Oxford Stanza read to a capacity audience at the delightful Art Jericho gallery.
John Elinger's latest collection is based on Old Testament verses. It is carefully structured, meticulously planned and the poet read his work with sincere conviction. Nevertheless, for me, it came dangerously close to didactic. Even his final enigmatic sign off for "Realms of Existence" - "It's simple: life is either fact or fiction, bread or dreaming, thing or word," didn't quite free me from that inhibition.
Vahni Capildeo followed in complete contrast. Her lovely, strongly accented, voice was not always easy to follow, but well worth working at it. Her skill in mixing sensations (visual, aural, kinetic, tactile, olfactory etc) creates new sensory images that collide and merge ephemerally. "Inhuman Triumphs" transforms the poet into physical and metaphysical states;- a box hedge, a double vodka, a heat haze etc. Her varied poetic forms and internal rhymes play with language like modelling clay. It is exciting, original and enables one to enjoy the richness of ambiguity. - "the gently muscled water called attention"; "there reigned a catastrophic indigo." Her new book "Utter" will be well worth dipping into.
Andrew Smardon writes sensitive narratives with bright images and metaphor that take us far beyond his text. In "Last Morning on St Kilda" we get " .. …, I leave them/ whatever consolation they may find/ in a handful of oats and the Bible splayed at Exodus." In "For Emily on Her First Birthday" - "… Your reach short but your grip tight/ the undertow of your intent/ never long diverted"…Andrew reads, allowing his words to score, matter-of-factly - seemingly unaware of the power or density of his own matter.
Jennifer A. McGowan's engaging animated readings are a joy to hear. There is something very relaxing about hearing poetry from a poet who 'performs'. She ended the first half of the programme with strident, humorous and accessible material that set us laughing and wanting more. But Jennifer interleaves her pieces with deep and thought-provoking work, too: a dedication to a local poet who believes 'nothing ever happens in Horspath' ends with "Night washes in./Poetry wails around the eaves, seeking entry."
She included a beautifully-crafted word painting of Prague -"Storm over Kutna Hora" awakening more than a few ghosts. Her images resound long and loud after you hear/see them "You cup your hands in a moonbeam/Like a chalice." Her final piece - a play on words using London Underground lines - is such a good joke, we all go off for our wine laughing.
Stephen Yeo opened the second half by sharing his experiences of life in China. He was fortunate enough to have had a close Chinese friend who enabled him to share political and cultural references few are privileged to know. His narratives have deep Chinese wisdom. Stephen's story-telling was more than pleasing with little epigrams like "Letters will make it seem further" and in "The Responsibility System" - 'You my friend can keep the horses' to the man who tried to trick his contract. He inspires one to think philosophically.
Caroline Ashley's hauntingly romantic poetry is always a highlight of these evenings. She is a gifted wordsmith with a relaxed, emotive quality of reading that bring her lines to life. The sensuousness in "Desire" is typical, "…..to be a petal width away/ and touch her shy-white skin, share lip to lip, a flame." Every word is significant, every space between her words, thought through. "Ophelia's Ghost" ends "…while from her damp lips: a low keening." Caroline avoids sentimentality with her integrity of writing.
The evening ended with the laugh-out-loud humour of Michael Swan. But, Michael's work is far from trivial. He can make one cry, too! Whatever else, you cannot hear his work without being made to think. His books are treasures to dip into whenever one feels a bit downcast. If you feel good, they are even better! No sacred cows for Michael - opera, education, erudition, old age - he treats them all equally irreverently. What a pleasure to read and hear him!
The poets have another evening at the Gallery next Friday June 8th. This talented group of writers have something for everyone. Don't miss it!