoon started with a selection of readings germane to the Homeric theme. These included James Elroy Flecker’s The old Ships – an old favourite of mine – read by father-and-son Roger and Conor Whelan, and a selection from a much more recent favourite, Andrew Greig’s pamphlet Found at Sea, read by SUE CHADD. VERONA BASS and ANN PRESTON introduced their new pamphlets, Verona’s being the second of a proposed trilogy on her childhood in rural South Africa and Ann’s being a collection of poems inspired by paintings. Both were beautifully read.A sequence of slides showing paintings by MALCOLM ASHMAN RWA led into ROSIE JACKSON’s introduction to some readings from our 2013 anthology The Listening Walk, for which Malcolm donated an image for the cover. Readers from the anthology included LINDA SAUNDERS and CLAIRE COLEMAN. After the break for tea and talk, I read my 2006 mini-pamphlet Warp. Among the other readers were SHIRLEY WRIGHT (Carol-Ann Duffy’s poem Circe), MARGARET HEATH (George Mackay Brown’s That Night at Troy). and ROSIE JACKSON (Cavafy’s Ithaka). ANDREW LAWRENCE and I read from Homer’s Odyssey Book 5, he from the little-known Ted Hughes version and I from the original Greek. We then switched to much more recent but equally turbulent Greek history, with a reading from the fascinating 1943 radio-play The Rescue by Edward Sackville-West, a copy of which (with lithographs by Henry Moore) SUE BOYLE chanced upon in a charity shop, and a reading of the much-loved Ena to Helidoni, by Odysseus Elytis. These last readings were accompanied by historical slides, including a chilling view of a Nazi flag on the Acropolis at Athens during WW2. We ended with a group reading by volunteers from the audience of Theo Durgan’s poem Ithaca for Leonard Cohen – unrehearsed but perfect!
Ama Bolton, Wells
An Afternoon of Odyssey that left one longing for an extension of the journey. Unwilling to admit that the afternoon had come to an end, we listened to music composed by Mikis Theodorakis, the cadences being soothing and yet unsettling because we had learned just beforehand that the impetus for the song was the iconic poem by Odysseus Elytis used as a touchstone work in liberation politics. I felt it a privilege to be given the opportunity to read Ena to Helidoni in tandem with CLAIRE COLEMAN. All the poems delivered in the course of the afternoon were aptly in service of the theme, and the over-riding awareness was of Homer’s account of the Odyssey, and the many travails of those journeys. I was particularly impressed by the succinct nature of the poems in AMA BOLTON’s work Warp, and the way that she delivered them in a measured tone. The book she designed is a work of art. I feel immensely privileged to have a copy. The careful choreography of the entire afternoon demonstrated how exemplary the progression of readings and images were, and needed to be, for it to hold together. It’s another work of art.
Verona Bass, Bath
Yesterday worked beautifully. The morning was as interesting as the others have been. I liked finding common ground with Linda and sitting opposite June who so bravely stood outside our positive response to‘ The Second Coming’. Also discovering new poems and poets is always a delight . The surprise of the morning for me was Robert Penn Warren’s ‘Evening Hawk’ found by Sue when surfing the net for poems about falcons: a poem that just opens out, and out taking the reader on its flight. I thought in some ways the afternoon was the best yet. I especially enjoyed Sue’s slides ( they introduce a whole new dimension) and the focus towards the end on the heart rending Greek experience. Here the surprise was ‘The Rescue’ by Edward Sackville-West coupled with its powerful illustrations by Henry Moore. Ama’s contributions were both moving: her vivid succinct poems from ‘ Warp’ and the gift of lines from ‘ The Odyssey’ read in Greek. I also enjoyed the two book launches from Verona and Ann: the titles of both books including ‘light’ and their poems shining ‘light on their subjects. In sum, I noticed that there is a lovely hum developing in those events among this group of people.
