This is amongst the harder poetry events I have had to review, such was the diversity and quality of what was on show. Organised by Helen Calcutt, and supported by her father David who acted as master of ceremonies, this evening was originally scheduled to be part of the international Poets for Change event on 24th September. Venue availability resulted in things slipping back a couple of weeks ,and wisely Helen decided to wrap in an autumnal theme to allow for the cooling temperatures and longer evenings. All addressed the theme of change with passion, diversity and imagination. Such was the impressive number of poets, and poems that I can but offer a flavour of the fare on offer.
Penny Hewlett was in customarily feisty mode , flying the flag for sacked British Airways workers and teaching me a new word “ratiocinated” the title of her following poem. Most poets opted to dodge tackling political change head on, but Phil Simpson was a welcome exception ,with the spiky Socially Transmitted Diseases. World mental health day fell on the Monday after. Jane James, whom I admire enormously, delivered a powerful double salvo in support of that cause entitled “Still Life” and “The Assessment”.
Worcestershire is a hotbed of poetic talent at the moment and two particularly strong performers from that county strutted their stuff. Sarah James is the editor of the Worcester Literary Festival magazine “Be”, and an accomplished poet in her own right, “Somalia” and “Double Bluff” shone. She also presented work by fellow Worcestershire Poets Jenny Hope, Deborah Alma and Catherine Crosswell, her entire set is viewable on the videolink at the end of this review. Sarah was followed by Ruth Stacey whose work has an unerring ability to grab and shock, “Bitch” did just that.
There is a popular misconception that performed poetry has to comprise a rhyming rant to succeed and gain mass approval. Three poets disproved this. Janet Smith tackled domestic violence , “Control” with her customary economy of writing and power, before launching into the beautiful “Pacific,” which is available in the most recent edition of “Abridged”. Jacqui Rowe regaled us with 30 haikus from her recent residency in Warwick whilst Samantha Hunt hypnotised with her chilling “Dolls House” about child abuse.
Antony Owen has made his name with powerful war poetry, yet his writing is far from one dimensional, and his forays into the world of the blue collar worker are equally impressive. No-one could suggest that Heather Wastie lacks diversity. In addition to contributions on her keyboard, she fought the corner for Kidderminster’s subways, celebrated the £300,000 defence of a tree and delivered her signature “37 Hollybush St”. Roy McFarlane was making his debut appearance as “past” Birmingham Poet Laureate, it did not diminish his spirit. Political protest songs and poems are very tricky tasks, but Roy navigated these treacherous waters with great skill with the dignified and powerful “ What Do You See” highlighting the issue of deaths in police custody of disproportionately high numbers of black people with an incident in Wolverhampton the vehicle for his protest the Praetorian Guard of a very strong set.
From the floor, numerous poets impressed, Elaine Christie with “White Lions” and Mal Dewhirst with Half Mask amongst them in an evening during which it was impossible to go on aural cruise mode, such was the range and depth of what was on offer.
Watch Sarah James perform her own and fellow Worcestershire Poets poetry at: