‘One Year On’
If you wanted to look for a mirror of all the different emotions, the heartaches, fears, fury, disbelief, warmth, solidarity, nostalgia and love experienced these last twelve months, you needn’t have looked further than the words written and read so beautifully by Rosie Johnston, Alex Josephy, Colin Pink, Jacqueline Saphra and Rob Walton.
Voices and styles so different and so complementary, painting what we have gone through so far in the pandemic with an astonishingly varied palette – confirming that we would be so much worse off without poetry!
If anyone who was part of the large audience attending on the 25th is reading this and wishes to send me (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments on, even a short review of, all or part of the evening, please come forward, don’t be shy! I am so involved in the whole event that it takes me a while to put finger to keyboard and write anything sensible….
In the meanwhile, here are the short biographies of the readers, and information on how to get in touch with them and/or purchase their publications.
Rosie Johnston‘s four poetry books are published by Lapwing Publications in her native Belfast, most recently Six-Count Jive in 2019, a description in 17-syllable stanzas of the inner landscape of post-traumatic stress disorder. Last December top Irish poetry blogger Billy Mills chose it as one of his top three Irish poetry books of 2020. Rosie’s poems have appeared or featured in the Mary Evans Picture Library’s Poems and Pictures blog, London Grip, Culture NI, FourxFour, The Honest Ulsterman, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Hedgerow. Anthologies include Live Canon’s ‘154 Project: In Response to Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ (2016), Her Other Language published by Arlen House in 2020 and the Northern Irish section of Places of Poetry (OneWorld, 2020). Before being distracted by poetry, Rosie had two novels published, in London and Dublin. For this event read the first fiction she has written in over ten years. You can find her and her books online at www.rosiejohnstonwrites.com
Alex Josephy lives in London and Italy. Her collection Naked Since Faversham was published by Pindrop Press in 2020 (http://www.pindroppress.com). Other work includes White Roads, poems set in Italy (Paekakariki Press, 2018, https://www.paekakarikipress.com), and Other Blackbirds (Cinnamon Press, 2016, https://www.cinnamonpress.com). Her poems have won the McLellan and Battered Moons prizes, and have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK and Italy. As part of the Poetry School Mixed Borders scheme, she has been poet-in-residence at Rainham Hall, Essex, and in Markham Square, London. Find out more on her website: www.alexjosephy.net. Her books can be ordered from the publishers, or for signed copies email Alex on email@example.com.
Colin Pink’s poems and fiction have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines and anthologies. His first book of poems, Acrobats of Sound, was published in 2016 (by Poetry Salzburg Press) and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, a pamphlet of 21 villanelles, with woodcuts by Daniel Goodwin, was published in 2019 (by Against the Grain Press). He is having two new collections published this year: Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy another pamphlet published by Paekakariki with woodcut illustrations by Daniel Goodwin and Typicity, his second full-length collection, to be published by Dempsey and Windle in April. You can obtain copies of his books directly from Colin by emailing him on firstname.lastname@example.org or order them from the publisher’s websites. Visit Colin’s Facebook page to see announcements: https://www.facebook.com/colin.pink.37/
Jacqueline Saphra’s The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye 2011) was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women (The Emma Press 2014) won the Saboteur Award for Best Collaborative Work. All My Mad Mothers (Nine Arches Press 2017) was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. Two of her sonnet sequences A Bargain with the Light: Poems after Lee Miller (2017) and Veritas: Poems After Artemisia (2020) are published by Hercules Editions. Her third collection, Dad, Remember You Are Dead was published by Nine Arches Press in 2019. She read from her latest book, One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets, published in February 2021 by Nine Arches Press. She is a founder member of Poets for the Planet, lives in London and teaches at The Poetry School.
Scunthorpe-born Rob Walton lives in Whitley Bay. His poetry has been published by The Emma Press, Strix, The Interpreter’s House, Sidekick Books, Frances Lincoln, Macmillan and others. His works of fiction have been published in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada and New Zealand. Arachne Press has just published his debut poetry collection, This Poem Here, with a launch the night before our reading! He collated the New Hartley Memorial Pathway text. You can follow him on Twitter: @anicelad.
I’m always humbled by so many things at my events: the poets’ or authors’ generosity, their depth of knowledge and skill. Few times have I felt more humbled than at this event, held on Zoom on the evening of February 25, when a large audience heard the words of seven poets reading their own works and those of a European poet of their choice.
I would like to quote a comment received from a member of the audience, which puts my thoughts in a much better way than I ever could: “I cannot explain how I feel when I hear pieces where the writer shares a deep experience of a place or of a piece of art, which isn’t directly part of their life, but they have extended their world to encompass it.”
The idea for the event came while perusing the fabulous ‘Poems and Pictures’ Blog, edited by Gill Stoker on the Mary Evans Picture Library website www.maryevans.com. Over 130 poets have been inspired by images held by the Library to write original works, and the Blog shows this pairing. Many images were of European artworks or of other subjects with a European connection – and I decided I wanted to devote a whole evening to Europe in images and verse.
The poets who agreed to participate were also asked to choose a European poet from any period, and to bring one work by them in translation, and if possible in the original. Images and texts were displayed throughout thanks to Gill Stoker’s mastery of Powerpoint (and her patience during the run-up to the event while dealing with a plethora of tweaks).
So, what can I say about this special evening? First a big thank you to Sarah Lawson, Fiona Moore, Gabriel Moreno, John McCullough (unfortunately unwell, but some of his work was read by others), Emma Page, Jacqueline Saphra and Richard Westcott and of course to Gill Stoker. Thanks also to audience member Alex Chronis, who read in Greek for us.
The poets brought us vastly diverse aspects of Europe – many unexpected ones, and many showing the darker heritage that still resonates, or still exists in its heart and at its periphery.
These were complex, profound works with uncomfortable angles. If we expected pretty vistas and nostalgia for the Grand Tour, we were in for a surprise. Even the Piazza della Signoria in Florence had, in Richard Westcott’s hands, a sinister side of murderous persecution of dissenters. We heard, and saw, the proud survivors of abuse in Jacqueline Saphra’s series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi; the brave demonstrators protesting en masse in Belarus right now in the poems by their compatriots, chosen and read by Fiona Moore together with one of her own poems on the same theme; the grey sky falling on the poet’s head in John McCullough’s poem on Notre Dame (sadly, John was unwell and unable to join us in person) and the almost surreal image of a Polish bodybuilder in John’s choice, a poem by Szymborska; the bloodstained words of Lorca and about Lorca, performed by Gabriel Moreno; the short and tormented life of Therese de Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun brought into poetic focus for us by Emma Page. There were lighter moments, notable among them the guffaws provoked by Sarah Lawson’s clever pun at the end of her short P G Woodehouse spoof: Watteau, Jeeves! And Sarah’s choice of Jacques Prevert in the original and in her own translation; and in Emma Page’s ‘Three Kisses’ celebrating 1960s French cinema. And then one of the great favourites: the universal words of Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’; and much, much more…
If you were there, feel free to email me your comments about the event at irena(at)in-words.co.uk and I shall post them here (anonymously if you prefer).
And if you wish to find out more about the poets and/or purchase their books and pamphlets, here are some links for you. Thank you!