Ian McMillan at Leicester Central Library

If Leicester Libraries’ Book Doc Alison Dunne hadn’t shared Thursday’s event on facebook, I’d have missed it – so glad I didn’t!  An evening of poetry with belly laughs.

The Barnsley Bard set the mood with his own introduction (to Alison’s welcome).  Taking a literal view of poets as collectors of language, as writers who take notice, he took great pride in showing his audience numerous notices he’d purlioned on his travels; the unintentionally humorous, sparks that light this poet’s fire.

Master of the anecdotal, McMillan regaled us with hilarious tales of his travels as a working poet.  With references to Crackerjack’s Peter Glaze and novelty cruet sets, I warmed to him even more.  His Junior School days sounded just like mine, too: when kids were encouraged to be creative, spent hours writing stories, engaging in art activities (happy days…) – but I digress.  Ian read poems from his autobiographical collection, Talking Myself Home.  Borrowed, read, loved it.

Why make it up, when amazing things happen to us all the time?  A recurrent theme; the poet explained the provenance of certain lines in his poems (oh, but his art lies in the crafting).  He invited poets to note down all the things that happened when they got home that night and laid odds on them being the stuff poems are borne out of.  (My black cat froze – in a paper fiesta, she’d edited the newspaper…).

After an hour came Hard Questions From The Floor before homework was set.  Selecting books at random from the shelves, Ian McMillan invited poets to write a poem entitled ‘Sunday Lunch,’ including the lines ‘without their cell walls’ and ‘earth-moving gang and plant,’ ending with ‘pre-heat the oven.’

Another inspirational evening, another pamphlet for my coffee shop reading stock (this lady’s handbag is capacious).  My only gripe: I can’t read/subvocalize McMillan-style!

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Leicester Shindig: May 21st

Always a diary highlight, my abiding favourite regular poetry night out.

Amongst the open mics:

Caroline Cook’s ‘Weekly Workout’ was a wry take on poetry workshops (ah, those inevitable games of Guess the Poet…).  Not afraid to experiment with styles and voices, I always look forward to hearing/reading her poems.  Richard Byrt’s ‘Coming Out’: wonderful example of ‘less is more.’  I loved the assonance.  Jonathan Taylor’s ‘Mozart’s Clarinet Sextet’: hilarious – I want to hear it again!  Gary Longden’s ‘Majorca’: a tribute to John Cooper Clarke – rhythm, rhyme and humour.  Roy Marshall’s ‘Relic’: an animal bone found on a woodland walk gives rise to contemplating our skeleton and ‘temporary skin’ – haunting last line.  Kathy Bell’s ‘Prayers Requested of an Anchorite’ from a sequence of poems, ‘Balance Sheets for Medieval Spinsters.’  Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s ‘Seaham’ – I loved this reworking from the original prose for its soundplay and internal rhymes.

Feature Poets:

C J Allen writes the poems many of us wish we’d written and his reading most certainly did not disappoint.  I purchased his newly-launched collection, At the Oblivion Tea-Rooms (Nine Arches Press) and it’s queue-jumped everything on my reading pile.

Alistair Noon’s Earth Records (Nine Arches), also launched this week, is the poet’s debut collection after publishing nine pamphlets.  Read more here.  Also a Longbarrow poet, listen to soundcloud tracks here.

Ira Lightman, reading in place of Julie Boden, gave a hugely entertaining rendition of poems across several collections as well as new work, amongst which ‘Air on a G String’ was my favourite.  (And the poet’s vivid image of his gents’ loo view: t-shirt print John Lennon sporting a urinating appendage from his Adam’s apple, a lasting impression…).

Robert Richardson, Imagist poet and visual artist, closed the evening.  I especially enjoyed ‘Prose and Poetry’: the former, justified; the latter, troublesome words that, on release, murder you in your sleep.

Next Leicester Shindig: Monday 16th July 2012.

CurveBall: Friday 18th May

The scenario: local writers, stationed around Curve’s concourse between cafe and bar, invited theatre-goers to an intimate reading of their short fiction and/or poems as they made their way to the evening performance of Wah! Wah! Girls.  The theme: love and dreams.

It was refreshing have an opportunity to read to a very small audience.  Despite the open setting, it felt intimate: eye contact, response, verbal interaction.

As the performance began, we writers gathered around the stage in the bar area to share our stories over the mic.  Nathan Lunt’s untitled poem: dream or re-surfaced secret?  I loved, “From a hanging branch he plucked a birthday.”  Lizzie Lamb read an extract from her novel, “Tall, Dark and Kilted,” set between London and a rural Scottish estate.  Kathy Bell’s “Advice for Travellers” painted a cameo of ‘a town in monochrome.’ Intriguing take on Hamelin.  Pam Raymond was delighted that her audiences favoured her piece about childhood dreams or secrets, gazing at the stars.

