Shindig Live Poetry Leicester 30 January 2017

Poster for Shindig poetry readingsShindig is organised by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators and the former usually lead the first half while the latter take over after the interval. Tonight Nine Arches Press was launching Under the Radar #18 and Crystal Clear Creators featured readings from Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Andrew Button.

Each half starts with open mic slots. Will Coles took the first slot with a sonnet from a series of ‘delinquent sonnets’ looking at rubber-neckers gathered after an accident, “he’s moving so he’s not dead” ending on the line “We’ll feed on him another day.”. Thomas Irvine gave us another sonnet about Icarus. It was third poet Richard Byrt who hit on the novel idea of giving the audience the title of the poem about to be read, here “Motivating Millie”, a darkly humorous list of suggestions of things Millie could do, gradually revealing that elderly Millie’s relatives are thinking of a care home for her and these ideas are to “Stop them deciding they have to put you away.” Ambrose Musiyiwa rounded off the open mic slots with a topical poem about Martians (and the aliening of refugees) of which I know the title because I saw it published in “The Journal.”

Jane Commane of Nine Arches kicked off the Under the Radar launch by reading two poems, “Hail” by John Challis and “The Way Queenie Smokes” by Edward Long, confessing that the latter poem gave her cravings for a cigarette,

“The way Queenie smokes is why they call him Queenie,
ballet-poise along his whole arm out to his held fingers.
Long sensuous drawing up of the smoke into his lungs,
a gentle letting forth of smoke from his mouth.

The rasp to his laugh rattles his belly
squashed tight into his stained t-shirt.”

Reviews editor, Maria Taylor, picked Catherine Ayres’ “Solistice”

“Perhaps I’ll find you in the valley’s bruise,
the jolt of your eyes in a seam of light;
I have my plans these winter nights
when the spent candle stumbles, gone,”

This was read before Joe Caldwell’s “Transmigration.” Deborah Tyler-Bennett picked both of Josephine Shaw’s poems “On the Banks of the Aude” and “Mum and Dad enjoy a Cocktail.” Cathy Whittaker read “St Jerome” where she wonders if his wife viewed him in quite the same way as those who laud him, and “Message to My Grandfather” (not featured in the magazine). Reviewer D A Prince selected Ramona Herdman’s “Wake Up: Time to Die” which takes a quote from “Bladerunner” as its source inspiration, explaining “It grabbed me and I went straight back to the beginning to see how she did it.” Her second selection was a short extract from Martin Figura’s “Shed” which she had reviewed. Fiona Theokritoff read her poem “Cartographer” and another, “Wrong Turning.” Although availability played a big part in selections, in a issue which includes poems from Sarah Barnsley, Giles Goodland, Josh Ekroy, Fran Lock, Jessica Mookherjee and Rory Waterman amongst others, a mere two poems would have been a tough choice.

Maria Taylor was back, this time in her Crystal Clear Creators role, to get the second half underway. She read her own poem, “Don and the Age of Aquarius”, imagining someone like Donald Trump meeting a hippy angel in 1967’s Summer of Love. Jim Kersey had three short poems, “Inheritance,” “Inspiration” and “Dawn” forming part of an “Autumn Verses” sequence. The first two had a serious tone, exploring rich autumnal shades and colours. The third was light-hearted, starting “Shall I compare thee to a maple tree/ though thou are more temperamental.” More humour from John Lloyd’s “I Believe” based on the foundation that if he’d signed up to the university of life, “it enrolled me on the wrong course.” Most open mic slots were taken by Shindig regulars, but both Johns were reading at Shindig for the first time and got a warm welcome. Dave Tunnley kept up the autumnal theme in “Imagine Travel.” I read “The Shoemaker’s Walk” from “Welcome to Leicester“. Angela Bailey read “Rania’s Story”, a woman fleeing Syria with her children but leaving her elderly mother behind and the guilt, “as close as a sapling to its roots.” Rob Jones wrapped up the open mic session with a poem about a house shared by three humanities students living in “nostalgic tribute to ‘Black Books’ or ‘Withail and I’,” a poem apparently without title.

