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An Afternoon of Poetry: Grey Hen Press Writers

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Wisdom, humour and poetry

Edinburgh ’11,  Blackwell’s Bookshop 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh 16th  Aug – 15.15-16.30 pm

This gathering was on the second floor of Blackwell’s Bookshop, surrounded by bookshelves and open to all customers passing through. Grey Hen is a relatively new independent press, publishing poetry by women. Concentrating on producing anthologies, themed to showcase older women’s voices. Grey Hen Press have been giving less well-known poets the opportunity of having their work published alongside that of more established writers. Based in Yorkshire, they have collected and shared some of today’s exciting new work by older women, many of whom were present to read their own work here in Edinburgh at the Festival.

Most of the women were from the North of England. Two were Scots. The gathered poets read their own works and those of other women, featured in the four Grey Hen anthologies from which they chose their favourite examples to share with us. Each woman had a distinctive voice and style, as they delighted the audience with poems from “ Twist of Malice”, “ Cracking On”, “ No Space But Their Own” and “ Get Me Out Of Here “, themed collections within which each is a published collaborator.

A.C.Clarke was a charming presenter, introducing each of the women at the start of the show and then keeping the flexible running order flowing throughout the readings. She also read well, her own works,  Quest from Cracking On, then Assembly of Birds  plus  M.R,Peacocke’s A Wintering Lark  and Gina Shaw’s Crow On The Roof  from “ No Space But Their Own”, and Carol Bromley’s Lunch Date from A Twist of Malice.

Marianne Burton read her own poems, Miss You Night&The Roses from A Twist of Malice, Owls at Midnight and Sparrowhawk from No Space But Their Own and Viewing at the National from Get Me Out Of Here. Her works are illuminating descriptions of thought and pointed, linguistically clever, observation poetry. The Roses is a particularly beautiful poem about the relationship between rooting systems, life and information which moves, beyond personality, through the natural worlds. It was eerie, earthy and well read.

Angela Kirby is a powerful bundle of energy who read from her works in all the anthologies. Her Twist of Malice poems are mighty, humorous blades of language. Her poems in Cracking On are linguistically evocative picture creations, which she delivered slightly too fast. From No Space But Their Own she read The Reality of Eagles which is brief but has great weight and from Get Me Out Of Here she read the sharply insightful, revealing Miss Pretty and Early Mass. All her work is excellent, verbally precise, incisive and often extremely funny. She has a splendidly vibrant performance personality which will grow in power as she becomes more confident in the weight of her lines, which could be delivered at a less breathtaking pace.

Wendy Klein read Martha by Christine Webb from Twist of Malice. It reminded me of bitter herbs as it picked up the theme. From Cracking On she read her own works Some Midnights, Like a Formal Feeling and If I Cannot and from Get Me Out Of Here her own Migrant and Carole Bromley’s Delayed. Delayed is a splendid picture of misery in Birmingham New Street, which is probably the bleakest bus station in Britain. Wendy Klein’s own work is more fluffily feminine and comic, which she delivers with great tongue in cheek charm.

Eleanor Livingstone read her poems How to Watch a Seagull and Another Life from No Space But There Own and from Get Me Out Of Here, her own Just to Say and Phase ll , as well as Helena Nelson’s Blind Date and Margaret Wood’s Heritage. Her delivery was a bit stiff for my liking in the first section, reading her own very clever work but improved dramatically in reading all the insightful Get Me Out Of Here pieces.

Margaret Christie began late in the set with works from Get Me Out Of Here. Her own powerful poems Eurydice on Skye and Music Came Through were beautifully delivered, as were Liz Crosby’s  hilarious, For I will Consider My New Mobile, Margaret Wood’s Caithness and Helena Nelson’s Thumbscrew. By now we were all well aware of the wise, powerful, often hilarious voice of the older woman and had been listening quite a while. Margaret Christie kept us all hanging on every word, provoking audible laughter from her smiling audience. Her relish in other people’s work was very clear. The supportive appreciation all the women showed for one another’s work was a refreshing delight. Even when being acerbic about life and human foibles these splendid poets are compassionate and powerfully aware of the social as well as the personal arena influencing their work.

Julie Deakin is another splendid performer. She brought great life to her own work in Get Me Out Of Here, Far side, Thank you for thinking of us and Nice work, as well as Cathy Grindrod’s What the harassed woman said, which I liked very much. Gina Shaw’s Sleepless in Brum, Ann Alexander’s entertaining work The back end of a pantomime horse and Ann Drysdale’s How Poet’s Handle Shit were equally well delivered.

Rosemary McLeish read Here’s Another Poem from Twist of Malice which I loved. She also read Aquafit and Old Lady Rap from Cracking On which were great observational fun poems, delivered too softly. She was the poet who finished the afternoon’s readings far more confidently with Unfair to Snails, Preferring A Sow’s Ear to a Silk Purse and It’s All Wrong With Me , which is a splendid work from Get Me Out Of Here.

This unusual, one off, gathering at the Edinburgh Festival, had a full house audience of mixed aged and sex who all stayed the course, despite being free to leave at any time. They clapped warmly, deeply appreciating the intelligence and verbal talent of the company of poets. Their wit, warmth and unique expressions of their life experiences made this a most enjoyable afternoon. Grey Hen Press have done us all a great service in publishing the work of these fine poets and gathering them together to perform for us, which is not always easy for a poet to do. These wonderful women were fine presenters as well as worthy poets in their own right, showing an intense appreciation of one another’s work as well as of Life in all its layers,

Marianne Burton – poet, Margaret Christie – poet,  A.C.Clarke – poet, Julia Deakin – poet, Angela Kirby – poet, Wendy Klein – poet, Rosemary McLeish – poet, Eleanor Livingstone – poet

Company Credits: Writers – Anne Alexander, Carole Bromley, Liz Crosby, Ann Drysdale, Cathy Grindrod, Helena Nelson, M.R. Peacocke, Gina Shaw,  Christine Webb,  Margaret Wood, Chairperson – Ann C Clarke Publisherhttp://www.greyhenpress.com/index.php?id=1

Venue –  http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/jsp/editorial/shops/instore_events.jsp

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Tuesday 16h August 011 /  Blackwell’s Bookshop 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh

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