Scarecrow

Poetrywivenhoe team member and poet MW Bewick has recently released “Scarecrow”, a sumptuous collection of his poetry, published by Dunlin Press – launched on 17 March at the Wivenhoe Bookshop. And now, in the Essex County Standard of 14 April 2017, the book has received a really nice write-up by Neil D’Arcy-Jones.

These are hugely accomplished poems, full of clever and evocative language, tenderness and anger. Many use space, they have shape, the whiteness of the page seeps through, they are artistic. The text is augmented by Martin’s monochrome photos of East Anglia – mysteriously elegiac images. The cover illustration and ink stamp designs are by Ella Johnston.

The Scarecrow’s Song

What if my song will … not grow … now the clay is
wet … then hard … and the satellite doves are back
and failing to nest? … I bring you twigs as lambs are
notched and docked and sent out by the oil-yellow
fields … I plough up sand where the old pines jostle
and the holm oaks bristle and creak

(I regret to say that this website appears not to be able to show Martin’s hiatuses and line breaks in this poem, so I’ve had to indicate them by ellipses; sorry about that …)

So: that is the first half dozen lines of the beautiful song of the Scarecrow, and then later we find a more indirectly expressed emotion in Departures – indirect rather than difficult – but then what is difficult about the handsome first stanza?

Departures

In the granite dawn
your first soft moves
are pink trails splashed
on the slow horizon

As we read on in this poem we absorb the melancholy of departure in other beautiful stanzas:

Carriage windows flash
and the sky cracks across
ponds where fleet geese
land by spindle trees

Where is the anger? Well, maybe there is despair in some of these poems:

Food

/

the air vents still hum
behind a collage of hotels

and the smoking pissed bodies
dance higgledy across kerbs

for the clasphanded men
by the crumbled theatre steps

/

If you can get hold of a copy of “Scarecrow” you will be rewarded by cultured and erudite, but eminently readable, poetry. And perhaps you’ll be as intrigued as I was by the final poem (or list) Ylem on the last page. I’ll leave you to try and work it out.

Martin will be a reader at Poetrywivenhoe in May alongside headliners Martin Figura and Helen Ivory – more details later – when he will be reading some of his poems from “Scarecrow”.

::Peter Ulric Kennedy

“Scarecrow” by MW Bewick, Dunlin Press 2016, £9.99 at the Wivenhoe Bookshop and other good bookshops.

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SOME LONDON GRIP REVIEWS TO INTEREST YOU:

http://londongrip.co.uk/2017/04/london-grip-poetry-review-noakes-2/

http://londongrip.co.uk/2016/11/ornith-ology/

http://londongrip.co.uk/2015/08/london-grip-poetry-review-days-begin/

http://londongrip.co.uk/2016/08/london-grip-poetry-review-johae/

http://londongrip.co.uk/2016/10/london-grip-poetry-review-hardie/

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Review: Singing in my Chains – Ian Griffiths

poetrywivenhoe, 24th September 2015

I had been impressed last year when, in the atmospheric Dissenters’ Chapel at Walpole in Suffolk, Ian Griffiths had brought Dylan Thomas to life one summer’s evening. I thought our audience might be as entranced as I had been, and I managed to ‘book’ him for the first of our Autumn readings at poetrywivenhoe.

Ian was born and brought up in Swansea ‘just a short distance’, he says, ‘further along the hills overlooking the glorious curve of Swansea Bay from Dylan Thomas’ birthplace on Cwmdonkin Drive.’ He grew up with Thomas’ poetry ringing in his ears from the old vinyl recordings and he inherited the same landscape.

Ian himself has a very melodious voice, rich with Welsh intonation and he did full justice to the subtleties of Thomas’ rhymes and rhythms in a rich selection which included extracts from Under Milk Wood, and some prose readings from A Child’s Christmas in Wales and other short stories.

We were transported to Fern Hill and were treated to The Hunchback in the Park, and the very fitting Poem in October as well as the more familiar In my Craft or Sullen Art, Do not go Gentle into that Good Night and Death shall have no Dominion.

Ian gave us a rounded portrait of Thomas’ life in between the readings of his work and this provided valuable context. He succeeded in drawing us into this world of sound patterns, so close to song in many instances and the rhythms of Welsh speech brought alive the many metaphysical associations to be found in Thomas.