Sarah Gregory, Bradford on Avon
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating day (it took a long time for my overactive brain to pipe down and let me sleep last night). although the morning session made demands on energy and thought, I was kept alert and interested enough not to ‘drift’ in the afternoon.The variety of poems and presentations was most helpful in this respect, but though these were indeed various and surprising, the recurring main sea and Odyssey theme running through it all gave a real narrative and sense of development to the journey/voyage. Although it made sense chronologically and in other ways to end with that harrowing period of Greek history in recent times, it was a dark place to find myself right at the end of the afternoon, in spite to the group recital at the finish. I’d liked perhaps to be taken out of it by, say a quiet sequence of Malolm’s wonderful paintings – just a thought, while appreciating the time issue. I was so please to see these images, and this marvellous reminder that Artists are of important significance in this group. More ‘presentations’ please of work by those of us who are making art as well as poems.
Linda Saunders, Bath
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Queen Square, Bath
On Saturday 28th July, the Bath Writers & Artists will be embarking on an adventurous afternoon of readings and images inspired by the wanderings of Odysseus. Wells poet AMA BOLTON, who provided the impetus for the July programme, is giving a solo reading of Warp, her imaginative personal journey through Homer’s Odyssey. We will also be celebrating the continuing delight of the Bath Poetry Cafe anthology, The Listening Walk, five of whose original eight editors will be with us in the room. Frome poet and author ROSIE JACKSON will introduce readings by some of the original contributors to her set, As If the Sea and we will have a slide presentation of the work of MALCOLM ASHMAN RWA, RBA, ROI who provided the much loved cover image for the anthology and is now a member of the Bath Writers & Artists group. Fourteen readers from Wells, Bristol, Bradford on Avon, Radstock and Bath will be presenting Homeric pieces by major Russian, Greek, North American, Scottish and Irish writers and we will also be sharing thoughts about the terrible political events which engulfed Greece in the middle years of the twentieth century.
There will be new pamphlets – from VERONA BASS and ANN PRESTON – and the usual delicious tea.
THIS IS A FREE EVENT TO WHICH ALL ARE WELCOME.
DOORS OPEN AT 1.45pm
Am always resolving to keep posts down to a minimum, but this month is proving so fruitful and exciting for Bath Writers & Artists that I have decided to slip in an extra post ahead of time. We are looking forward to such an exciting meetup at the end of July. And while we wait, so many other good things are rolling in…..
Our ‘Odyssey’ sequence on 28th July already has a very compelling line up which includes CONOR & ROGER WHELAN reading together ( a father and son first ), SHIRLEY WRIGHT with blood curdling accounts of Circe the sorceress, SUE CHADD presenting the work of Scottish poet Andrew Greig, and further contributions from AMA BOLTON, CLAIRE COLEMAN, LINDA SAUNDERS, SARAH GREGORY and MARGARET HEATH.
We also have two new pamphleteers ready to do their shared launch readings. Huge congratulations to VERONA BASS and ANN PRESTON who have both worked phenomenally hard to meet self-imposed early summer deadlines which I wrongly thought impossible.
Frome writer ROSIE JACKSON is joining us, to read in our Odyssey sequence and also to introduce poems from our Amazon anthology, The Listening Walk which she and other Poetry Café members edited so brilliantly several years ago. We will be lucky enough to have three of ‘Rosie’s poets’ with us on the 28th, reading the poems she selected and introduced so eloquently for her section, As If the Sea.
I will have the privilege of prefacing Rosie’s presentation with a short introduction to the work of MALCOLM ASHMAN RWA who provided the cover image for The Listening Walk and is now a member of the Bath Writers & Artists Group. Bath poet LINDA SAUNDERS, whose poem provided our anthology title, will read her poem of the same title as part of that.
Bath artist/illustrator JUDE WISDOM, whose solo show has just opened in Chapel Arts, has volunteered to do our first artist’s Q&A session, showing slides of her paintings and drawings on the theme of Journeys and answering questions about her work.
Sherborne singer/songwriter MIRANDA PENDER is appearing as our first virtual contributor, having sent in a stunning voice file to make up for not being able to join us on the day.
We also have news of two exciting new contributors to our growing group. Bath artist/poet PETE SMITH is preparing a special presentation for November on the wisdom and healing potential to be found in myth, and in particular in the myth of the heroic journey, which will link beautifully with our July 28th Odyssey afternoon.