Featured poet, Deborah Tyler-Bennett started with three poems, “Ways Home,” “North’s Street” and “Sutton-in-Ashfield” from “Napoleon Solo Biscuits” which I reviewed for London Grip here. She then read new poems from her forthcoming collection “Mr Bowlly Regrets”, “Overheard on the Threes”, eavesdropping a conversation on a long bus journey. “No Relation” inspired by the discovery that some soldiers who served in the First World War had put down employers as their next of kin because they had no family to return to. “Then” inspired by a grandmother, looking at “Superstitutions” shared by her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister who saw “sleek magpies not as thieves but portents.” “Upstairs at the Trading Post” where a down-to-earth woman is wary of a ghost “lurking upstairs while she did the cleaning.” A star of the silent film era is recalled in “Popping By” where a “soldier hubby’s specs matching those of Harold Lloyd hanging on to that clock face.”

Second featured poet was Andrew Button whose “Dry Days in Wet Towns” has just been published by erbacce press. He introduced us to a selection of dryly observed humour. “Glasgow Hotel” could have been drawn from Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination. “The Only Clue” ends “roving extraterrestrials will still find a shopping trolley in a canal.” “after the drive-thru refusal (no fence involved)”, a woman takes her horse into McDonalds in “We’re Lovin’ It”. “Two Dickies” is about a statue to the cricket umpire Dicky Bird. “Turner in his Grave” muses on a Turner Prize entry. “Light of Wonder” was a tribute to Ray Bradbury who “coaxed my fledging pen to write on” and ending “your books will never burn.” Andrew Button is a collector of news stories, not unlike Marcel Proust, and the quirkier the better. “Navel Pursuit” takes inspiration from a story about a man who collected navel fluff. “Microphone” was a nod to childhood where he and friends would past the time recording made-up jingles. The final poem “After the Rain”, the name of a bubble bath, a tender tribute to his wife.

“Under the Radar” magazine is available from Nine Arches Press.

Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s collections are published by Kings England Press.

Andrew Button’s “Dry Days in Wet Towns in available from erbacce press.




“The Fetch” Gregory Leadbetter (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Gregory Leadbetter The Fetch cover imageSome poems seem to strike an immediate chord and it’s love at first read. Others are a slow burn: they seem a little distant at first but it takes another read (or two) to gain a fuller appreciation of what the poem achieves. Gregory Leadbetter’s “The Fetch” falls into the latter category. Their quiet intent draws a reader in but it takes another read before really warming to them. The title refers to the second meaning of fetch as an apparition, double, wraith of a living person. During a dream in the title poem,

“I listened, and began to speak
as I am speaking now. My breath

condensed. I saw it slowly take
the outline of a child, afraid
of the dark from which it was made.”

Throughout the collection, there’s a sense of haunting. Sometimes this sense comes from external apparitions, but mostly it comes from a sense of legacy and responsibility to those both leaving us and to those left after us. The narrator’s parental instinct doesn’t stop at noticing “the outline of a child” but picks up that it’s fearful. That emotion could be an observation or a projection although the ambiguity isn’t relevant.

During his final illness Gregory Leadbetter’s father began building a model of the solar system, referred to in “My Father’s Orrey”

“A look of recognition crossed his eyes –
yes that’s them – but out of orbit,
no force to order and bind them
to the weave of their ellipses,
and turn the eye of space between
and spring them in the cradle of their star,
without which they rattle and fall.
With the planets in his hands, he felt
the weight of his loss, knew he had forgotten
how to put the universe together.”

Later, in the sequence “Dendrites and Axons”, part II, the poet’s father’s decline is further explored,

“At the hospital, you had to draw a pentagon.
Geometry itself broke open: where
there should have been one, you drew
three, which overlapped like a Venn diagram.

An epicentre in the white space: chaos
in its blossoming fractal.”

It’s a sensitive exploration, handled deftly so, despite his decline, the father never loses his dignity. The sequence is a poignant layering of images that guide the reader to see the strength in the father/son relationship and enduring respect.

The poems are not all focused on the central relationship and are not all lingering in an absence of things not said. “Feather” is a villanelle that ends

“My father is not so old as I am now.
This feather’s perfection cannot replace
the wing it lifted from the ground.

But there’s enough of its vane of barbs to astound
his absence, just enough fragmented grace
to find in the feather that knocked me down
the wing that lifts me from the ground.”

