12 Nov 2009

The Glór Sessions

Got back to Dublin the following Monday, showered off the mud in the hostel, rested, went to meet Dennis at his hostel.
We walked through Dublin talking about being in love with Dublin, understanding why James Joyce wanted his heart buried here, how the buildings and bridges and street speak in some way that we recognise in our blood. Dennis has an Irish surname, an Irish parent. My ancestors are Irish further back - can our DNA remember it here, we wonder? Stop by on our way to the International Bar to hear some buskers with pipes, bodhrun, fiddle: and nearly cry or dance or something of that overwhelming nature with the passion of it.

We have been invited to the International Bar, by poet Stephen James Smith, who runs the Glor Sessions (glór means: voice, sound or noise) a weekly spoken-word, poetry and music night. Stephen welcomes us, buys us Guinness.
'The Girls' from the Picnic turn up (almost unrecognisable in mud-free attire) with hiusbands and friends. They are here to give us support and to enjoy the show - I can see how tired they are after the weekends exploits. These are women who know how to enjoy their drink! (And they made sure that I did too.)

It was an excellent evening of words and tunes, and a spirited audience in the beautifully built International Bar with its wooden floors and polished, old oak bar-tops and beams throughout, and frame-mirrored walls .

What I especially love about Irish audiences, is that they use their ears to actually listen, not just to hear things with. In England, or at least in the south as it is familiar to me: if there's a run of funny poets at the open mike, and a serious one comes along, or a nature poet, or a gentle voice - the energy often drops; sometimes turns chilly. The literary poet is judged differently for their capabilities than the sometimes less literary, entertaining one. The symbiotic relationship of energy between audience and performer, fails somewhat.

In Ireland, they pay attention to what's being said with... easy to say 'greater respect', but I wonder if it's more than good manners, sensitivity. It's as if they just have more appetite for the spoken word. (Even at the Electric Picnic when I took to the stage slightly ill and distinctly lacking pizazz - a man in the audience spoke to me softly afterwards, said he's especially liked the one that...and so on. He had really listened.) One person in the audience, a man called Gerry, befriended Dennis and I with much enthusiasm. If I had had any more Guinness to drink, not only would I have not been able to speak my poems but would probably have burst into a heartfelt rendition of Irish nationalist folk songs. (Not that I know the words more than a few lines of 'the Wind That Blows the Barley'.)

Stephen James Smith compered with panache, and shared poems too. Enda Reilly's music was especially excellent, and I bought his CD 'Oxygen 21', (the title track of which has now become a fond favourite with friends and family.)

I've never had an encore for my poetry until that night. Dennis, who took to the stage after me, received one also. So many compliments, every one of them truly meant. We have both been invited back anytime.
I am interested in finding any ways I can possibly muster the funding to do so. A poetry tour of Ireland is definitely somewhere in my future plans.

Dennis and I walked back to our hostels, blowing kisses to the Liffey, high as kites and in love with Dublin all over again.
We said goodbye for now; promising to be partners in rhyme again some vague time in the near future - our separate ferries sailing back to Blighty on the cold grey sea in the morning.

Ha'Penny Bridge - Image courtesy of Tourism Ireland Imagery

Electric Picnic loses the plot.

photo taken by Tony Walsh: Me & Dennis Just Dennis (with skeleton facepaint) at the Electric Picnic 2008.

The Electric Picnic takes place in the grounds of the Stradbally Estate, Portlaoise, Ireland, every year.

My experience there in 2008 was so amazing, I wondered if this year would be shadowed by my memories of it. The shadows were much more real and disappointing than that could have been: but whether by the logistic incompetence or the skinflint capitalism of the organisers, I do not know which.

What is brilliant about Ireland is the warmth and hospitality of the people. Unlike the British: they talk to you, to each other, on trains, at bus-stops, in bars, and anywhere else where strangers might become better acquainted.
Last year, I camped next to fellow Brit poets Dennis Just Dennis and Tony Walsh, and we were befriended by three young Irish women: Sam, Rachel and Michelle, who also came to see and hear our poetry and as a result became interested and inspired by poetry in general. (I love it when that happens!). 'The Girls' as we fondly called them, met up with Dennis and myself this year (Tony couldn't make it - we all really missed him!) and joined by their friend Sarah, continued where we left off last year with their generous and inclusive friendship. How amazing it is to find such a welcome in another country.

