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Virtual Sixth – Spring Unwound

by on 15 April 2021

Roget’s Revenge

Virtual Sixth

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 11th April

Review by Mark Aspen

(Part One)  Spring Unwound

One of the important things that poetry can seek to achieve is to find new meaning.   It could be argued that its job is to look more profoundly, or more expansively, or more askew and askance at the world of our perceptions and beyond.  Among poetry’s many themes, are there any, we may ask, that have been saturated with perception? 

Poetry Performance, the Teddington-based congregation of procreators and propagators of poetry think not.  Its current series of on-line poetry readings usually has a theme, and for its April virtual gathering “Spring” was chosen as its, er, springboard for poetic creativity.  Poetry Performance did not disappoint with four-fifths of its April offerings being on the theme of Spring,   (one might add unusually so, as its chosen theme is often ignored).  But, I hear you interject, haven’t all of our major poets and others, past and present, had a good crack at this subject?  Nevertheless, why not, with its promise of new beginnings, all the kingdoms of flora and fauna being reborn, and of course the Resurrection at Easter, here is a glorious source of hope, something desperately needed in our straightened times. 

The writers of Poetry Performance have dug their pens into the rich mines of their inkpots, and with all the enthusiasm of children discovering a cache of chocolate eggs, have excavated more fat nuggets from their theme.  (See how this abundance of spring generates metaphors as richly mixed as the ingredients of a simnel cake!)  

So what did our vernal confection yield?   Well, Carol Wain’s Spring is Sprung is surprised by clocks going back … but don’t they go forward?  Andrew Evzona’s Spring celebrates his own   March birthday, but his look at that popular spring event, The Grand National is simply a list of “amazing facts”.  Mind you he did back the winner.  Maybe that is why he had dug down into his trademark headwear basket to wear a green leprechaun cap, Irish horse, Irish trainer, Irish lady jockey: was his birthday on 17th?   I hadn’t the heart to tell him that had he backed the second horse Balko Des Flos, he would have got about five times as much on a place than with Minella Times.)  Robin Clarke follows this happy happenstance in rhyming couplets as Nature collects her winnings in The Season of New Beginnings.

Also in rhyming couplets Barbara Lee’s Spring, describing sitting in spring sunshine, changes the mood with a nostalgic reference to the great loss of HRH Prince Philip, whose death finished “part of our history”.  It is an apposite memorial for our nation “lost in grief” and a timely addition to the evening’s poems. 

The misgivings about spring which “disturbs the equilibrium”, expressed by Judith Blakemore Lawton in Spring Fever turns, as “saps rise relentless” to an optimistic end.   In a similar vein, Pat Cammish takes us from winter solstice to vernal equinox with her neat and compactly written poetic trio, And Spring Begins, Spring Sonnet and then Willow, whose buds suffer in April’s cruel month. 

This nod to TS Eliot is similarly taken up by Sally Blandford, zooming in from Norfolk, with her

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad – Revisited, referencing Browning, which was preceded by her beautiful poem Spring  .   Heather Montford takes this concept further with a very cleverly written paraphrasing of Keats’ Ode to Autumn, but carefully keeping the style and the feel of the original as she answers Keats’ question posed in his final stanza, “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?”   Nevertheless Connaire Kensit ups the ante with a direct translation of one Alphonse Daudet’s poems from his collection Les Amoureuses; ÁTous Côtés, accurately reproducing the style, mood and register of the French.  He also prefaced this poem with one about spring, explaining that “flowers have no empathy or conscience”, Spring’s on the Way.  After all, he says protestations in a “field of wheat – fall on deaf ears”.

Of course it must have been Wordsworth who started poets’ spring obsession with daffodils and certainly the Poetry Performance writers have picked quite a bunch of humble daffs. Fran Thurling speaks of “ignorant daffs” in her One Spring, with again a passing nod to TS Eliot, “a hard coming” they had of it.   Certainly those daffodils had a hard time, “beaten by spring rain” in Ann Vaughn-Williams’ down to earth Spring in our Road.   Daffs again have a starring role in  Terry Bedell’s A Spring Awakening.  Bedell is a relative newcomer to Performance Poetry, but has surely made his mark over the past three months.  There may not be an intended allusion to Frank Wedekind’s then shocking fin de siècle drama (Frühlings Erwachen), but that sense of the brutality of the realisation of life is there.  Daffodils are in thrall to the sun, personified and deified in this poem as Apollo in the rich imagery of Bedell’s poem.  From the womb of “their dark winter prison” the buds “enwrapped, in their foetal position” emerge “By the grace of Apollo”.  Developing “Like nervous young debutantes”, “they grow as they harvest the sunlight” before their end “hunch-backed they stare … down to the earth”.

Spring is a time of beginnings as Anthony Josolyne reminds us in his Itinerant Amphibians, about the toads in Ham making their way each spring from Richmond Park to their breeding ponds; and a poem about Mother Earth herself, Gaea’s Vigil.  For Anne Warrington though her fairy-tale like gem, Green George personifies spring as an odd homunculus in a tree, an elf who chases away winter. 

Conversely, Jackie Howtingthough has a demon that is chased way by spring.  This is the all-too common imp, arthritis, but in her poem Pain Willing with “Longer days, lighter nights, positivity growing/ Spring is spinning all around..” and soon the “massaging power [of the sun] will stop those moans and groans”.  Pain Willing is Jackie Howting’s debut with Poetry Performance.  The warm chatty style fits the subject, right down (or up) to the sun being called “that old current bun”.  What could be more appropriate in verse than rhyming slang? 

Spring is not spring without Easter and Easter is not Easter without chocolate eggs.  Here Heather Moulson exercises her quick wit in The Cynic’s Easter, constructed with fine poetic craft as an acrostic, and all about opening one’s Easter egg’s early.  Ooh!

So is the theme of spring saturated with perception?  Ken Mason obviously thinks not.  Have we forgotten that poetry seeks to find new meanings?  Mason takes, he says, “a sideways look” in his The Spring  and agilely avoids the seasonal cliché.  The OED has fourteen main meanings for spring, so why stick with one?  His spring turns to horology, as the first person spring tells us, from his coiled up position sitting in clock.  Ken Mason is clearly trying to wind us up!!   Homonyms rule: Roget has his revenge.

This spring though, topical issues are still with us.  Fran Thurling links spring and climate change in Blue Skies Thinking with a line that punches in the message, “don’t silence the blackbirds”.  With more immediacy, Heather Montford visits Kew Gardens in Bringing Light to Lockdown where she contrast the socially distanced entry procedures with the open freedom of the gardens.  Robin Clarke, however, takes a lighter look at the pandemic with Beware the Jabberwock.  This time the allusion is obviously towards Lewis Carroll, but here the emphasis is on the jab and addresses the vaccine doubters and anti-vaccine “activists”.    You might say Clarke’s job is to jib at the jibes against the jab. 

So the theme of “Spring” and all its topical manifestations was indeed saturated by Poetry Performance.  However, other theme are available … …

Mark Aspen, April 2021

Photography by Ed Kimber and Basil Verne

Virtual Sixth (Part Two)  Escapement Checked follows

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