Poetry Bites, Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

Another full house turned out to see a contrasting headlining duo tonight. Joseph Horgan hails from Cork now, but grew up in Bordesley, whilst Bobby Parker is a veteran of the mean streets of Kidderminster. A failing voice meant that regular hostess Jacqui Rowe called upon the services of David Calcutt to effect most of the introductions. David’s deputising efficiency and brevity was invaluable as he marshalled a long list of floor readers.

Joseph Horgan closed the first half of the evening reading extensively from his current collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea. Typically his poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland. Curiously few poems were about Cork, instead favouring a broader look at displacement, and what it means. The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present ,was another source of dislocation, and found expression in his city poems, Sound Matter, and Asbestos Dreams with its beautiful image of the “lullaby of the furnace”. Joe skilfully acts as an observer on both a Birmingham shaped by Imperial migration, and an Ireland shaped by economic migration. His observation that the more that societies reach out, the more they contract in their perception of what their core identity is, was a point very shrewdly observed. That cerebral dimension touched all of his writing.

Bobby Parker closed the evening promoting his new collection Digging for Toys. Bobby is fond of quoting Richard Brautigan : “Finding is losing something else. I think about, perhaps even mourn, what I lost to find this,” and that sense of personal discovery is very evident in his writing as he moves from a single life, through marriage to parenthood. His strength is his insistence on seeing everything around him as being interesting, apart from himself, “Why can’t I be different and unusual like everyone else”. Isobel 6am was a touching tribute to his newborn daughter , Nightlife a witty surreal study in furniture and appliances moving of their own accord at night time. Bobby revealed that his wife complained he slept too much, his response? “ I (do) sleep too much, but she does not know what it is like to collect dreams.”

The floor readers were numerous. A wholly capricious flavour is as follows; Ruth Stacey put the erotic back into modern day Fairy Tales with her tale of a voracious bear, Janet Smith took us tantalisingly to The Edge ,Chris Wayne made a strong, if frenetic debut, Adele Faulkner brought teenage motherhood viscerally alive , and Mal Dewhirst took us mischievously to Cork! My favourite line of the night however came from Mary Shear’s Kink “We have a safe word, and it isn’t no!”

A Poetry Bites special appears on 6th December in aid of Amnesty International. Matt Merritt headlines the next regular event on 24/1, remaining 2012 dates are 27/3,22/5, 24/7,25/9 and 27/11. Matt Merritt is a wildlife journalist and historian, both of which colour his poetry, his current collection, available through Nine Arches press is the snappily titled, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

Gary Longden 22/11/11

Worcestershire Poet and Blogger Ruth Stacey also attended, her review of the same event follows:

Poetry Bites with Joseph Horgan and Bobby Parker

Poetry Bites is a monthly poetry event based at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath, Birmingham. I have wanted to go to it for a long time but it clashes with my daughter’s gymnastics class. During the week Bobby Parker put out a call for a lift on facebook to get to Poetry Bites and it seemed like the perfect chance to go. Gymnastics not quite as important as enabling a poet to read his poetry out loud to an audience!

Then I thought if I am driving I may as well fill my car up with a collection of excellent poets. So I messaged Chris Guidon and his beautiful, talented fiance Emma (she paints amazing pictures) and invited them to come.

Then I asked the poet Sarah James if she wanted the last space and she said yes… a whole car load of poets (and one artist and muse) heading for Poetry Bites. What could go wrong?

I picked up Sarah from Droitwich and headed for Kiddy, this went fairly well as I know my way around The Shire, problems began after I picked up Bobby, Chris and Emma.

Does anyone know the way?
No.
Nobody knows?
No.

I had a map.
It was useless.
Actually I was useless at reading the map.

Under pressure to deliver one of the headline acts my brain melted into custard and I sat gaping like a goldfish somewhere in Hagley whilst the people in the back waited for me to find my way. Luckily sat next to me was a calm voice of reason who also had the foresight to bring her Sat Nav thingy.

Anyway we got there, on time as well. So what was the poetry like? Well this is just an impression of the night ,not a review of every single poet, just the ones that really stood out to me, and relying on my slightly faulty memory.

Jacqui Rowe and David Calcutt were brilliant hosts and it was a very packed audience. There was a chap called Roger, I think, who read a number of observational poems about travelling on buses, I thought he captured some insights into human nature very well and speaking to him before hand it seemed that poetry meant a great deal to him. There was a guy called Chris who performed a powerful poem about the tricks and lies of the media which was excellent. Then there was a female poet who read two poems about a willow and a rowan tree which I enjoyed as I love tree imagery and I liked the pagan symbols about the trees that were layered into the poems. David Calcutt read two beautiful poems, his poetry is so carefully constructed that it makes strong, vivid pictures in my head as he reads them.

