Friday, February 26, 2016

Live poetry at Red Roaster cafe

William Blake's lines in the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
The driver for Age Concern's furniture warehouse in Newhaven said put it on Ebay because if they took it away, his colleague reckoned my old glass-doored cabinet would end up at the tip.

On the way back from Paradise Park garden centre the other day with mum, we stopped at the warehouse. Mum's been looking for a chair so she can look out onto the terrace at the fox, her pots, cats and the seagull who pecks at the cat flap to get in.

She bought a rocking chair, I bought a bookcase. Mum has a thing about chairs and tables, like my friend Jane, who has several broken chairs she won't get rid of. I had a cull on chairs last year and put them on the pavement. Every single one went, including the lovely broken one I bought to mend because I loved the shape of its arms, but never mended it, only recovered the cushions.

So my thing about chairs is under control, but not my thing about bookcases. I work in my bedroom. It's a big room and it was the only place I could find for my grandfather's glass display cabinet which I kept after my aunt died. I associate the cabinet with a miniature tea set: cups the size of fingernails and saucers no bigger than a thumbnail which my aunt would take out so I could play with them. It was a family museum in the good front room where there was a fire.

I'm not sure who broke the glass pane but one door's had a gap in for as long as I can remember and when I saw the bookcase in Newhaven I decided that was it, I was getting rid of my grandfather's museum. It would have been impressive in a large family house in Merthyr, but I suspect I've hung onto too much. So Age Concern agreed to take it away when they delivered the book case.

On Wednesday night I cleared the shelves. Yesterday morning Age Concern came and went, delivered the lovely old bookcase but didn't take my grandfather's cabinet. I wasn't ready for it to go to the tip. I took the glass doors off. It's now another bookcase, not a museum and I've found a new place for it.

But the point is that I found a stack of pamphlets - Black Slingbacks in two editions - published by Slow Dancer Press, set up by the novelist John Harvey. And last night who should be reading his own poems in Brighton (Out of Silence, his new and selected is out now from Smith Doorstop), but John Harvey, along with Chrissy Williams who organises the Free Verse poetry book fair in London each year.

All praise to Michaela Ridgeway, who booked them for her Red Roaster PigHog series. It's not easy putting on poetry events, as I know from two decades back when Don Paterson, Eva Salzman and me set up Brighton Poets. Sat up in bed, breast-feeding Mrisi, stuffing envelopes with flyers for readings, I wondered if anyone would notice if they didn't happen.

There wouldn't be a massive fuss if there weren't poetry readings in Brighton. Poetry's slipped out of the Festival without an outcry. Rather like all the services that are being dismantled, there's a general assumption that someone will keep poetry events going.

Poetry needs money. Not a massive amount. Michaela's not paid for putting on events. She does it because she's a dynamic and generous individual, like John Harvey who last night told us he wrote westerns so he could put on poetry readings and run a small press all those years ago which gave me my first pamphlet collection, and Chrissy Williams who showcases the best independent presses in the iconic setting of Red Lion Square every autumn. People who fill my bookcase.

Support poetry at PigHog. Go to readings when you can. As Brighton gentrifies, let's keep the low-cost tradition of men and women in front of a mike reading poems, necessary.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A new way of looking at a book

What remains of the cell of the Anchoress
of Shere - the subject of Cell
by Clare Best and Michaela Ridgeway.
The Anchoress was walled up in
St James Church, Shere, Surrey
Preparing to run a series of workshops in Brighton on making books, I have on my desk a beautiful example of a new approach to poetry created by Clare Best and Michaela Ridgeway, a poem and charcoal drawings collectively called Cell.

Cell is folded so it stands alone, allowing views of Michaela's work and poems by Clare and its theme, a girl enclosed in a cell, perfectly mirrors its subject.

Michaela's striking drawings convey the horror of this voluntary imprisonment with superimposed movement, a sense of chaos, of a body without features or with features re-arranged. On the cover, a sitting body clasps its own arm behind its back - the head absent.

Clare's poems describe the girl's memories of her mother, her own adolescent visions of God and Lucifer and ultimately her death. It's a story that comes from 1329 but which has contemporary energy thanks to the way Clare tells it, the way it is presented and Michaela's fine drawings. Cell's published by Frogmore Press and designed by Katy Mawhood.

I have been collaborating with artist Jane Fordham for a decade and our workshops, coming up at Fabrica Gallery in the spring, will share some of the processes we've been through and what we've learned about mixing up words and images.

They're aimed at writers and artists and will focus on making an artist book. They will offer a new way of looking at the book, at words and images and the creative process. There will be a series of three half-day workshops as well as standalone day-long workshops. Details will be available on the Fabrica website.

For more on Cell visit Frogmore Press and Clare Best's website. For more on Jane Fordham's work visit her website and explore Fabrica's events programme here.