What burns through is the desire to communicate the senses of duty and communication, the drive to continue and renew legacies, even if adapted and revived to suit contemporary times. Plus a recurring theme of humanity and compassion. Gregory Leadbetter doesn’t shy away from his ghosts or the things that haunt him, but shines a light on them to work towards a better understanding of the human condition.

“The Fetch” is available from Nine Arches Press.

“Beginning with Your Last Breath” Roy McFarlane (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Roy McFarlane Beginning with your last breath book coverRoy McFarlane explores growing up in the West Midlands (he is British born with Jamaican origins), discovering that he was adopted and the mix of emotions that triggered even though his adoptive parents were supportive and loving. This is particularly effective through the repetition in the villanelle “The weight of knowing” when he looks at a photograph of his birth mother,

“The woman in the photograph

sent me letters to leave me in a spell
but I was conjured by memories that
this was the woman who gave me away.

And those eyes telling their tales
and untold stories couldn’t change the fact of
the woman in the photograph;
this was the woman who gave me away.”

The title poem explores his compulsion to write,

“If poetry could take the pain away
I’d swap places and it would be me
struggling to breathe
that five-year-old child you held close
to your bosom like a small bagpipe
limped limbs, lungs bulging,
inflating and deflating;
to capture,
to write,

to verse my life
to begin with the first breath
with you watching over me
until the break of dawn.”

The death of his (adoptive) mother acted as a trigger for McFarlane to write about his life, loves, sorrows, racism and coming to terms with his adoption. He does meet his birth mother later and a compassionate poem explores her reasons for giving him up which allows him to accept her motives and appreciate that family isn’t always linked by blood. His growing up is complicated by racial prejudice at a time when politician Norman Tebbit suggested testing the patriotism of ethnic minorities living in England by establishing which cricket team they supported at international level. McFarlane’s poem, “The Tebbit Test (Patriotism)” responds by pointing out that for a black man, supporting the English team isn’t straightforward. John Barnes played for Liverpool and England and suffered taunting and so-called fans throwing bananas on the pitch when he played. McFarlane lives,

“the engulfing experience of John Barnes,
the genius, the wizard that scored against Brazil,
cutting through their defence with pure beauty.
Only to be reminded a few days later on a plane
returning home, filled with the England team and supporters,
that goal don’t count, the one scored by the nigger.”

The aim here is to record the poet’s life journey, to document the prejudice, but also to widen his subject matter beyond racism. It doesn’t avoid the topic but it isn’t purely about racial prejudice. McFarlane also writes with tenderness, here about his wife putting on a pair of tights

“caressing and smoothing out
folds or ripples that you find
as I did the night before
when we had reached our pinnacle
I held you tenderly and lovingly
eased out the swell and tide
that still lingered in the bodies
of two lovers overwhelmed in love.”

“Beginning with your last breath” allow lost love, friendships, boxing love of family, music, race, acceptance of adoption to interweave with personal narratives. McFarlane tells his story with compassion and a desire to share, needing to tell not just the story but about the transformative ability of love. These are poems that anyone can relate to, written with a respect of craft and attention to detail.

“Beginning with your last breath” is available from Nine Arches Press

“the terrible” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

In this second collection, Daniel Sluman explores living with a disability and the impact on his life and on the lives of those around him with an unflinching honesty using language stripped of extraneous detail. The “smoke” in “killing the darling of smoke” could be both literal and metaphor,

” having left

your joy between the sheets the loneliness
that enters the window that coming flings

open this rehearsal gasp bookmarking
each moment when you’re single

& crying into your father’s arms
as he did with his father before him

you sit in your bruise-blue dressing gowns
& pull cigarettes from separate packs

inhaling between sips of black coffee
this comma puncturing a sentence

neither of you can bear to finish
only the familiar tug of smoke

a mantra the hardest to kill
that chants death death death”

The familial similarities in their dressing gowns and taste for black coffee is counterpointed by the separate cigarette packets. This father and son are, rightly, both linked and independence. In contrast, “doppelganger” explores dependence and ends

“& you’ll say you can’t bear this weight in a week
you’d rather be alone than with this crumpled mess
of apologies & mistakes that shakes in the corner
of the bedroom a towel over my shoulders
that once tensed over your pupil’s bloom
I’ll keep this lightning trapped in my hip
my strange weather the dent I sank into
will rise from the sofa in a mist
of cologne and possibilities”

It exposes that fear of someone else’s initial enthusiasm of being with you drain when they come to realise how much care they will have to give. It can be a large dent in a male ego when one can’t be the provider but needs care. Exposing and sharing those needs is a vulnerable time as it risks ending what could have been a promising start of a relationship and that fear never quite leaves even in very long term relationships.

