A Shrinking of shrugs, mermaids and carbon monoxide poisoning – Worcester blog

Originally posted on Quiet Compere Tour 2014:

On arriving at the Hive I met Steve Wilson (after so many phone calls and emails in planning stages) who was taller and didn’t have the right colour hair for my phone vision. The Hive and Steve were brilliant hosts. I discovered the venue was unlicenced and decided to grab a pub lunch with a pint before the event, low on time my cheap B and B/pub agreed to bring it up to me at no charge. Height of sophistication fish and chips on my bed in pyjamas with Porridge on the TV.

Catherine Crosswell: Catherine’s lively style that jumped between weird and dark and funny made her a perfect person to start the evening. Her tape measure that measures arms lengths is genius. She warns that ‘we will continue to auto-correct those who do not suspect/or believe.’ www.catherinecrosswell.co.uk

Mike Alma: put beautiful postcards of war on chairs to accompany…

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The pity is in the poetry. And nowhere else?

Myfanwy Fox:

//Austerity, as journalist/activist Owen Jones has said, is not like the weather, a thing to be endured because we have no choice. It is a deliberate strategy by this government to roll back the welfare state and create a ‘new normal’ in which we blame those less well off than ourselves//

Originally posted on The Bell Jar:

Capture1This is a usually a blog about poetry, but I don’t keep my politics a secret on it. For those of you who find this an irritation, I’m sorry. I’m a whole person, and the poetry in which I speak of kindness or friendship comes from the same place as my politics. I beg you to read this anyway, especially if you’re not on the same political spectrum as me.

Three things strike me on the news this morning:.

1 The health secretary ‘doesn’t see anything wrong in principle’ with charging people for missing appointments. He simply cannot imagine, apparently, living in a world of unreliable public transport or the kind of poverty that makes many people fragile in the first place – nor any kind of punishment that doesn’t involve money.

2 No hospital in Britain – not one – is expected to balance its books this year. Are…

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John Hegley ConFab Special

Myfanwy Fox:

Here’s my round-up of the ConFab Cabaret John Hegley Special recently.

Meanwhile, Ledbury Poetry Festival is now in full swing. There is so much amazing poetry and poetry-related stuff happening over there – do get there if you possibly can!

In one tiny corner of such things I shall be reading at Ledbury’s Seven Stars Inn next Thursday night (9th July) with other poets from Malvern Writers’ Circle. We’ll be there from 7 pm till around 10 pm and it’s FREE so do drop by if you are passing. If you’re looking for an excellent dinner with a side of poetry, the Seven Stars food is superb.

On Friday (10th) evening I’ll be one of ten poets reading at The Hive with  The Quiet Compere as TQC tour reaches Worcester. Tickets just £5 for ten hand-picked poets and available from that link.

And then on Saturday I’ll be zooming to Stratford Poetry Festival for Jo Bell’s 52 event.

Originally posted on confabcabaret:


ConFab’s first ticketed* special was a brilliant gig with John Hegley as guest star on superb form. Hegley’s surreal humour, wit, stage experience and skill made the night. If you missed him in Malvern do try to see him somewhere. If you caught the show, you’ll want to see him again anyway. Sorry if you tried to get tickets and they’d all gone more than a week before the event. I won’t do a full review here but I’ll throw in a free fact (gleaned at his workshop the next morning): apparently his violin-look-alike instrument is an unusual variety of mandolin. So now you know.

Support acts were some of ConFab’s open mic enthusiasts along with Steve Kaos with his juggling balls and stilts.


“Fox Pops” – the Audience Poem

The paying audience were frightfully well behaved with none of the usual ConFab heckling-of-the-Fox so they came up with one…

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Hearth by Angela Topping and Sarah James


Sarah James & Angela Topping

Mother’s Milk Books, 2015

James’ and Topping’s poetry duet explores ideas of home through memories and objects from childhood. Crows, sewing and laundry lines are recurring images; “The sister I never met hangs out my sheets” (The Washing Line, James) and “small acts of love, pinned up with such hope of drying” (Spring Lines, Topping) with a nod to Larkin and Hughes, amongst others.

Page-paired poems directly riff on shared themes but motifs play from page to page. One page’s poems are based on music boxes and their mechanisms and these echo in a grandfather clock and a wind-up toy. The same musical motif resurfaces regarding pianos and songs. Buttons – loose or in their tin – feature along with washing. “To watch the women pegging out, / you’d think the breeze was all for them / and not to hold us up in air” says a crow in the final poem duet.

These poems conjure safe, hard-working family childhoods. There is nostalgia but not the syrupy it-was-all-rosy -then nostalgia. It’s the sort that says we are older but we carry memories to pass down; a solid ground from which our families spring upward into a future distance far beyond us. In Firefighting, “It’s Mum’s job, down on her knees / on the rag rug, every morning, // Just as she did in service” (Topping) took me back to memories of my own Grandmother, born in 1902 who became a kitchen maid at twelve, just as WWI began. So many things in these poems echo my own childhood. So, as reader, the poems speak to me and to others’ similar childhoods despite age differences. If my childhood had been different, I think I would still be drawn to these references as they are so enticingly specific in detail and voice.

Mother’s Milk aims to promote “breast-feeding and celebrate femininity and empathy”. While I feel “femininity” is rather open to definitional debate, breast-feeding is A Good Thing if it is possible (physically and emotionally enriching mother and infant, scientific data confirms) and empathy is what glues human societies together: laudable aims. Hearth is a gentle, accurate, evocative duet that fits that remit perfectly.