It was remarked that every single word of Ian’s reading was audible and much appreciated for that, but the whole was commendable, a thoughtfully put together programme read from the heart, which gave a great deal of pleasure to the audience.

Pam Job

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THE POETRYWIVENHOE POETRY COMPETITION 2014

First of all, hearty congratulations to the three winners and the seven commended poets, as well as to the young entrants.

A brief report on the Poetrywivenhoe International Poetry Competition 2014 Awards evening – we did have entries from Eire and from India, as well as all four parts of the United Kingdom. We forbore to treat Cornwall as a separate entity.

Roger gave an overview of how he had approached the adjudication, and promised us an article for this website with some views and advice for aspiring poetry competition entrants (see our Competitions Page for the article itself).

He then took the three winning poems in reverse order, pointing out that the three top winners were each of them already published poets. This very fact gave an explanation as to how they had achieved their places; they were intrinsically good poets. All the judging had, of course, been on the basis of a strictly anonymous entry.

Third Prize was awarded to Anthony Watts who is an established poet from Taunton, Somerset. As Taunton is a long way from Wivenhoe, Anthony had not been able to be present for the awards, and his poem A Proper Fire was convincingly read on his behalf by Peter Kennedy – “The minds eye breeds salamanders”.

Our Second Prizewinner Joan Michelson, from London, was in New York – even further away from Wivenhoe – and so her poem Su Wu was read for her by Roger; “a glimpse of trailing vines, a jungle pressed against the ceiling so lush and green it glowed”.

The prize awards culminated with the presentation of First Prize to Stephen Boyce who read his Watching the Jewel in the Crown to great effect. Roger explained how impressed he had been with the form and the sentiment of the poem; he also made the telling remark that all Stephen’s commas had been in precisely the right places (aspiring poets take note) … “dreaming of the moment he’d walk through the door, kitbag on his shoulder, camera in hand, and the monsoon in his eyes”.

Then it was the turn of the seven Commended poems – not all the poets were present. Candyce Lange provided strong readings of her two Commended poems: Crescent City Jailhouse “She squints out the window, trying to see it through his eyes” and Menopause (composed while she was riding her bike). She then gave a powerful rendition of Pat Bloom‘s hard-hitting Black Beauty with Southern States accent: “seems yo’s the apple of Big Daddy’s eye, best mind him, sugar, don’ never ask why”.

Rosie Sandler electrified us all with her ekphrastic poem Appointment with Lady Agnew in which she closely questions Lady Agnew of Lochnaw in the portrait by John Singer Sargent. “I am waiting for you to dust the century from your clothing …”

Pam Job was able to give a really dark edge to Chris Waters‘ poem Swifts in the Villa dei Misterii, Pompeii with its erotic undertones “… the way that swift and shadow fused as they entered the dark cleft of a nest”.

Pat Borthwick‘s poem Nothing too Remarkable with its “great hawsers hanging in catenary curves” had an extremely able reading by Jean Coverley.

Lesley Jones emoted beautifully the Second Coming of Derek Taylor – “she kept in her stable a milk white stallion, groomed and gleaming for the Messiah’s return”.

Two young persons had entered poems, and for their efforts they each received a complimentary book token; they read their individual poems with some aplomb, although I don’t know if they could be heard at the back of the room. I hope they were. Hope Kevlin-Alderton read At the School Assembly, which had a clever play on the names of various teachers as their classes filed out; “Mr Math’s lot summed their way out …” Miles Black read Out and About, having bravely acknowledged some collaboration with his sister, or perhaps child minder – we were never clear which.

After an intermission we heard a number of the Out of the Hat contributions, which were all of the usual high quality to which poetrywivenhoe audiences have become accustomed. It was hugely interesting to hear Antony Johae‘s poem Poppy; he declaimed it in such an impassioned way, using a harsh staccato of single words to epitomise the sudden and immediate brutality of war; this was really impressive as an oral delivery but I suspect it would have fallen at Roger’s hurdle of having to judge poems in poetry competitions by how they appear on the page. We have to accept this stricture, it’s in the nature of a literary rather than a declamatory contest.

Stephen’s winning poem may be seen in its entirety on our Poems page.