And we are looking forward with great pleasure to welcoming artist NIENKE VAN WIJK from the Royal College of Art as soon as she has settled into her new life in ‘the rolling hills of Somerset’.
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As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Constantine Petrou Cavafy (1863 – 1933)
Bath Writers & Artists’ fascinating journey is only just beginning, but what an adventure we are about to have!
This afternoon ( 27th May) at least six of us – VERONA BASS, AMA BOLTON, SARAH GREGORY, ANN PRESTON, TESSA STRICKLAND and me – were swept away in Bath Assembly Rooms by the vivacity and brilliance of Emily Wilson’s presentation of her new translation of The Odyssey which is inspiring our next meetup on 28th July. Already ideas for an afternoon paying homage to this greatest of all literary journeys are flowing in. Cavafy, for example, (portrait above) whose marvellous Ithaka ( read by the right person ) is going to electrify the room. Margaret Atwood, Derek Walcot, Joseph Brodsky, Louise Gluck, Chaim Gouri, Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Longley….. I have already been offered mesmerising poems by all of these. We will be using extracts from Emily Wilson’s book to provide a simple framework for the afternoon contributions – which means we need an authoritive and compelling voice or pair of voices to play the part of guiding narrative.
AMA BOLTON is going to share her journey to St Kilda,
and VERONA BASS the journey she has made to create her two debut poetry pamphlets.
Meanwhile, in St Ives this very evening, MALCOLM ASHMAN RWA, RBA, ROI, who recently joined the Bath Writers & Artists group, is at the opening of his latest exhibition, which will feature some of his journeys as a painter to the heart of landscape. On a forthcoming meetup afternoon, we hope to present a slideshow of Malcolm’s landscape paintings, to mark and celebrate his joining of the group.
Friend of Bath Writers & Artists, PAT MILLNER, having very suitably been in Patmos during our last meetup, is hoping she might be able to make the long journey from Appledore to take part in our Odyssey afternoon.
And for journeys of the spirit, one of Bath Writers & Artists great adventurers, Sherborne singer/songwriter MIRANDA PENDER is allowing me to share this recent portrait. Miranda recently created a musical setting for William Henreysen’s final letter from Mexico, beginning with the words “I have been anointed for a journey”, which just might, therefore, find its tiny way into our afternoon.
As RS Thomas wrote, and that was only on one island….
And I haven’t yet sent out the message requesting contributions and contributors for July!
PLEASE GET IN TOUCH IF YOU HAVE IDEAS AND THOUGHTS TO SHARE ABOUT OUR ODYSSEY AFTERNOON, OR WOULD LIKE TO CONTRIBUTE BY READING / PERFORMING /SINGING SOME OF THE WORKS WE CHOOSE.
WE WILL WELCOME SHARED PRESENTATIONS & STORYTELLING AS WELL AS POETRY, AND WILL BE DELIGHTED TO BE OFFERED COMPACT TALKS, WITH SLIDES.
ANYTHING , REALLY, WHICH DELIGHTS THE GIVER, SPRINGS OFF SOME MOMENT IN HOMER’S ODYSSEY, AND WHICH WILL ENTHRALL AND ENTERTAIN THE AUDIENCE…..
DRESS CODE : BLACK FEATHERS (see below)
Yesterday’s meetup of the Bath Writers & Artists group was outstandingly successful and very well attended considering that we were competing with blissful weather, the FA Cup Final, multiple events in the Bath Festival and the Wedding of the Year.
With the dazzling exception of Claire Dyer’s book launch (more later about this) the meetup was devoted to poetry. The morning workshop focussed on the meaning and uses of form in poetry while the afternoon readings offered a selection of pieces demonstrating how differently master practitioners have employed form in their work.