My piece, The Door, Left Open, appeared here on Wednesday for National Flash Fiction Day (you’ll need to scroll down awhile to find and read it).

Photo: Lizzie Lamb @lizzie_lamb

Photo: Lizzie Lamb @lizzie_lamb

Great mix of short fiction and poetry on a theme.  It’s hoped we’ll be invited back.

Poetry Alight: Tuesday 15th May

What a treat!  Spark Cafe ambience, Earl Grey tea, Clementine cake and fine poetry.

This occasional gathering of the Lichfield Poets and others from across the Midlands featured three guest poets plus open mics, ably compered by Gary Longden.

It was good to hear my favourite war poet, Antony Owen, and to meet Janet Smith, my fellow poet on the Coventry-Cork Twin City Poetry Exchange 2012.

As work commitments have made a successful bid for my time this week, I’ll hand you over to Mal Dewhirst for a comprehensive review.  Read it here.

Suffice to say I will be purchasing Sue Brown’s Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack) and I will be back!

Marianne Boruch: A Poetry Reading

What a treat, at the end of a (very) long working day!  Having found a free parking space in my usual side street (best-kept secret), I fairly legged it through the pouring rain and stepped into the time capsule that is the Mayor’s Parlour in Leicester’s Guildhall just in time to catch Caroline Cook’s introduction and welcome.

Marianne Boruch is a professor of English at Purdue University, Indiana, and a Fullbright scholar, writing and teaching at the University of Edinburgh.  She has published eight poetry collections, including The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press 2011).

I first heard Boruch read at a Leicester Poetry Society event several years ago.  Tonight’s reading was an altogether different experience: add to the mix the endeavours of campanologists in rehearsal at the cathedral next door, visual distractions in the form of an ornate heraldic fireplace (anno 1637) as backdrop (I wonder what happened to my cherished childhood copy of The Observer’s Book of same…), various items of wall furniture, including a couple of imperious-looking characters (framed) and, bizarrely, a bright green sequin which winked at me from its niche between the floorboards…

Marianne talked about her semester spent in the dissection lab at Purdue University where she spent twelve hours a week, at the same time studying life drawing.  Working from the notes she made on her observations and overheard comments/conversations, she wrote a series of poems, Cadaver, Speak, as yet unpublished in book form, although they have appeared in The Georgia Review, fall 2010 issue.  These are persona poems, written almost against her will, as the character of her favourite corpse, a hundred-year-old woman, took over.  A fascinating window on a world, too: in the US, cadavers’ heads are kept wrapped in bandages, mummy-like, until eventually revealed – a moment of high drama.  In the UK, however, students are eyed by their corpses throughout the proceedings.  And the origin of those traditional red and white barbers’ poles…

The Book of Hours, Boruch’s latest collection, is a kind of journal, a portrait of time, written in quatrains. There are God poems, Voice poems (an older poet addressing younger poets), her mother’s death a thread throughout.  Marianne views this collection as distinct from her previous writing: poems that came, unbidden, and kept on coming.

At least as fascinating as the poems themselves was an insight into the various writing processes: notes morphing into poems; a character imposing her will/personality/opinions upon the writer; organic poems that willed themselves into existence.

Marianne Boruch, unassuming, oh-so-softly-spoken, but a true inspiration.  She brought no publications for sale, so will employ my favourite search engine forthwith.  But that green sequin offers all manner of possibilites…

MayDay Word! with Michael Horovitz

As a regular at Word!, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.  I’m always entertained and inspired, frequently surprised and never bored.  Last night was no exception.

Diverse open mic performances (including a polished performance by first-up Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson and fellow Mouthy Poets).

Michael Horovitz, last of the Beat poets and the evening’s featured artist, indulged his audience with a reading/performance in two halves:

Beginning with ‘Postcard from Ireland,’ from Wordsounds and Sightlines, Horovitz wowed us with his own work, included excerpts from A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth at Nillennium.  He also read poems by others from his various anthologies, Back in the Playground Blues by the late Adrian Mitchell, and poems by son, Adam, and his beloved late wife, Frances (her Collected Poems: Bloodaxe 2011, is my latest purchase).

A veritable banquet for the ear, punctuated with bursts of anglo saxophone, interspersed with socio-political comment and windows on the past with fellow beat poets, including the International Poetry Incarnation (see: Wholly Communion).

As last night, I’m exhausted and off to bed, envying the 77-year-old his stamina as well as his art.