I can’t decide whether it was apposite or not but it was a bit of a lonely crowd who attended the launch of The Lonely Crowd on Thursday evening, and half of those there were reading. However, the low turnout didn’t stop it from being a very enjoyable evening at the Waterloo Tea Rooms in Wyndham Arcade.
There was a welcoming glass of prosecco (or fruit juice for those of us from the Valleys who were driving) and a selection of olives and dips on each table.
But the real feast was in the variety of readings that evening.
I loved listening to extracts from short stories and a forthcoming novel for a change, as well as some poetry.
I get a real kick out of listening to authors read from their own work: when I read it again later, I have their voice in my mind and it sometimes gives me a better feel for their work.
It was great to hear Rhys Milsom read a story I’d enjoyed on the The Lonely Crowd website to kick things off and a story from Nigel Jarrett and part of his forthcoming novel from Gary Raymond, as well as poetry by Chris Cornwell but my highlights from the evening included hearing another great story from Carole Burns’ new collection, The Missing Woman*, a brand new story from Francesca Rhydderch and poems by Steph Power.
*I have to mention that The Missing Woman is published by Parthian, otherwise Susie Wild is very likely to come on here to tell you that! 😉 *waves at Susie*
The Lonely Crowd is a new Cardiff-based short story and poetry journal and it’s edited by John Lavin. As well as those mentioned above, the first issue has stories from the excellent Tom Vowler and Alison Moore and photographs by Jo Mazelis among others. It’s been very nicely-produced and is a handy, portable size. Just right to slip in a bag and read on the go. For more details and to subscribe, go to The Lonely Crowd website.
Today is World Poetry Day and I’m going to share a poem by a Greek poet, Phoebe Giannisi, who I recently discovered. I found her work on Greek Poetry Now! which I can recommend as a good place to go, if you’d like to read some great contemporary Greek poetry.
I’ve chosen it because it expresses exactly how I feel when I’m swimming laps, how swimming allows me to shrug off the outside world and any worries I may have, and how it frees up my mind. Although unlike the open-air swimmer in the poem, I usually have to make do with my local council pool. Which is fine but not quite the same…
For writers’ group this month we had ‘time capsule’ as our prompt and this got me looking around my office and thinking about what I would choose to put into one. In the end, I decided that I’d want to put in the one thing you can’t always hold onto – MEMORIES – but that can come back to you through a smell or an object that nudges you into remembering. Here’s the poem that came out of that:
You gave me this
When I was a child
Do you remember?
I first heard Simone Mansell Broome read her poems at a poetry magazine launch in 2009. Hers were the poems that stood out for me that night because they spoke of real life events that I could identify with but they were also delivered with a healthy dose of humour, real warmth, empathy and a highly-perceptive understanding of human nature and all its foibles.
Simone’s first full-length poetry collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch, is no light and insubstantial buffet but a satisfying spread to feast upon and I guarantee there will be something from the extensive menu to suit everyone’s taste. It is an eclectic mix of poems covering subjects ranging from childhood illness to the death of a parent; compassion fatigue from constant demands for donations to offering temporary housing to a relative in need and family members returning home; everyday work and life in rural west Wales to holidays abroad; the joy of living with cats to how dementia sees tigers instead; the visit of a troublesome distant cousin to that of the Pope; an exuberant Hen Party weekend to a more sobering look at the dismal wedding breakfast of the title poem. They cover universal themes of love, loss, dejection, rejection, hope, doubt, guilt and joy in the context of relationships, home, family, community, Wales and the wider World.
Simone’s poetry is both immediate and accessible: almost deceptively simple at first sight, peel away the layers and it has real depth; it is observant and insightful, sometimes cuttingly so; it is often funny but with serious undercurrents and concerns; it looks at small events in everyday life yet manages to find the beauty or poetry in those moments, often at times when most of us would struggle to find anything remotely poetic. In doing so, Simone helps you see their importance: that ultimately everyone’s life is comprised of a series of small moments, some seemingly inconsequential, and larger events, such as illness or death, which all combine to make us the person we are and create the world we inhabit. Her poetry is often about the moments we overlook or dismiss or rush past but she clearly shows how it is those that often say more about us and our lives than we can imagine or give them credit for.