Peter Kennedy

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Candyce, Stephen and Rosie ––>
(photo: Jean Coverley)

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Allison McVety and Roger Caldwell at poetrywivenhoe, April 2014

It was the evening of Thursday 24 April, and the audience at at the Royal British Legion, anticipating some magical poetry, were not to be disappointed. Allison’s reputation — she won the National Poetry Competition in 2011 — had preceded her, but so had her presence at poetrywivenhoe preceded her, in a sense, as she and Roger had read together as a double bill on an earlier occasion in 2008.

Allison opened with some poems from her collection Lighthouses. These were redolent with family loss, and with the adjustments of the bereaved. Finlandia started: “What I know about death is Sibelius / on the high-fidelity music centre, dad / listening in the dark, gas off … and across town / in Arthur Gresty’s chapel, my mother / might also feel the thud, her blue lips / warming, parting, and for a moment / breathing again; so what I know is the strength / of my mother’s love, the volume of my father’s.” Such poetry packed a real emotional punch; but the poet could also warm your heart with flashes of humour. She riffed quite often on swimming and swimming pools: “In the summer / they would open the roof / and when it rained / people would start to get out / so I’d have the pool / all to myself.” Or: “As she eased out from the bank and into / the water the brackets of it / closed about her.” How’s that for an image? And Swimming on the Moon was a beautiful metaphor for her sister’s struggle to revive a mortal illness (happy outcome). The audience loved these works, and also the nice idea of “dining together / five thousand miles apart” — Allison and her husband cooking at the same hour and sitting by the phone in their respective kitchens on different continents as they ate dinner.

Roger raised somewhat of a yelp from the self-same audience: “As everyone knows,” (oh yeah?) “Wittgenstein was a linguistic philosopher …” then: “A lesser known fact about about Wittgenstein is that he never visited Glasgow. But he does in this poem” (from the 2001 collection This being Eden). One of the great things about Roger’s poems is that they are often counterintuitive or indeed counterfactual. It’s more likely true that “everyone’s heard of Raymond Chandler, and of his detective Philip Marlowe.” And most will have heard of John Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant poet, who spent some years in Dr Matthew Allen’s private asylum High Beach near Loughton, in Epping Forest. Roger had him speaking in the third person “from Mr Allen’s madhouse … Essex is a fine place but now / I’d like to go back home.” That was quite affecting. Then Roger’s The Picnics : he said “This is an annoying poem …” well, it wasn’t all that annoying; it ended “One day I shall tell you about them”. And “The mimosa fell with a crunch” brought to an end the almost-but-not-quite-nonsense sequence of Dyxlesias.

As is usually the case with poetrywivenhoe evenings, we had an excellent line-up for the popular Out of the Hat open mic slot, with some muscular decorators in Moscow 1992, and a Zombie Dad “filling our doorway”, and other poems equally as arresting. So, as they say, keep up the good work you poets.

Peter Kennedy

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Emily Berry at poetrywivenhoe, February 2014

On 27 February Poetry Wivenhoe welcomed the widely-acclaimed Emily Berry. If her poetic world is a mysterious, even treacherous, one, her language is throughout perspicuous, even clinical, formed predominantly of simple declarative sentences. It is rooted in everyday experience, of osteopaths and backpains, of speakers who can’t take caffeine because of their nerves, and ask rhetorically, “Am I strung-out, or what?” When her partner has gone out to Zanzibar, “loose-limbed in new landscapes”, it is only reasonable to ask of Zanzibar to give him back. And everywhere there is something that can change one’s life, even a “breathtaking tomato salad”.

Even when more “poetical” language is in evidence, when “London spikes up its wet hair”, or the sea “sulks in and out of the bay”, or one has need to “polish up” one’s feelings, the overt meaning is scarcely opaque. But Berry shows, through her poems, that even the clearest of language slips, fails quite to match up to the felt reality. When we encounter “oranges that are not orange” or the statement that “Even when I sleep I dream I can’t sleep” we meet with paradox, and with paradox, a sort of vertigo. If we cannot entirely trust the world we cannot either trust the language that purports to describe it – even the language of a poem.

She has a strong sense of the macabre – Arlene, equivocal protector of two children trying to escape, is part Brothers Grimm, part-Hammer-Horror. Shriek, clearly a blood-brother to Ted Hughes’ Crow, “smells of meat” and wants not only girls but also “books about girls”. These truncated narratives and dislocated soliloquies give us access to a an often troubling world where something deeply odd or slightly sinister is just around the corner. The pared-down language, and the admirable concision, of these poems, not to speak of their sly humour made for a delightful evening.