“the terrible” isn’t all gloom. In “they say you will become what you think about the most” sees the poet looking through his girlfriend’s eyes until “the evening starts to fill the glass the stitches of you dress/ unwind in the dark & I’m left/ with nothing but the memory/ of staring from behind those/ green-flecked eyes.”

The title poem explores the aftermath of the bone cancer that led to disability. It ends,

“today emily fills my eyes in our grubby basement flat
each time I tell her I love her my heart crushes
like a paper cup the diamond winces on her hand
its brightness weighing us down in shadow”

The longing sense of regret is reprised in “we’ll never dance”,

“as you’re drawn through the ballroom

once again by someone who can lift you

to the light like crystal but just as the dance
is a controlled demolition of the body

I spasm & fall into this crippled choreography.”

“the terrible” looks likes a series of minimalist, muscular poems, yet the intense exterior is able to reveal nuance and shade shaping relationships. The poems reach out to draw the reader in and fizz with vital necessity: the poet had to write them in order to share experiences of chronic pain and loss tempered with tenderness and also revealing pleasure and love.

“the terrible” is available from Nine Arches

My review of Daniel Sluman’s first collection “Absence has a weight of its own”.


“Species” Mark Burnhope (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Species Mark Burnhope book coverMark Burnhope is also known as a disability campaigner, challenging ableist attitudes as well as the purely medical model of disability, tackled in poems such as “Am I DisAbled” and “A Self-Diagnosis Questionnaire”. His poems are not to be written off as sloganeering. “I Still Recoil at the Smell of Fast Mustard” recalls a true event where a drunk woman pushes a hamburger into his face after a night’s clubbing after saying she didn’t know people like that went clubbing. The poem doesn’t ask for sympathy but shows readers why addressing such attitudes is key.

Unsurprisingly Atos is also a target. Atos are the commercial organisation who won the government’s contract to carry out the Work Capability Assessments, which have been deservedly criticised and found in the High Court to discriminable against people with mental health conditions (although this decision is being appealed). The most controversial aspect has been the discovery that Atos had targets to increase the numbers of people being assessed as “fit for work” and the high level of successful appeals against these assessments. Mark Burnhope also considers the legacy of the Paralympics, in the sequence “Paralympic Lessons: the Atosonnets”, in “Preliminary #3” (the sequence works through preliminary rounds, quarter and semi-finals, etc).

.“                                     even as you light a candle

for every Atos victim, some children themselves.
Tolerate Coldplay during the closing ceremony,
random cavalry choirs, singing para, para, para…

Lift hymns. Some will try to disable you further
for it. Ignore: finally impairment fills the sky.

With your seated soul-kid, say: He has one leg,
he must be an athlete. Hit the point dead-centre.”

The triumph over adversity stories are uplifting but not much use when every day involves adversity and discrimination. Singling out Coldplay’s “Paradise” might seem nit-picking, but when faced with constant ableism, you do become sensitive to others’ insensitivity. No one would ever say when looking at the crowd in a football or athletics stadium, “he must be a sportsman”. The attitudes are illustrated and questioned but don’t tell readers what to think. “Taxonomical” has been read as part of the disability series, but it can also be read as a break-up poem,

“We labelled aspects of our house
with collective nouns: idle of sofas, gleam
of lamps, sympathy of teaspoons,
as zoologists do.

When she left me, I willed every day
to scuttle back under the gravel, gathered
a grievance of takeout menus,
had a man fling a fold
of furniture into a van
.                             and move me
to a flat in a town
overrun with one man flats

wherein I released the idles, gleams,
sympathies, grievances, folds – resolved
to call the rest by my own names.”