The morning workshop participants brought in poems of their own, reconfigured word for word and repunctuated appropriately as prose. The task for everyone was to discover the ‘inner’ form which (visually) had been removed by this exercise. This task brought into discussion the huge question whether the form of a poem is from the outset indivisible from the content, or whether form is a vehicle for taking the first idea of a poem into a further, better place. Does form exist organically in each individual poem, or is it gathered in from the tradition, to enrich and augment the work? Is it the poet’s task to discover the form inside the poem it falls to him to write? Or is it his task to fit his first thought into a form which pre-exists? These are not of course ‘either’/‘or’ questions, though it is hard to tease them out without suggesting that they are. The idea of form, perhaps, is like the string on a musical instrument. The poet and the poem must find the place on the string which will produce the note they want to play.
As it happened, our afternoon poets – chosen, eloquently introduced and beautifully read by Frances-Anne King, Shirley Wright, Claire Dyer, Ama Bolton, Harry Thurston, Margaret Heath and Roger Whelan – gave us a wonderful demonstration of the breadth of possible uses of form in poetry. At one end of the spectrum, we heard Elizabeth Bishop’s much liked villanelle, ‘The Art of Losing’, a famous example of extreme formality. Intensely concerned with form, also, are the 150 poems in Michael Symmons Roberts’ collection Drysalter which was strongly presented at the start of the afternoon. It was interesting that the villanelle form could communicate itself so powerfully sight unseen, whereas Roberts’ chosen 15 line ‘constraint’ for Drysalter seemed not to have a strong aural existence, but to be more about appearance on the page. This was something we had encountered in the morning workshop when Louise Green’s ballad form poem refused to surrender its form when converted into prose, while Shirley Wright’s terza rima poem kept the secret of its formality until we saw the original poem on the page.
There is a contemporary interest in poetic form as a desirable discipline, or perhaps as a constraint to free the poet from what he or she might regard as the prison of the self. Michael Symmons Roberts spoke about this at his Holburne Festival Reading later in the day, saying that he did not want to write ‘another Symmons Roberts’ poem’ and hoped that imposing formal constraints might help him to this end.
Conversely, poets sometimes want to subvert traditional forms to show that they are not trapped inside the constraints of history. This might mean rejecting punctuation, something explored by Claire Dyer in her morning workshop speculum poem, and explored very differently, by W.S. Merwin, whose poems Ama Bolton presented in the afternoon.
The morning workshop had considered punctuation as an element of form – the way it works, with line and stanza breaks, to ‘score’ the poem for the reader, and, by showing a reader how the poem should be read, or delivered, to add to the clarity of what the poem has to say. The absence of punctuation – visually so arresting but aurally undetectable – is a powerful formal possibility which a future workshop might explore another day.
The Pass on a Poet contributors gave us a marvellous feast of good poetry and I hope many of the pieces will be reviewed in the comments boxes below. The three poems which remain most vividly with me this morning are Sue Sims’ poem from Hawthornden, George Mackay Brown’s poem about the falcon, and Kei Miller’s ‘Unsung’. Sue’s poem held me because its subject was simple and powerful, its expression was disciplined and direct, it wasted no words, it knew exactly where to end and Sue has mastered the use of the microphone so that she can deliver her writing as it should be heard, giving her poem an apparently effortless journey from the writer to the listener’s heart. I don’t know whether the Holburne Museum hadn’t provided microphones for Michael Symmons Roberts and his interviwer last night, or whether for some reason they had chosen not to use them, but the resulting loss of resonance, range and expressivity throughout that event was quite striking. The poems were entirely audible, at least for me, but swallowed up and flattened out dismally by the space. There is probably a counter-argument that a festival audience likes the sense of privileged eavesdropping on a private conversation, but this is a rather tired formula now and personally I prefer poets to look on themselves as musical performers whose duty is to envelop their listeners in the magic of the sound and meaning produced by their chosen instrument, the human voice. I want to be spellbound (as I was earlier in the week by Ben Okri, and yesterday by Kei Miller) by every syllable. At £10 an hour for the Holburne ticket, that doesn’t seem too much to ask.
To return to the Duncan Room….
Margaret Heath had chosen three pieces by George Mackay Brown. I knew The Hawk already and already loved the fierce trajectory of its taut writing and the rigour of its form. I thought Margaret’s reading conveyed the poem’s formality and economy very well.