I should also add that I know Sarah James (she is an excellent promoter and organiser in West Midlands poetry) and I am acquainted with Angela Topping from Facebook and a couple of readings. However, I have tried to examine Hearth independent from those friendships.

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Between the Lines

The other day someone asked me to bring Solstice to a gig, having come across it in Fox Unkennelled. It’s an old favourite so that was lovely … but, ‘You mean my poem about sex?’ I asked.

Almost no one (no, not even poets) spots the metaphor – despite the opening word (“Come!”) being a bit of a hint. But it doesn’t matter; people like the poem for itself, which is the main thing. I’d rather the metaphor was (too) subtle (even though I then tend to smack people over the head telling them about it) than in any way too obvious.

I lived in California in the ‘90s, long before I dared write. Driving along the San Francisco Bayshore Freeway 101 listening to local radio one of the bands making it then was Third Eye Blind (along with Green Day and No Doubt).

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This was – and still is – is one of my favourite songs and part of the reason is the way the lyrics say the exact opposite of what they really mean. It’s a brilliant piece of subversion.

When I say out loud
I want to get out of this
I wonder
Is there anything I’m going to miss

‘Cause I don’t care

The defiant narrator allows himself to wonder if it will hurt when they split up – they are fighting, the opening verse shows – and telling himself there’s “nothing” “between you and me” and they won’t even recognise each other soon. (Plus I love ramping up the volume and singing along in the car. It’s that kind of ballad.)

When writing, what you leave out (or edit out later) matters as much as what end up remaining.

At a basic level that means cut irrelevant backstory, cut ANYTHING that doesn’t take the story (or poem) forward. Cut the mush. Somewhere in the mulch of a first draft there may be a seedling of something that will grow into … oak tree/celandine/hemp/truffle/triffid/GMO angel. Or try the sculpture analogy: you need to cut away the material to find the shape within. Greek god or Hepworth abstract? Doesn’t matter but it must be chiselled cleanly and with clear vision and be yours.

On a more subtle level it means letting the characters leave out things they might – or should in a literal world – say. Think of the best romance scenes in books and films. How often does one – or both – parties not actually admit their feelings, perhaps (like in the song above) even to themselves? Pride and Prejudice, Gaudy Night, Twelfth Night … endless list. and if they do admit feelings it’s for a doomed romance.

We often say one thing and mean something quite different. We have unwritten rules in any society and its subgroups. There’s a game to be played for any group from immediate family through to country/religion: a wide circle drawn on a big piece of paper (or a loop of string on a table); write out rules for the group and then place them inside the circle (explicit rules) or outside (assumed rules). It’s easy to break the second set by accident as an outsider. Imagine your own street and the people that live there. Often that’s how we – as insiders – identify “other”s. However argumentative and annoying the community it has its own rules as well as those of the more general locality. It’s likely our biases make us police the rules more for some people more than others – we might be suspicious and critical of a single parent, for example, or a Muslim family (I hope not but judging by the UKIP votes I may be sadly wrong). I was very aware of being an outsider in the years I lived in the States.

This how-we-get-on-or-not in our families and wider communities is politics. Politics is inherent in Homo sapiens. Every factor of our complex social networking is political on an individual basis. At home it’s as basic as who does the dishes? Who’s on taxi duty for kids? Which neighbours do we like or fall out with, and why? Who do we fancy? Do we show it or hide it? Sex is political – in so many ways. We don’t think of these things as politics but, at the most basic level – shared with other primates (and other creatures – “pecking order” is not a cliché for battery hens) – it’s the measure of how we function in our social groups.

We seek love and approbation but that opens us up to rejection and scorn as individuals and as groups/tribes. Balance characters on that tightrope and make them strive for some (any!) kind of solid ground. Where do they end up? What are the social politics of your setting/characters – in a story/poem and/or in real life? How dishonest (deliberately or inherently) are they? What do they leave out?

PS The GMO angel is all mine – gorgeous as he is.

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A prose poem about political support

Political Support

The ‘80s Wonderbra is the lingerie equivalent of UKIP: attractively buoyant at first glance but built on false fillets with nothing to support its claims, embarrassingly prone to self-exposure and inevitably ending in tears. Trendy T-shirt lightly padded bras for those who refuse to admit to nipples are Labour yummy mummies wearing floral frocks and bearing half-baked cheery cherry cupcakes. The feminista Greens don’t see the need for Man-made Lycra, elastic and sweatshop-bent under-wires: they’ll take breasts as they come. Which leaves the Tories with the Playtex and the M&S matron ranges proclaiming their winning mantra, “Lift and Separate”.


Written in response to Luke Kennard’s guest prompt in Jo Bell’s 52 project last year.


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ConFab Cabaret with Matt Windle, Retinal Circus and Kurly McGeachie

Coming up tonight: ConFab Cabaret is back at the Mount Pleasant Hotel, Belle Vue Terrace in Malvern. Headliners Matt Windle (if you missed him last time don’t miss him tonight! – and if you saw him last time you’ll know how good he is and definitely be there!), Retinal Circus (the glorious Cragius Barry – ditto!) and the new-to-ConFab (and to me) Kurly McGeachie plus Malvern’s anything-goes* open mic for all-comers. Amy Rainbow will host with elegant aplomb and I’ll be cajoling a Fox Pops audience poem from you in the break while you all buy scads of tickets for The Silliest Raffle. Free to enter but bring a pocket of dosh for that donation (because that’s how ConFab carries on).

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*As long as it’s legal and not over 2 minutes – poetry, music, mime, dance, ventriloquism – anything you can dream up and attempt: BRING IT ON.

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