Fizz 10, Tithe Barn, Polesworth

This was the last event in the 2011 season for Fizz, and featured the second live performance of the Cork Poets on tour with a radio appearance still to come. The move from the Refectory to the Tithe Barn was a success with the more intimate and comfortable surroundings accommodating a good turn -out, and was a credit to organisers Mal Dewhirst and Antony R Owen. The presence of several newcomers to Fizz was particularly welcome both in welcoming the guests and in providing some new voices to the second half open mic section.

Following their Coventry appearance, the Cork Poets read fresh material, with Afric McGinchley opening up the evening in very strong style. She introduced us to the Zimbabwe Tokoloshe. Zimbabwe’s Tokoloshe is large, covered in fur with long talons and a bony spine reaching all the way down its back from the top of its skull with glowing red eyes and emits a foul stench, speaking in a rasping voice. Fear of them is such that many people will not sleep on the floor, and will raise their beds higher by placing bricks underneath the legs. This enables them to see one hiding underneath the bed before they retire for the night. There’s a good reason to fear a Tokoloshe – it is claimed they will climb into the bed with the inhabitant and bite off a sleeping man’s toes and have their wicked, Tokoloshe way, with the women. Some people will not even mention the name Tokoloshe for fear of summoning this extremely unwelcome guest. A person can summon one to inflict harm upon another, and if this happens then a Nyanga – witchdoctor – may intervene and chase the evil being away. Only the victim and the culprit dealing with it can see a Tokoloshe, apart from children.

So when the farm workers on Afric’s farm downed tools because of the presence of a Tokoloshe, this was bad news both for the collection of the harvest and the well being of the farm workers, time to call in the Nyanga to resolve the situation, and for Afric to write Exorcism about the incident. Raw material does not get much better than that. The poem was fabulous. What impressed me most about her was the versatility of her writing. The emotion of her poem to her son leaving home captivated the room ,complete with plaintive cry to “ grab the tender moments”, Yes a stream of consciousness poem about a young virgin’s first sexual encounter was erotic and compelling, while Fish Paste and Star Jumps was the most innovative poem about being stuck in a traffic jam I have heard for a long time.

Com Scully has mastered the art of dry wit and humour, always eschewing a belly laugh in favour of a wry smile. The Schism of Antioch was a great title which he chose to develop independent of the facts, no matter, it was impressive and fun. He told of when he was nearly undone by a Professor of near east history of the first millennium, but successfully blagged his way through, no doubt resulting in a frantic search by the academic for this fresh source material, a search that will be forever doomed! Sceilig Mhichíl, is a steep rocky island, one of a pair, in the Atlantic some nine miles from the coast of County Kerry. It is home to a monastery founded in the 7th century in which the monks lived in stone ‘beehive’ huts, clochans, perched above near vertical cliff walls. As such it was rich and evocative ground for Return to Red Abbey to explore. Two poems inspired by his daughters, Isabel and Middle Age, revealed Colm’s soft side, but the most striking poem for me was his last, God’s Footballer, which marvelously conjured memories of childhood sporting endeavour.

Jennifer Mathews works in concise, understated forms. Some poets wring the maximum out of their inspiration, Jennifer does just enough, making each word work hard, and she knows a rich image when she spots one. After two weather poems she read Firsts , which explores unsuitable youthful infatuation inspired by spotting an initially striking young man sitting on some steps ,who then revealed himself as a ravaged drug addict. So although” Thin and tall as a long wicked flame,
he is white hot—white everything” he then morphs when “ he opens his mouth— a missing tooth, others rotting at their bases. I feel them curl in their little deaths.” Anyone who has lived in more than one country tends to be sharp in spotting local foibles and idiosyncrasies. Jennifer did just that in A Taste of More a playful and affectionate twist on the English phrase “moreish”.

The open- mic half gave the Cork Poets an opportunity to both relax and appreciate the work of others, and numerous poets were on top form. I shall pick out just two poems which edged above a very strong field, Antony R Owen’s Mother Russia, and Gary Carr’s Fish. And so , for a night, the spirit of O Bheal in Winthrop St, Cork, lived in Polesworth. We live in a time of international financial uncertainty , self interest and mistrust. Over a pre-poetry pint I mused with our visitors about the connection which most poets instinctively recognise when in poetic company. Perhaps it is the poetic quest to ask questions, whilst respecting and welcoming differences which is part of that bond? The value of the Cork/Coventry Poets exchange unquestionably strengthens that desire to celebrate what we share and demands to be nurtured and grown.

The Cork Poets, Jennifer Mathews, Afric McGlinchey and Colm Scully flanked by Mal Dewhirst (left) and Tony Owen (right)

Gary Longden 3/11/11

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