Many thanks then to Emily Berry, and to those others – not least our readers at the Open Mike – who helped to make the event such a success. It ended with a Q & A session which addressed, inter alia, the question of how the poem on the page relates to the poem as delivered orally. The upshot was that the relationship between the two is oblique but not opaque – in this like much of Emily Berry’s poetry.

Roger Caldwell

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so too have the doves gone
Reflections on the theme of conflict

Jardine Press Ltd 2014

Pam Job has brought this review by Dave Martin to our attention, and we are happy to post some paragraphs from it.

Extracts from: In Suffolk — http://www.insuffolk.com/doves-gone/

To create an anthology on a theme of the enormity of ‘conflict’, especially one rooted in the memory and powerful poetry of Wilfred Owen, is a considerable endeavour and achievement … Stephen Boyce, a Winchester poet, was invited to be Editor in Chief, supported by Pam Job and Judith Wolton. The anthology is partly illustrated by third year Fine Art students from Colchester Institute under the guidance of Jane Frederick and Claudia Böse. The result is, therefore, a very welcome joining together across disciplines and county boundaries, an example perhaps to follow in the future.

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The range of poems and emotional responses ‘reflecting feelings of outrage, sorrow, regret and fellow-feeling’ (Stephen Boyce) is large indeed in such a relatively slim volume; but it is impressive in its ambition to collate so many forms of human conflict and their lasting effects. The organisation of the poems is very helpful with its several sections so organised as to infer the kinds of conflict the reader will encounter; each section is cleverly titled with (enticingly enigmatic) lines quoted from a poem within that section. The flavour of each section is quite distinct: thus the third and fifth sections for example deal more directly with the experience of war itself (the First World War and diverse recent conflicts respectively), while the other sections show more the presence and effects of other forms, and sometimes strange or unexpected manifestations, of conflict.

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The Postscript poem (‘The Standard of Ur’) brings the anthology to a close: it seems to question the role of art in human history, how it is ‘double-edged’ and can be used for good or ill. The last word in this last poem is ‘peace’; it hovers tantalisingly in the mind, such a modest word to hold back unceasing strife.

Dave Martin

 

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Poetry by Heart 2014

What a great idea, to mount a nationwide contest for school students to learn and recite poetry. The Poetry by Heart competition was set up by Andrew Motion, who was Poet Laureate from 1999 until 2009, and I think this is now the second year (2014) of its inception. I was very pleased to have been in the audience, at Martin Newell’s instigation, at the Essex County finals held at the Colchester Arts Centre on Tuesday evening 4 February. The five competing students, together with their teachers, had come from far distant places in Essex – Chelmsford was the nearest – and sadly there were no finalists from our own schools in and around Colchester, which perhaps is why the audience was so small. Even so, Martin, who was chief judge for Essex both last year and this, told me that last year it had been even smaller.

Poetry By Heart’s own website says that it is “a pioneering national competition designed to encourage pupils aged 14-18 … to learn and to recite poems by heart. Not in an arm-waving, props-supported thespian extravaganza, but as the outward and audible manifestation of an inwardly-understood and enjoyed poem. Each pupil is challenged to memorise and recite two poems – one published before 1914 and one in or after 1914. Pupils choose these from the timeline anthology of over 600 years of poetry on the website. This year, 2014, at county level and beyond, contestants recite a third poem from a special collection of World War 1 poems as part of the centenary commemorations.” The search for a new Poetry By Heart national champion started on National Poetry Day, Thursday 3 October 2013.

So, for the Essex finals, we had five contestants who were all very impressive and well nigh word perfect, although one girl sadly lost her place during her third poem and never really recovered, so that was her out of the competition right away. All fifteen poems were well chosen and were riveting to hear spoken aloud by heart with varying degrees of passion. The struggle for a winner was closely fought, and in the event the victor was Sumiya Abdoune from Eastbury Comprehensive School, Barking.

She was particularly good, and gave an excellent rendition of The Death of Harry Patch which coincidentally is a poem by Andrew Motion himself. She did well.

This contest opened my eyes, and ears, to what can be achieved by a well organised project like Poetry by Heart, and I am sure that the experience for many of the finalists might well propel them to a successful future of poetry or perhaps theatre.