Some of the highlights of the collection for me were as follows: Simone traces her daughter’s days off school through the years in Under the Quilt with Rocky, mapping various stages of her daughter growing up through her changing taste in films. The poem ends on a wistful note when she realises that her daughter’s childhood is over; In For a Dead Princess Simone looks back at the dignified funeral arrangements she wanted to make for her mother, compared to how the funeral service itself played out with a wry look at how her best-laid plans were thwarted by the church organist. Despite this, she touchingly reveals how the music chosen, so butchered on the day, still brings tears to her eyes. The wedding breakfast in the title poem Cardiff Bay Lunch is heartbreaking in its bleakness and you fear for the bride’s prospects of future happiness surrounded by the ominous “sulk of black clad staff” and “a flushed pink-shirted groom telling a guest, / male, conspiratorial, how he had / your sister first.” Gorge Walk is a terrific example of a poem that shows how a walk in a gorge in Greece brings on not only the normal fear of falling and heights associated with the terrain but also more deep-rooted self-doubt and fears. Afterwards, as most of us do, this is forgotten or swept aside so that we can offer up the sanitised account of our day – “Oh yes, a good day… challenging: / you plan the postcard, draft the script – / all-in-all, good.” It offers up such a telling contrast between the workings of our inner minds and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world.
The descriptions and imagery in Simone’s poetry are vivid and immediate. In Against the Grain a lazy dog “drops his boredom like a spent match”; a woman’s fate, bartered over a market table in marriage, is likened to “spilt salt” in Last Chance in Narberth; in On Meeting My Cousin Simone remembers his “bright / button eyes, travelling light, / trailing the unexpected” of an antipodean cousin who brought a whole lot more baggage with him than first appeared; and in Notes from a Carmarthenshire Landlady, Simone recounts playing hostess to a hen party for the weekend “hens – some happy, some weepy / all well watered, are decanted into / your coop.”
Cardiff Bay Lunch is a wonderful, vibrant collection of range and insight from a gifted and talented poet. It is full of life and everything associated with it. Together with the energy, humour and vibrancy, you’ll also find those darker elements of death, disappointment, sadness and illness that cast their shadows over it. Because, after all, that’s what life itself is all about. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. It’s one that I will keep going back to and re-reading.
Simone has very generously donated a signed copy of her collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch. Just leave a Pick Me comment below by midnight GMT on Sunday 14th November.
Simone Mansell Broome was born in West Wales. She now lives on a Carmarthenshire farm, co-running a small centre for groups, workshops and courses – Ceridwen. Since 2006, Simone has been successful in written and spoken poetry competitions. She has been published in anthologies, magazines and represented Wales in BBC Radio 4’s poetry slam. Not exactly getting anywhere but… a pamphlet of her poetry was published in 2008 and was followed by a slim volume, Juice of the Lemon, in 2009. She’s a fervent believer in both page and stage and finds humour in the darkest moments. Cardiff Bay Lunch is her first full-length collection.
In honour of it being Hallowe’en, I’m posting a poem. However, it’s not one I wrote this year, last year or even remotely recently.
This is a poem written by my eleven-year-old self, so please bear that in mind when reading it!
There are a couple of things I’d like to go back and ask her, if I could, like what I meant by the diamond in line 3? But I like the sound of that sentence so perhaps that’s why I used it, and I like the description of clouds in the last verse.
Anyway, here it is, you can decide for yourself whether it’s a Trick or a Treat. HAPPY HALLOWE’EN!
The witch who flies on broomstick
Flies to wake the dead
The diamond turns the dead awake
To steal the night away, away
They groan and grumble
Clink, and clank a scream
Death awakes, the scream again I hear
And in the distance hoots an owl.
The leaves crunch as foxes prowl,
Bubble, bubble the cauldron boils
The witch flies back to her haunt
To stir and stir, then away to soar,
The children who are not asleep
Waiting, waiting for the noises,
Bumps and bangs in the night,
The vampire bat flies out to hunt.
A storm blows up in the night
With clouds so grey they frown
And burst out crying with a wail
The toad jumps into shelter
As the troopers go past
A queer voice groans and the clock strikes
The first hour of the morning, they die
To their graves they flee.
I didn’t know when I set out yesterday that my second outing to The Promised Land was to be my last. For Poetry on Tap, at any rate. (As far as I know, they’re continuing to operate as a pub and there will, therefore, continue to be beer and other beverages on tap.) Poetry on Tap, the monthly event which only started back in November 2009, is now so successful and well-attended that it needs to move from its starter home to a bigger pad. As of May, the event’s new venue will be Old Orleans in Church Street, Cardiff.