None of us will forget the last poem of the Pass on a Poet set. It was Kei Miller’s ‘Unsung’, which we heard, for the first time, read by Kei Miller himself, thanks to a clip I was able to purchase from the internet. There he was, in a still image, above us on the screen while his immaculate voice surrounded us in the room. (If I had been more technically courageous, we could have had a clip of the live reading. I am still floundering a bit with the move from my Mac to the Duncan Room’s PC.) Roger Whelan was then generous enough to give us a live reading of the same piece and to let us share the powerful effect the poem had on him. ‘Unsung’ is a poem calling out to be read – and we were fortunate enough to have a reader knowing how to use the resources of the voice and microphone to deliver what the poet meant to say while also making the piece utterly his own. I hope we will all learn to read to each other as well as Roger Whelan does.
If nothing more had happened in our meetup, it would already have been an outstanding day. But we had four more terrific experiences in store. A truly excellent tea, provided by the Writers & Artists – too generous, as usual, but sumptuous to share. Sue Sims then gave us a rivetting take on her experiences at Hawthornden Castle, speaking with great poise and accomplishment to her specially created slides. Thanks to Sue’s energy and professionalism, we were right there, at Hawthornden. This was a marvellous example of how good it has been for us to make the expensive move to the technically equipped BRLSI. Sue and Paul’s presentation of their son Mark’s memoir was one of the highlights of the March meetup. It was a great treat for us that Sue was willing to offer us another illustrated talk.
Finally, our two star launches, with Claire Dyer not only reading from The Last Day, but taking us on a really fascinating journey through the process of successive drafts and giving us insight into the roles of agent and editor. Claire will be speaking again at the Waterstone’s event on Thursday 24th May in Reading Library – an evening, for anyone within reach of Reading, which should certainly not be missed. We returned to poetry with Shirley Wright’s presentation of her latest collection, Sticks and Stones. Beautifully structured, beautifully paced, these poems manage to be intricate and powerful, formal yet organically alive, and Shirley’s reading, as always, had tremendous power, conviction, variety and grace. I hope some audience members will add reviews of our two launch books in the comments box, or mail me appreciations to augment to this post.
Thank you so much to yesterday’s contributors and to the attentive and sympathetic audience members whose presence made the afternoon so special for us all. Your comments will also be extremely welcome and I will be delighted to add them to this post.
Our next meetup is at the end of July when we will explore the theme of journeys with a particular inclination towards the travels of Odysseus. RWA artist Malcolm Ashman has just become a Friend of the Bath Writers & Artists group and we will open our July session with an introduction to Malcolm’s landscape paintings ( on slide ) and a homage reading from the Bath Poetry Cafe’s own great journey, The Listening Walk, for which Malcolm provided the cover image, so well loved by us all. I have already received a few other fascinating Homeric suggestions, including one from Lesley Saunders, and I am eager to have more. Graphics will be hugely welcome. I think we may already have an exciting offer from Larkhall artist Jude Wisdom, if her forthcoming exhibition at Chapel Arts leaves her time to share her journey thoughts with us. I am also hoping that Nikki Kenna will be home from her art course in Newlyn in time to contribute to the show. We will need good readers and this is an advance warning to them both that I am hoping to coax in Margaret Heath and Roger Whelan from among our Friends. I will send a begging message to everyone very soon. In the meantime, do get to the Emily Wilson Odyssey reading in the Bath Assembly Rooms on Saturday 26th May if you can. ( And, unlike the Holburne Museum, let’s hope the Assembly Rooms provide a microphone.)
For those of you who couldn’t join us yesterday, I will post the Pass on a Poet programme notes up on the blog, with a few of the slides, so you can share at least some of the afternoon. I will also ask the readers to send me the titles of their contributions so that we can all revisit them.
And to the well-behaved dog who didn’t materialise….a kindly greeting and a hope we might meet you and your carer in July. As everyone knows, a poetry event without a well-behaved dog is like a well behaved fish without a bicycle.
Please comment on this post, either directly, or by sending me in your thoughts, which I be pleased to post.