If you want to get a flavour of the standard of presentation, try:

http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/the-best-from-the-2013-competition/

So congratulations to Sumiya, and thanks to Martin and his co-judges. Well done.

Peter Kennedy

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Our evening with Luke Wright and Martin Newell was indeed a good ‘un. Review below …

Martin & Luke powiv Jan'14

LUKE WRIGHT (WITH MARTIN NEWELL) ON THURSDAY 23 JANUARY 2014

Posh Plumber, and the Beast of Bungay … “Gaffe-Man”, the reactionary would-be politico, refreshingly unlike other politicians in that he is all so evidently “some old gaffer talking shit.” A Telegraph-bearing father snoozing on the commuter train. Coggeshall in 1994, with Lovejoy on TV, and a youthful would-be poet writing “florid poems short on nouns” for a girl whose indifference made him inconsolable – for a week.

All this – and more – the audience of poetrywivenhoe were treated to on 23 January when Luke Wright – as ebullient and full of chutzpah and charm and comic verve as ever – made his return visit. He scarcely needed an introduction, but Martin Newell in a preliminary “warm-up” session nonetheless provided one, and as a sort of poetic father-figure – who had once handed Luke the baton, as it were, with which he then ran – was, indeed, best qualified to do so. Whatever his respect for his own father it was the Newell road that Luke would travel: of his father’s daily commute to Liverpool Street, he tells us, “I vowed I’d never work that daily rut.”

The material with which Luke works, and the style he has adopted, leave no place for obscurity or ambiguity: this is not like poetry on the page that can be contemplated at leisure. It must be immediately comprehensible and pack its punch straight away – and in this Luke rarely misses. He has a nice line on social observation, a sharp sense of social injustice, and a strong sense of the absurd. He can also surprise us: for example, the beast of Bungay, ghastly as he is, is still a human being: he starts out splenetic but is in the end pathetic: “Elizabeth I miss you dearly … is anybody there?”

Many thanks to Luke for his hour of new material, and to Martin for his introduction, and of course to our Open Mikers. Here we had a succession of landscapes, all of a watery nature, marsh paths, beach sands, low tides, empty quays and boatless rivers. Other poems took us far from home: in one a Chinese emperor told us of his “garden of intelligence”, in another we were invited to recall the folk-wisdom of Pocahontas.

Roger Caldwell

 

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MARTIN NEWELL AT POETRYWIVENHOE, DECEMBER 2013

Christmas came early for poetrywivenhoe. On 12 December Martin Newell, though scarcely attired for the role of Santa Claus brought, in his own unique way, good cheer enough, if laced with the acerbic wit that is peculiarly his own. Long-practised stage performer that he is, he less recites his poems than enacts them. His poems don’t just rhyme – they are themselves cascades of rhyme, often with a Byronic inventiveness. But there is substance here: all comic or satirical brio apart, what remains in the memory is his power of evocation, often on a nostalgic note, of “cabbage-scented hallways”, his mother’s “perm on Friday evenings”, “bomb-sites left to flowers”.Martin reading Dec 12 2013 - DSCN9192

In the second half the audience were invited to bring their favourite poems. We were graced, inter alia, by a translation from Italian – more translations please: not all the best poems are written in English, after all, nor were they necessarily written yesterday. So it was good to hear Yeats, Robert Frost, Walter de la Mare – and Keats in the macabre form of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. It is interesting to see how much the poems that people most like ones that tell a story, have a sense of mystery about them, and a regular metric structure.

The unlikely hero of the night was the very un-Christmassy A E Housman, whose classical sense of form and whose finely-chiselled quatrains, tell with the utmost economy of words (no romantic slush here!) mainly about life’s disappointments, of ‘happy highways where I went / And cannot come again’. Here Martin Newell, called on for an encore, engaged the audience with a reading from Housman in a more satirical vein, the poet who declared that “Malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man”.

Peter Kennedy rounded off the evening with a faux-Shakespearian farewell imparting good wishes to all for both Hannukah and Christmas.

Many thanks then to all those who made the event possible, those who provided Christmas munchies, and not least that other Martyn, our poetical barman, who dispensed the malt that oiled the throats of those who came to brave the stage, on a night in which, one felt, the ghost of A E Housman nodded, and approved.

Roger Caldwell

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