Chris Guidon read three excellent poems, I really like the way he writes and I like the way he reads them to the audience, quite mesmerising. One of the poems opened with the lines,

‘We came across an abandoned car
still clicking in the snow drift,
poised there like a nervous dog left –
tied to the railings outside some empty shop.’

It was a stunning poem. The last poem was about time spent on holiday with his girlfriend where they were watching a helicopter lift water to release onto an olive grove. The poem was skilfully tense and expectant, filled with sensual, erotic metaphors.

Gary Longden read a very interesting set of three poems about Aston Hall and he showed off his excellent performance skills but investing each piece with different pace and emotion. The inspired idea of likening the Jacobean mansion to an alien spacecraft set down in urban sprawl was brilliant and funny. The Long Gallery poem was clever too, very well observed and a good connection (the image of the walk along the gallery ) to the final poem which was softer, introspective and had a stong central image, things appearing different under the surface, of the layers of grime hiding the oak walls and the last line was so strong.

Sarah James read two poems which contrasted very well. The first was very clever, called ‘The je ne sais quoi of it’ she was playing with the ideas of linguistics and memory. It felt emotional but not sentimental and had a film like quality. She followed that with a witty little poem imagining the dreams and desires of a fridge. I like the way poets take you places you have never imagined.

Laurence Inman’s poem about running was really excellent. I enjoyed it very much, It had so much going on it and he performed it very well.

Adele’s poem about her daughter was perhaps my favourite of the night. I identified so strongly with her feelings about motherhood, her relationship with her daughter and coping with people’s judgement about having a baby at the apprently incorrect time. Although I wasn’t as young as Adele was when she had her daughter (and I loved how her daughter was so proud of her poetic, hippy mum) I had my own share of people thinking I was mad to have a baby as a single mum. Adele cleverly encapsulated many of my own feelings and her poem made me laugh and I nearly cried too. A wonderful performance and talent.

Antony R Owen is a poet I have seen twice before now and each time I hear him read it is a very intense and assured performance, he commands the audience by the power of his voice and his poetry. His poems often make me feel uneasy but at the same time they absorb me. His poem about his father was one my highlights of the night.

Janet Smith came on late in the second half and she cast a spell over the whole audience with her poised and elegant performance. Softly spoken but she holds the audience with her spare, beautifully constructed poems. She read two poems with an Alaskan theme including her stunning poem ‘Pacific’ which is in three parts. The way Janet says the numbers before each section is like a pause for the audience to take a breath before the next vivid description. To me, her poems feel like paintings made with words.

Mal Dewhirst read an interesting poem about his time in Ireland as part of the Cork/Coventry poet exchange which complimented the poems Joseph Horgan would follow with later. Mal reads very well and his poems are crafted so the listener can go on the journey too, with the poet as he observed his surroundings in Ireland.

Joseph Horgan, was originally born in Birmingham, to Irish parents but has lived in Ireland since the 1980’s. He obviously has a close connection to the city and it made his performance feel very special and quite emotional as the audience recognised the descriptions of Birmingham in his poetry. He had everyone in the audience hanging off every word. His poems were short and I liked that, it takes skill to be succinct and convey so much. He read a poem about watching his sisters washing their hair in the sink, chatting and gossiping, full of life and the hair seemed to me to symbolise innocence, childhood happiness and it ended with the sisters moving out and cutting their hair short. It was one of the best poems I have heard this year, I loved it. It was a pleasure to hear him read.

Bobby Parker was on fire last night, he read last and was extremely relaxed and confident. Reading from his collection ‘Digging for Toys’ he picked out different poems on various subjects but all were well received by the audience. He made them laugh, gasp, bellow and cheer. He explored difficult themes but never wallowed in misery, he has a lightness of touch that allows the audience to share his sense of humour. His poem about his feelings of fear before his wedding called ‘HG Well’s’ was a typical example of his skill. Surreal, humorous on one level, it has layers below that explored his relationship with his girlfriend, family and the conventions of marriage. It was excellent. I also thought his poem about his love for his daughter was extremely clever. To write about his baby smelling of piss may seem horrible but in the skilful hands of the poet Bobby Parker it is an expression of deep and pure love that doesn’t need sentiment or pretty similes. He writes poetry that has the ring of truth about it and that is very talented indeed.

Ruth Stacey – from her blog http://www.mermaidsdrown.blogspot.com/

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