The Western Pub, Leicester

SHINDIG is a collaborative venture between Crystal Clear Creators, represented at the gig by Jonathan Taylor, and Nine Arches Press, represented by Jane Commane and Matt Nun.

Recently relocated to “The Western”, the venue is one of the ground floor bars which is commandeered by the organisers for the evening. It was packed out with an audience wholly dedicated to the poetic proceedings; a good PA system ensured that everyone could hear clearly.

The format was a shrewd and proven one. Two sets of headliners with local links, and short open mic slots beforehand. This cleverly ensures that a combination of non-billed poets, as well as the entourages of the headline acts, swell those in the audience who have simply come to listen.

A stall is provided to sell the published works of those performing which tonight did brisk business. The headliners were split, two closing each half, in a women versus men juxtaposition. Jonathan Taylor acted as MC for the first half with brisk efficiency, although perhaps just this once, it should have been the audience who advised the MC to ensure that his mobile phone should be switched off during readings!

Kathleen Bell closed the first half of the evening. Kathleen is a widely-published poet including work in “Poetry in Nottingham” and “The Coffee house”. She is also a, critic, prose writer and Principal Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University.
It showed. Her nine pieces, themed around Illusion, war and ghosts were stylish, considered and richly sourced. Illusion took us into the world of Victorian magic tricks, “Restoration” was particularly memorable, whilst her affection for Paris manifested itself both in “The Station of Montparnasse” and her poems on the German occupation of the city.

Before her, birthday girl Maria Taylor had entertained with a very accomplished set. Maria is a poet and reviewer from Leicestershire. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the TLS, Coffee House, Under the Radar, Obsessed With Pipework, and others. Her first poetry collection will be published by Nine Arches in 2012.

Her trademark is short, concise neat poetry which bustles with joie de vivre. “Soap Sud Island” visited her erstwhile home district of Acton in London and its status as launderette to the more upmarket Chelsea and Kensington. “Getting Rid” told of the disposal of a troublesome bee in her bedroom, or was there a metaphorical dimension to this tale? Whether she writes about endless school holidays in “Six Weeks Lasts Forever” (my highlight of her set), or a Murderous Cook in gaol, she entertained and engaged with a magnetic economy of expression.

After the break Jane Commane assumed MC responsibilities with chirpy enthusiasm and a supply of open-mic poets which took even her by surprise. Introducing the male headliners, Matt Merritt was first up.

Matt is a poet and wildlife journalist from Leicester, whose second poetry collection, “Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica”, is published by Nine Arches Press. His interest in ornithology ran through his set with a particularly fine piece on Swifts. “Things left in a Hotel Room” rang painfully true, whilst “Waiting to Cross” was a beautiful snapshot of islands created by the tides.

Bravely he chose to perform a couple of contributions to the NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day for a month, a challenge alien to most poets who fear their work is never quite complete. I favour the aphorism that there is no such thing as a completed poem, just work in various stages of abandonment. Matt chose “Smoke” and “Custard Apple”, the latter of which was my favourite of his offerings and the final stanza of which I quote:

“Sometimes, it’s a new, green
many-mountained planet, a world
of fragrant sweetness whose orbit
crosses yours for just long enough.”

Who could resist that?
Closing the evening was Mathew Stewart. Mathew is a British national who splits his time between West Sussex and Extremadura in Spain, and his poetry is coloured by that experience. His set centred around his recently published pamphlet “Invented Truth”, published by Happenstance. He explained the phrase “Invented truth” by quoting Julio Cortázar:”I knew I’d never reach the invented truth…if I convinced myself that a new country was a new life and love is changed like a shirt,” and his poems revelled in exploring identity and self.

“Foreigner” in particular was a delightful vignette on the flawed aspiration of seeking to speak another language with no trace of a native tongue. And although his poetry told of beautiful Spanish landscapes and delicious paella, he also told of “Driving on the M25 after Midnight” and “Last Chance”, his stand-out piece, a soliloquy from a second-hand book in a second-hand bookshop. His claim to like playing with identities to enable him to bounce poems between concave mirrors, distorting their points of departure so as to reach somewhere revealingly new was satisfyingly realised in a sophisticated, assured reading.

All the above was supported by a dozen or so open-mic poets who complimented the evening with their discipline in performing two poems only, and the quality of their work. Many were worthy of headline status in their own right.

“Shindig” undoubtedly offers a Poetry Evening with an unique character. There was virtually no Performance Poetry per se, and everything was read. The standard was uniformly high, almost highbrow, but with no sense of self-importance, and provides a welcome, and all too rare, platform for serious poetry with a warm and friendly welcome for all. “Shindig” meets again on 27th June at 7.30pm at this venue.
Gary Longden 18/4/11

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