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Virtual Fifth

by on 11 March 2021

Brightly Shining Imagery

Virtual Fifth

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 7th March

Review by Georgia Renwick

Cast your minds back to October for just a moment.  You might recall the mounting fear of a second wave of the virus that has so altered our lives, might have felt despondent at the growing possibility of a winter spent indoors away from loved ones, or resigned to once again having freedoms we once took for granted, stripped back.  Six months since Poetry Performance’s first foray into the online realm, it is where this staunch troop of Teddington poets remain, but the tantalising promise of lockdown lifting and a whiff of spring in the air lends a hopeful voice to this evening’s meeting.

In days gone by, as you will know if you have read previous reviews for virtual volumes One through to Four, these poets performing from their living rooms, would have been performing in person at The Adelaide pub, but they have settled into their new home on Zoom and the sense of community and comradery the group share is palpable.  There is also no keeping some members from the opportunity to enjoy the work of their fellow poets with a glass of wine in hand, which I commend!  There’s still always someone on mute, but such is the lie of the land on Zoom.

Virtual communities formed over the last year have been a lifeblood for many, and as evidenced by the volume of new writing shared this evening, a place for creativity to grow and flourish.  Confidence, too, can bloom even on Zoom and whilst some members are long established, writing poetry since their teens, others are much newer to the craft and to the group.  Regardless, everyone is welcome, and Heather Montford (tonight’s host) offers words of encouraging feedback and reflection to all brave enough to share.  Tonight’s featured poet, Eddie Chauncy, also has a few pearls of wisdom to offer to budding poets in his insightful interview with Keith Wait; a treat sandwiched between the two acts.

“How many of us have made a promise, and how many of us have kept it?” Andrew Evzona asks us candidly, in his poem Promises, the title being the (loosely adhered to) theme for the evening.  It’s a question we might ask of ourselves but also of our leaders, as we look ahead to the road map that has been laid ahead of us, a yellow-brick-road maybe, leading ultimately back to where we came from, but world-weary from the journey.  Evzona’s free, loose style runs like a stream of consciousness, asking big questions and offering up lots to think about on the matter at hand, almost too much all at once to hold in one’s head.  I find I would like to re-visit his poetry in writing which is handy, as he is one of the few poets who appear this evening to be published.

Terry Bedell’s hot-off-the-press offering on the theme of ‘Promises’ Giving it Up for Lent is more tightly controlled in structure and style than Evzona but lighter in tone.  As the child who voices the poem runs through an itemised list of what they are giving up, he falls at each hurdle “I’m only giving up plain crisps Dad… these cheese and onion ones are fine”.  The delivery by Bedell is also pitch-perfect and a delight to watch.  Ernest and well-observed, Bedell’s ‘child’ character wouldn’t feel out of place in Allan Ahlburg’s much-loved Please Mrs Butler collection.

John Keats

Fran Thurling’s Ode to Promise manages to be both on theme for this evening and also on theme to the wider world of poetry, which tipped its collective hat to Keats’ as the bicentenary of his death passed in recent weeks.  She confesses her poem owes a lot to his words, but her own thoughtful phrases meld with his beautifully in a fitting tribute.

In other notable performances, Anne Warrington dresses the part in her performed reading of the late Bob Sheed’s The Duchess, with Ken Mason as the gardener.  Sheed’s much-loved trademark, irreverent humour, makes a warming opener.  Warming particularly for Anne, whose full fox-fur stole would not normally be classed as indoor-wear.

Other suggested themes crop up from previous and future weeks, including ‘tantrums’, ‘memories’ and ‘spring’.  However, ‘lockdown’ is the theme that continues to tie many of tonight’s poems together.  The things we’ve missed, the things we might soon be able to enjoy again and, honing in on the small details, something this strangely concentrated period of time might have gifted us with.

Vineyard Passage, Richmond

Bob Kimmerling in Vineyard Passage and Greg Freeman in The Flowerpot Men both reflect on Richmond in different guises.  Good poetry can make us see the familiar with a new sense of awe or intrigue, and both of these gentlemen succeed, whilst also filling me with the slight ache of nostalgia; it’s been a long while since my last visit to where I grew up.  Barbara Lee’s poem The Train Station reminds us too of a place we used to visit frequently, the rush of seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and intoxicating to us in our current state.  Freeman’s poem The Jab in tribute to the NHS is also heartfelt, touching and very of the moment.  Another quality that a good poet can capture.

The poems Eddie Chauncy shares with us this evening were all written within the last year, although they embody a less urgent and more reflective quality.  He likens crafting his poems’ structure to “sweeping up messy transactions into tidy piles”, a metaphor encouraged by Keith Wait’s line of questioning into Chauncy’s former work in accountancy.  His imagery shines all the brighter for being framed in such a clean, uncluttered framework. 

Chauncy has since studied psychology and practices as a therapist, perhaps this is why his delivery at once so arresting and yet soothing.   He reaches out with his eyes from the paper, holds his audience’s attention by keeping level and soft, drawing us into his world.  It is a soft intensity.  In the poem he shares, Giving Therapy he likens the therapeutic relationship to the playing of an instrument and words, to music.  It is an analogy that rings beautifully true.

Despite being recent, Chauncy’s poems do not refer explicitly to the now, there are no ‘lockdowns’ or ‘bubbles’ to be found.  Instead, they seem to stand on the edge, looking in on pertinent issues such as the pulling down of historic statues in Revolutions or approaching grand emotions such as love through the microscopic; fingerprints on the kettle in a messy kitchen (The Kitchen).

If you have read ahead for the aforementioned pearls of wisdom for the budding writer, you have reached the right place.  Eddie, he shares, has been writing since he was a teenager and honed a style.  He likens trying out writing poetry to “kissing poetic frogs”, you’ve got to try a few before you find the one that suits you.  He also reminds aspiring writers, and the well-established would do well to pay attention too, that poetry is at its core an act of communication; what are we trying to communicate? Not everything has to be restricted by rhyming structures, but if that is the style you have come to enjoy, run with it!

In the selection of poems shared this evening, alongside ‘promise’ is a sense of waiting.  Chauncy is waiting to see “Who comes, who comes” and there is a sense of hope in that longing.  Poetry has helped to keep these Teddingtonians connected, but won’t it be a joy to be able to share Poetry, Performance and a pint, too?  Cast your minds forward to a return to the Adelaide.

Georgia Renwick, March 2021

Photography by Jessica Ahlberg, Daniel Severn and David Howard

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