So what is Poetry on Tap? Well, it was founded by the dynamic duo of Mab Jones and Ivy Alvarez, who are tireless in their promotion of poetry and spoken word events in Cardiff and the surrounding area. It’s an afternoon programme showcasing two guest poets (Sunday’s poets were Jackie Cornwall and David Woolley) reading or performing a selection of their work, followed by an Open Mic section, and then a second session from the guest poets. It works incredibly well and the two afternoons which I’ve attended so far have been both interesting, stimulating and a great way of sampling (for me) new poetry and poets. I haven’t braved taking part in the Open Mic yet but I admire anyone who has and does and again, it’s an opportunity to listen to poetry and poets that you might not be familiar with. If you’re interested in taking part in the Open Mic, you need to get to the venue early and sign up (places are limited and fill up fast). The organisers run a lucky dip for those not ‘lucky’ enough to make it onto the running order. This ensures that one poet is picked out of the hat to take part in the Open Mic and there’s an element of anticipation for both those waiting for their name to be chosen and the rest of us in the audience wondering who’ll be up. I think this is such a great idea and adds a little extra frisson to the afternoon’s proceedings. Of course, I might think differently were my name ever to be in that hat and I was the one waiting to see if I had to go up and read or not. I’ll keep you posted on that one!
Thanks to the vagaries of Cardiff’s meter parking, I had to disappear before the winners of the Open Mic were announced but I was thrilled to later find out that Susie Wild (whose poetry so impressed me at the Seren/Poetry Wales event back in February) and Leeum Johnson had both won. I’d heard Leeum’s poetry before at the first Poetry on Tap I’d attended and, rather fittingly seeing as how Poetry on Tap was held on Valentine’s Day, had loved it. He didn’t win on that occasion, so I’m very pleased that he came out on top this time around.
I’m already looking forward to seeing Poetry on Tap in its new home in a month’s time when the guest poets will be Mike Jenkins and Thaer Al-Shayei. And who knows, I might even be closer to venturing up to that Open Mic?
Poetry on Tap is Cardiff’s freshest monthly poetry and spoken word series, co-curated by Ivy Alvarez and Mab Jones. It provides a showcase for electric experimentation and lively risk-taking through poetry, with exciting and uncommon pairings between poets and spoken word artists. To find out more, check out Poetry on Tap’s blog or join its Facebook page.
After being thwarted by the freakishly heavy snowfalls and equally freakish (for I am never sick) illness of January, I decided that, with the advent of February, the time had come to get out there and try another literary event and network some more. My first attempt in December had gone reasonably well and I’d come home buzzing with ideas and freshly invigorated and inspired and having not only met up with some familiar faces but also made the acquaintance of some new ones. This, I had decided back in the tail-end of 2009, was a good thing that ought to be repeated.
So I set off out to the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and drove down almost every street in Canton apart from the right one before having to worry people in the car park and encourage them to leave, thus freeing up a space for me. Eventually, half an hour late, I made it to the Seren/Poetry Wales event. And there followed another evening of very different voices and poems, some of which were incredibly powerful and raw and hit a nerve and resonated and others which washed over me. It was a treat to hear more of Ivy Alvarez’s wonderful dictionary poems, which she reads so well. It was also good to finally get a chance to hear Peter Finch perform a couple of his poems and, despite years of hearing about how wonderful he was ‘live’, he certainly didn’t disappoint. I also loved the poems performed by Susie Wild and Thommie Gillow (who held the post of Bard of Bath in 2007-2008).
I can’t sleep and don’t think I’ll be able to for some time, so I’m writing, mostly fragments, phrases and ideas, that tomorrow or some other writing day may take shape and form. What this proves is that going out to events is definitely a good thing. I knew that really. It’s always good to make sure though, isn’t it?
I am buzzing from having been among such talented and varied voices for the evening and don’t think that I’ll be able to sleep for quite some time to come. Maybe I should seize the moment, pour myself a glass of amaretto and put pen to paper?
To launch the Women’s edition of Roundyhouse poetry magazine, there was an evening of poetry and mince pies at the Oriel Canfas Gallery in Cardiff. I met some people I knew and hadn’t seen for a long time, like Phil Carradice and his wife, Trudy, and Emily Hinshelwood, but also met some new faces, which is always fun. I particularly enjoyed poems by Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews, Ivy Alvarez, Nick Fisk and Simone Mansell Broome.
In July 2008, on the way back from Italy, I visited the Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, near Albert in northern France. Years earlier, my mother had made a promise to her own mother that she would make the trip and find the grave of one of my cousins, Private W S MacKay of the Seaforth Highlanders, who died there on 14th September 1915 aged 19.