This was my third visit to Spire Writes but my first to the new venue, the White Swan PH. A deluge outside of biblical proportions was ignored by a burgeoning audience which spilled out of the main room into the hallway. The move has clearly worked. Spire Writes is hosted by rising poetic star Helen Mort whose upwards trajectory is as deserved as it is impressive. Current Derbyshire Poet Laureate, her debut collection Division St has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the TS Elliott Prize 2013. Not that success has affected her. Quiet and self –effacing, she is a smooth, effortless compere whose address book opens doors for guests of tonight’s calibre. Charlie, her whippet, is also to hand, faithfully dozing at her feet, to ensure that he reminds her of her priorities.
Co-guest headliners were the inspired pairing of Jo Bell and the lesser known , but no less impressive, Alan Buckley. Jean Sprackland has described Alan Buckley’s work as “…alive with the need to understand. These poems are like X-rays, which see through the surfaces of things…”. Alan’s pamphlet “Shiver” (tall-lighthouse) was a Poetry Book Society choice. He has been widely published in magazines including The Dark Horse, Magma and The Rialto and he was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. He works in Oxford as a psychotherapist, and as a school writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.
They performed solo, and together, in sets which combined and intertwined in a hugely satisfying fashion. His time helping Jo to crew her narrowboat inspired The Flood a counterpoint to Jo’s offering from the same journey River Severn, both of which were pastoral gems, yet Alan’s talents also stretched to electronic battleships, with the same laconic ease richly on show. Jo too displayed her versatility, from the pastoral to the problems of ex boyfriends with the same name. She continues to dominate the spoken word circuit as one of its leading lights combining being popular with never dumbing down her material to be populist.
A fearsomely impressive open mic slot was expertly despatched with numerous strong contributions from an audience whose demand for slots far outstripped supply with the lucky readers showing admirable restraint and brevity to keep the evening on track. Spire Writes next plays on Wednesday 5th February with guest Roy Marshall at The White Swan PH, 16 St Mary’s Gate, Chesterfield, S41 7TJ, 7.30pm, free in.