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Late Summer Verses: Poetry at the Adelaide

by on 4 September 2017

Poetry at the Adelaide

Performance Poetry at The Adelaide, Teddington 3rd September

Review by Matthew Grierson

Matthew Grierson is a poet and critic, who has previously appeared on stage for Network and South London Theatres.

Pen 3

Poetry at the Adelaide is an opportunity for the community to share its poetry, by which I mean the poetry it has written and the poetry it enjoys. This reflects what a convivial, collaborative event it is, because it seems that most of those who have crammed into the function room above the Teddington pub (apart from yours truly) make their way to the front to read at some point.

On several occasions works are performed by groups, such as when host Bob Sheed’s amusing reworking of Red Riding Hood (with a reluctant, fez-wearing heroine) is performed by Sue, Anne Warrington and Bob himself, or when ‘Spectrum’, a meditation on the colours of the rainbow, is read in turn by Anne, Sara Burn Edwards and Graham Harmes, the words of each working dialectically against those of the others. This crystalline, multifaceted quality is most pronounced when ‘Christina’s Midnight Five’ take turns to perform a series of evocative haiku composed on a nocturnal visit to Molesey Heath, in which seasonal images of apples and mushrooms are juxtaposed with wry reflections on their own presence there, writing by the light of an iPhone when the moon was not bright enough.

The Five stress that its members do not often compose their own work, and largely gather to read the poems of others; in the same spirit tonight, Judith reads a poem of Frances White’s, which conjures the departing summer in the haiku-like vignettes of ‘August in Brittany’. Judith in turn has a poem dedicated to her by ‘Garish’, who manhandles a striking red canvas of a pinned-open eye to the front to accompany her reading. Although she describes it as depicting her interest in hypervigilance, I am myself poorly placed to see it in all its glory. Garish’s reading of her poem ‘Solemnity’, about Jean-François Millet, is more muted than her painting, though its crafted puns on art writing (e.g. “it figures” and “subject mattered”) do not go unappreciated.

Like Garish, other poets find themselves responding to different art forms. Both Mike Docherty and Colin Dailley, in ‘Balloon’ and ‘The Love of Music’ respectively, rhapsodise about their favourite composers, Colin extensively so.  There is, however, a sense that the readers want to participate in a wider, older community of stories and poems. Apart from Bob’s takes on Red Riding Hood and Old Mother Hubbard, Malisa Elliott is explicitly inspired by Ivor Gurney in ‘Homecoming’, while I heard echoes of Donne’s and Marvell’s carpe diem poems in her tale of a solider leaving his lover in ‘The Division Bell’. Her poems and the more classically allusive ‘The Hierophant’ are among the most confidently and engagingly performed of the evening. Sara’s ‘Love’, meanwhile, tentatively responds to Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 to suggest that though love will alter it remains love for all that, and Anne relates that her meditation on ‘Half-light’ was prompted by John Agard’s questioning of the term ‘Half-caste’ in his poem of that name.

The poets are also reading and responding to one another. Clearly so when Bob answers Graham L. Smith’s rollicking, if overpoetical, ‘A Tale from the Gibraltar of Wessex’, with his own ‘The Smuggler’. There are also, coincidentally I think, two poems called ‘I’m Sorry’ that pick up differing themes of regret, one wistful and nuanced by Heather Mouson and another more comical by Robin Clarke, such as the cat apologising to the rodent, the stomach to the meal, the pen to the paper. Lionel Bartleby’s poem ‘The Great Man’, in contrast, ends with the mother of the title character unapologetic for the dismal upbringing she gave him, which prompted his later work. A sly dig at the genre of misery memoir, perhaps?

Lionel’s imagined writer is one of several characters competing for attention among the evening’s poems, which suggest a community of their own, from Kathy of Killaloe in Fran Thurley’s doubly dry anecdote ‘It’s a Long Way for a Cup of Tea’ to Heather’s memorable nemesis ‘Joyce’, who successfully competed with the narrator for the affections of a young man; the frustrated speaker laments ‘What did he not take me for?’. An equally unwelcome presence for another writer is digital know-it-all Siri, apostrophised in Frances Spurrier’s poem as she seeks apps for an amusing, zeugmatic variety of tasks.

These poems are the highlights of an evening that passes swiftly, and is largely well orchestrated from the front by Bob, his pen in his mouth like a conductor’s baton, it is his presiding spirit that ensures the good character of the event itself. At one point during proceedings, as he studies his list of readers, he reminds the audience “Try and do the applause if I forget!”. He forgets not though and neither do we.

Matthew Grierson

September 2017

  1. celiabard permalink

    I’m so pleased that Matthew picked up on the community nature of the event and that he has reported so positively about this session. This means so much to the organisers and to those people who participate. The review itself was insightful and particularly impressive was the number and range of poems commented upon. Warmest, Anne

  2. Lionel Bartleby permalink

    I read with interest Matthew Grierson’s account of the poetry proceedings at ‘The Adelaide’ pub on 3/9. That is until he got to my poem “The Great Man”. I feel I must take issue & correct a few misapprehensions. I have read few misery memoirs & have little liking for them. Certainly 15 years ago when I wrote my poem I hadn’t read any. Writing pages that amount to little more than a list of the damage caused by one’s mother doesn’t seem to me to contribute anything. One’s life is still dominated & constrained by it. It is necessary to emotionally work through one’s anger & thereby gain freedom.

    Despite the extensive emotional damage caused by his mother’s neuroses the great man, or at least the great artist, had transcended the handicap of his upbringing. He would have been a great artist anyway; the damage by his mother was not the cause of his being an artist but grist for his mill. The great man was not miserable. It is not necessary to be so to write movingly about pain & suffering. His poems, play & novel were anything but misery memoirs. After all Shakespeare drew on his experiences as a man, husband, father & actor/playwright yet none of his plays are autobiographical.

    The mother is not “unapologetic”; she has no grasp of her son’s situation & never had. In other words she acts with total ignorance & incomprehension as she has throughout.

    If I was taking a dig at anything it was what is now called the cult of celebrity. Matthew may care to be reminded of TL Peacock’s (1785 – 1866) poem “The Pool of the Diving Friar” (Verse 4).

    Lionel Bartleby

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