Flarestack Poets Launch, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

This was the occasion of the launch of no less than three pamphlets from award-winning Birmingham poetry press Flarestack Poets . They comprised 2012 pamphlet competition winners David Clarke (‘Gaud’) and Nichola Deane (‘My Moriarty’) and the best of the rest in the anthology, ‘Sylvia Is Missing.’ Co-editors Jacqui Rowe and Meredith Andrew have nurtured the press, with the help of Writing West Midlands,to the point where competition entries were received on a nationwide basis, far beyond their Birmingham heartland constituency. That national reputation is well deserved.

The Ikon was a strong setting, modern, central and offering a sense of occasion. Literary launches are quite different from conventional poetry evenings, and, counter intuitively, quite risky. What works on the page may not work so well performed , the performers may be an unknown quantity in their ability to project their work, and selections can be quixotic. So the absence of editorial gleichschaltung can provide both inspiration for the audience – and chewed fingernails for the organisers. A full house on a warm summer evening gave the evening the best possible start as Brum’s poetic cognoscenti gathered to talent spot.

David Clarke, a Londoner, was the first of the featured poets. His set was thematically quite varied, taking in the Afghanistan/Iraq War, the specious appeal of Eastern Bloc totalitarianism, the politics of slang, Edith Piaf and cabbage. His style is forensic , detached, observational , tangential and reserved. All his poems were meticulously crafted, and controlled (he teased us with promise of a sequence of sonnets about illicit substance abuse, only to limit his excess to a few glasses of wine!). I particularly enjoyed Notes Towards the Definition of a Revolution.

Nichola Deane

The second featured poet was Nichola Deane from the Cotswolds. My Moriarty takes its name from her childhood exposure to Saturday showings of Basil Rathbone in his black and white celluloid pomp. Nichola cautioned us that some of her poems were hard to describe, but I found her work accessible and immediate on first hearing. Landscape poems took us from the Outer Hebrides to western Ireland, and her response to Werner Herzog’s “On Death Row”, a series which I greatly admired, was powerful although may have been a little obtuse for those unfamiliar with the source material. X and Wittgenstein’s Deckchair were her stand-out pieces, and worth buying the pamphlet for on their own.

Readers from the anthology had around three poems/four minutes each, a format I quite like. As used to be the case with vinyl pop singles it focuses the talent of the artist to make an immediate impact, and several did just that. Claire Dyer performed her love trilogy with impressive sprezzatura , One Summer , One Bike, One Boy capturing wonderfully the quintessence of young love. Charles Wilkinson similarly effortlessly evoked the spirit of a Birmingham long gone with skill and authenticity. Janet Smith combines a formidable command of language with an emotional kick, and a shamanic delivery, which beguiles and delights, as showcased in The Hooded Children and A Cry. Jacci Garside impressed with a very strong trio of poems, her observation that no word existed to describe kissing a loved one after an extended absence was the stuff of which poetry is about. Nicki Arscott’s paean to a summer of love in Spain, The Pinnacle of Evolution, The Gardeners Boy and Yerma’s Ghost bore testimony to a vibrant and exciting young talent, Michael Thomas’s childhood reminiscences succeeded because of their Everyman qualities.

A successful evening also appeared to be had at the book sales desk, I do hope that the winners support Flarestack as the press has supported them by performing further readings, it is the only way for new work to secure literary traction. All three pamphlets are available from: http://www.flarestackpoets.co.uk.

Gary Longden 31/8/12

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