Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage pub, Burton-on-Trent

This was the debut of the new venue for “Spoken Worlds” at the Old Cottage Public House, and very agreeable it was too.
Organiser, MC, and Poet, Gary Carr had previously defied conventional wisdom by holding this event on Friday evenings. This time he took that defiance one step further by holding it on a Bank Holiday Good Friday, the assumption being that Spoken Word must play second fiddle to other things.

That assumption ignores the pull of this event. He was rewarded by a very good turnout which augurs well for the future well- being and success of “Spoken Worlds” in it’s new home. The room itself is a first floor function room, soundproofed from the hurly burly of the Pub downstairs, and away from casual interlopers or disinterested regulars, yet with the bar and toilets within easy reach. It also had the benefit of a PA system too.With some thirty performance slots (some poets performing more than once) the evening flew by, two breaks providing time for reflection, recharging glasses and socialising.

Malcolm Dewhirst stood out tonight with an exceptionally varied presentation. “Kites” drew on work he has been doing with local schoolchildren as part of the Polesworth Poetry trail at Pooley Country Park. Sadly Mal decided not to re-enact the moment when he ran around a playground with the children pretending to be a kite.

“Fulcrum” was a tribute to Alfred Williams whom Mal has been studying as part of a project to resurrect interest in forgotten poets – who shouldn’t have been forgotten. Alfred Mason Williams (1877 – April 1930) was a poet who lived in the vicinity of Swindon. He was almost entirely self taught, producing his most famous work, “Life in a Railway factory” (1915), at night after completing a gruelling day’s work in the Great Western Railway in Swindon. He was nicknamed The Hammerman Poet.

Williams was born in the village of South Marston, the son of a carpenter, and grew up in poverty after his father abandoned his wife and eight children. He became a farm labourer at eleven, and then, when he was fifteen he entered Swindon Railway where he worked in the Stamping Shop for the next twenty-three years.

Married in 1903, Alfred pursued a demanding schedule of full-time work and private study. He published his first of book of poems in 1909, Songs in Wiltshire, but his health declined and he left the factory in 1914.

Williams produced a total of thirteen books but died in poverty in 1930 in South Marston. Life in a Railway Factory has been described as “undisputed as the most important literary work ever produced in Swindon, about Swindon.”
Although Williams could write in Latin, and the poet performing before him had lauded the intricacies of the language, Mal decided to keep his Classical language skills under wraps this time round and perform “Fulcrum” in English. I think Williams would still have approved.

In a departure from material which I have seen him perform before, he finished off with “Our Town”. A lengthy piece neatly inter-weaving an irreverent assessment of the merits of Tamworth with those of modern living generally, and hundreds of towns like it. Stark, dour, but compelling, it worked very well indeed.

The Polesworth Poetry Trail provided the material for two other poets who performed. Host Gary Carr read” Those Up there Don’t Know About Us Down Here” about the M42 scything through the Country Park, Margaret Torr looked at the Wolf Spider and a particularly strong piece on the fate of the Pit Ponies.

A new venue deserves new contributors and Ian Ward from Lichfield Poets had the benefit of being able to present material from his substantial body of work to a new audience. “Ice Queen” and “The Withered Wychwood” took us into a fantasy world of death, destruction and desecration, whilst the more succinct “Mothers Grow Old” was a very effective observation on dementia.
One of Ian’s trademarks is song references, but in “Ghosts” I found no hint of The Specials or Japan. Yet he came good with his closing “There’s Always An Echo” inspired by Prog Rock and a workshop with the critically acclaimed Julie Boden. Pink Floyd were there with “Echoes” and “Time”, Genesis with “Ripples” and Coldplay with “Clocks” but I am sure there were more I missed. Catching the musical sub-texts is always a pleasurable extra dimension when Ian reads.

It is a truism at Spoken Word events that the best poets often reveal their work most sparingly. This is certainly true of Colin Hench. His “Silentium Agonomi” was raw and powerful. “Thoughts on a Bear Cave” an exceptionally strong exploration of existence through sex and death.He left us wanting more. A similarly tantalisingly sparing performance came from Tony Keaton whose companion poems about “Big Jugs Weekly” and “25 Beautiful Homes” was clever, sharp and very entertaining. It also introduced us all to the concept of “The Merkin”.

Part of the success of “Spoken Worlds” is an overt desire for variety, and it delivered once again this evening. Roy sang a poem unaccompanied, and then performed a very funny duologue with Terri, Brian read monologues whilst Rob and Andy both accompanied their own work with acoustic guitars.

Such fare attracts people from afar, one of whom is Fergus McGonigal from Worcester. His opus soliloquy on grammatical pedants was a delight, his “Ode on a Six String” struck a chord, and as for “There’s Nothing Worse”. Well there’s nothing worse than forgetting your glasses, is there Fergus?

“Spoken Worlds” next meets at 7.30pm on Friday 20th May. 22-4-11
Gary Longden

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