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Poetry at the Adelaide with David Russomano

by on 5 December 2017

Lessons for Christmas

Poetry at the Adelaide

by David Russomano and others

Performance Poetry, The Adelaide, Teddington, 3rd December 2017

Review by Matthew Grierson

Good evening class: for though it may not be far off Christmas, tonight’s Poetry at the Adelaide has an educational bent. Even as we sit down we notice test papers – well, quizzes – laid out on the tables, asking us to identify the authors of four seasonal quatrains. In kicking things off, host Bob Sheed explains the idea is either to educate us or give us the satisfaction of knowing we could get all the answers right, and as if any more satisfaction were needed each table has a plate of Quality Street (‘A Rose by any other name …’) for the seated throng, while Tricia brings round a tray full of mince pies at the interval.

But as I said: education, education, education. Once Bob has taken us through the rubric about fire escape, toilet and returning glasses to the bar, Malisa Elliott gives a short presentation on best practice for poets using social media and how to go about getting published. I’m none too clear on the context for this – it makes me feel as though I’ve missed some homework – but it’s evident that there’s more going on with Poetry at the Adelaide than these Sunday night open mics, and in this case Malisa’s advice is well received by the audience.


Further insight is offered by tonight’s guest poet, David Russomano, who in an interview with Bob’s co-host Anne Warrington gives an eloquent account of his creative process and the composition of his collection (Reasons for) Moving. His poems evince a keen sense of place, elegising a house lost under a frozen lake and an abandoned lot where a tyre factory once stood, both in his native Connecticut. Even when he lists the titular reasons that inspire him to leave Worcester Park, their invocation defines that place within the orbit of the ice cream van, under the flightpath of planes and seagulls. Though Russomano says of his travels in Greece, Thailand and Turkey that ‘there’s so much there to catch your eye’, it’s evident that he sees beyond the sights and communicates what it means to travel as well. I hope the Adelaide continues to attract visiting poets of his calibre, and Anne, likewise enthused, encourages her pupils – sorry, audience – to give the visitor polite applause. Indeed, she pops up teacher-like every now and then between readings to offer similar praise to tonight’s performers.


The classroom feel is picked up in several of the poems themselves, with Robert Meteyard imagining a rebound relationship as though he has a supply lover rather than substitute teacher, a conceit that wittily and effectively conveys the tenderness of heartbreak. In his contribution to the second half, like an English teacher, he explains The Uses of Poetry, but the images are affecting rather than prescriptive and again broach a tentative relationship. Unlike an English teacher, he has an attentive audience. The languages department also gets a look-in when Margaret May reads a pair of translations, Every Day Plugged , from the German, followed by Wisława Szymborska’s Funeral, both attending to the minutiae of life – and death – in a way that complement Russomano’s style.

Where Margaret offers us a stanza of her first poem in German before her translation, Rachel Woolf reads Progress through twice, in both English and Scots; while in another piece also inspired by the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland she speaks not only in the voice of The Hind’s Daughter but also the hind (= ‘farmhand’) himself. Art class continues with Fran Thurling’s But Is It Life?, an ekphrastic and reflective Sunday afternoon wander around the Tate. But not all of the lessons we learn at school are the formal ones, and as the bell approaches, Heather Moulson takes us back to class 2D and the eponymous Christmas Card she never received from the object of her adolescent affections, even though he sent them to the other girls. Christmas cad, more like!

Inevitably, with school soon due to close for Christmas the poets find themselves anticipating the festivities. Suzy Rowlands gives us the furry Tails of Christmas Gone and Midnight Mass, while in her As Snow Fell, the image of ‘pregnant clouds’ alludes to the Nativity, an image more central in Anne’s stately, polyvocal Christus Natus Est. Eyeless Angels are overhead in Fran’s imagining of what Epicurus would have made of the lights on Regent Street, and Sara Burn Edwards’ The Witness is a contemporary take on the Gospels as a snobbish suburbanite is eventually won round by her carpenter neighbour, though the persecution he endures rings only too true in these days of Brexit.

But Christmas is a time for warmth as well, and family gatherings are the theme of both Judith Lawton’s Dreaming of Branscombe and Bob’s Paula’s Mother Arrives for Christmas. Robin Clarke not only shares his playful Shipping Forecast for Christmas, which prompted plenty of wry laughter, but also dons a lupine mask to participate in Bob’s panto-themed take on The Boy Who Called Wolf. It’s a game effort, but I have to say I was glad I wasn’t wearing my theatre reviewing hat. Fortunately, the audience proved equally indulgent.

Even though, some things seem to have become more formalised since my last visit to the Adelaide – what with the quiz, flyers, raffle and visiting writer – other matters are still conducted endearingly on the fly, with joint hosts Anne and Bob each seeming to read from a variorum edition of the running order. If MC-ing were poetry, this would be more free verse than pentameter. Though to be fair, it is almost the end of term.

Matthew Grierson
December 2017

  1. Bash Street Kids permalink

    School Room Blues
    Our man Grierson had never a scruple
    To treat grown-up folk as if pupils
    Like an Ofsted Inspector
    Quite ready to hector
    His critique of the ‘teachers’ is brutal’.

    Bash Street Kids

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