It’s not a mournful poem though, there’s a resilience in the final line. Mark Burnhope’s scope is far wider than just disability activism. His poems are crafted and those written in traditional or new forms demonstrate an understanding not just of the rules of the form but also the spirit. There’s a series of abnominals, which use the letters of the dedicatee’s name at least once in each stanza in a twenty line long poem beginning and ending by addressing the dedicatee with the title being an anagram of their name. “A Dab-Toothed Grin Virus” is dedicated to naturalist David Attenborough and ends

“That shit hasn’t died. Those trends, traditions,
He set. Our revisionist brings a threat to bathos.

In his bright irreverent demeanour. An adder but
No bite – nearer to god, and other gravid designs.”

David Attenborough was also a pioneer of TV programming – he not only brought wildlife films onto the screen but understood how to use the medium to ensure the wildlife were the stars of the show and creating a model that many wildlife documentaries still follow. The form of the poem follows its sense and creates a picture of its dedicatee. Mark Burnhope writes of wildlife too. There’s a sequence, “fragments from The First Week of the World: the Herpetological Bible”, focusing on the leopard gecko. in “Day Five”

“A crack and a shriek. She flickers away.
Awakened from sleep, she flickers away.

A branch or a leaf, a bat or a bird.
The leopard is meek. She flickers away.

A wind in the brush, a bray in the herd?
A step and a creep. She flickers away.

The gathering guns a thorn in her side.
Unable to weep, she flickers away.

Afghanistan play. Afghanistan hide.
Afghanistan seek. She flickers away.”

It’s recognisably a ghazal, just as the subject is recognisably a gecko. It moves from natural observation to political without altering a beat because it takes advantage of a form where the couplets need not be related but keep a structure of rhyme/repetition.

Mark Burnhope’s poems demonstrate craft and sensibility to their vocabulary, form, rhythms and sound patterns which complement and reinforce their message. He intelligently explores identity, disability and otherness without didacticism and tempers anger with wryness.

“Species” is available from Nine Arches Press here.


“Absence has a Weight of its Own” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Absence has a weight of its own Daniel Sluman book cover

Daniel Sluman’s “Absence has a Weight of its Own” has a mature, questioning outlook. In “After the Wedding” the couple are

“stalled in the marriage bed;
your maiden name

a peppercorn crushed
in my mouth. A chandelier
hangs above us, the links of the chain
are tiny & numerous, & if one came loose,

if it bent under the strain,
well, I guess what I’m asking is
where do we go
from here?”

The tone is colloquial and the use of enjambment drives the poem forward making its final question natural and uncontrived. It’s a recurring question. Daniel Sluman looks forward rather than back, giving this collection a sense of forward motion, looking towards a future.

The lack of nostalgia-tinged poems based on childhood memories is refreshing in a first collection. That’s not to say there aren’t firsts in “Absence has a Weight of its Own”, eg a first realisation of being in love comes when a poem’s narrator struggles and fails to imagine taking a strange woman just met to bed as he discovers he doesn’t want to break a commitment to his lover. The past is not ignored though, “Portrait at a Café” ends

She sips her cappuccino
& floats back to the evenings
when a single line

would catch, spark,
igniting everything down
the months before we met.”

A lover is weighted by her own past and the poet acknowledges the presence of that weight. As well as relationships, Daniel Sluman explores trauma and human interactions with compassion, writing about emotion without sentimentality. The title poem details the reaction to the loss of a leg,

“Gas flooded lungs tense;
turned spluttering breath
to moth-balled lips
as they cleaved me at the hip;
the flesh was stitched taut,
a finer fabric tore.

Unlike the gold rush of cancer
it entered slowly; grew fat”

There’s a finely-judged intimacy here, underlined by a firm grasp of craft. The rhythm is conversational, welcoming readers in but the sounds show attention to detail. The clipped “t” assonances in “tense,/ turned sputtering breath/ to moth-balled lips” echo the sense of a struggle for breath. These sounds are echoed again in “stitched taut” interrupting the alliteration in “flesh…/ a finer fabric”, tightening the rhythm of the longer “f” sounds and making the reader’s breath catch and become shallow as it often does when someone is in pain. The “gold rush of cancer” sounds relaxed in comparison. I suspect these effects were a combination of instinct and deliberation but demonstrate good poetic instinct. “Absence has a Weight of its Own” doesn’t feel like a debut, but a considered, crafted collection.