It was also so good to see gain, Marty Mulligan, who runs many spoken word projects but largely, the Leviathan poetry tent in the Electric Picnic's Mindfield. Marty seems to have endless energy for keeping the tent/stage/random poets/audience/sometimes strange audience members in the right place at the right time. I don't know how he manages it; and he performs his poems from memory (I still carry my little black book everywhere like a security blanket) and sings in a band at the end of the day, AND manages to look relatively mud-free and suave in a black suit and shades. Laid back, mellow, yet on the ball, Marty Mulligan is honourable, and cool. He has just inspired that line to rhyme too.

Dennis and I did a show together at the EP last year: The Race for the Write-house: with Bollock O'Barmy and Hilarious Clingon. Alluding to USA politics of that time, our sham-slam politically based poetry set ended with us encouraging our audience to 'vote poetry'.

This year, Den and I had nothing new to share, but both having written new poems that went in slightly different literary directions, we performed separate sets.
I ended up doing two: one on Saturday one on Sunday.
I felt ill during my first one. Nothing thwarts a performance more than needing a chair on stage because you have a headache and dizziness, and the fect that you might throw up any minute. Luckily, a quiet and appreciative audience responded well and I recovered from what was probably exhaustion and a bit of hypothermia.
The rain was intermittent but the cold wind whipped. There were no fires around which I could get warm.
Paella, hot chocolate, and a medical heat-pack I had bought 'for emergencies' made me feel much better. Later that evening, I sat round the fire in the 'body and soul' area, recovered, told poems impromptu in 'The Big Chair', drank a lot, enjoyed music.
Next day, my short set worked better as my inner rhythms did their thing in harmony with the words as they came out of my mouth. Applause. Phew.

I loved hearing the Poetry Chicks again. Their combination of feisty politics and erudite grace let loose by tongues that hark back to the mysteries rhyming powers of the Greek Chorus, Pamela Brown and Abby Oliveira are something else. Impressed by eloquent Belfast poets Chelley McClear and friends' polished show. Kate Tempest (who will one day be a name known worldwide, and who leaves me open-mouthed in awe, and who is also a sweet, wild, good-hearted woman) and Salena Godden jamming together with music and madness of the Book Club Boutique. Dennis Just Dennis commanding a storm of applause again, getting offered bookings to other shows. Ophelia rocking rhythms in the Irish tongue. Marty Mulligan's rhyming and timing and Irish heart. Raven being entirely brilliant, tender, powerful.
I love the poetry tent.
I missed it when I went anywhere else - but everywhere else up in the Body & Soul area was also a great place to be.

Back to my griping. I have seen better organisation at 1980's anarchist free-festivals where there was no organisation other than a sense of common humanity; greater 'duty of care' at impromptu roadside raves and more common sense at a Village Idiots Gathering (Chanctonbury 1987, in fact.)
The severe lack of toilets at this festival led to obscenely blocked loos and several sewage leaks -gallons of it..Toilet queues were the worst of any festival I have been to since a particularly vile WOMAD some years back; shit piled high, no handwashing facilities, gel run out after half an hour not refilled til next day. Good thing it was cooler weather, or we'd have all got dysentery. Caged in our camping field by locked metal fences and a security guard (with no spanner) at the narrow exit to the field (thank god someone vandalised the fence at a couple of points) no fire buckets or exits, deep wide mud-flats, crap all over the woods...it was a nightmare, comparable to a hedonists' refugee camp. Security people and site crew overworked, worse camping facilities than ours, and many of them furious with their tosspot boss ( the one with the headphones.) The recycling facilities, held together by devoted and hard-working individuals, was ultimately unworkable chaos.

The organisers let down the entire festival; the outstanding arts, top bands and impromtu small stages, endless innovative sounds, the spirit of the Electric Picnic and the beautiful Irish people, and festivalgoers of all ages: ripped-off by a bunch of posturing gobshites.

Croissant Neuf Summer Party

Croissant Neuf Summer Party
is these days called a 'boutique' festival. Apparently. It's what all the best festivals used to be like 'back in the day'...before we were inflicted with festival licensing, security fences and overpriced marketing tat; and when political vision was more commonly and appreciatively held in the activist hands of the festival goer.

Croissant Neuf truck - photo taken from their website.

True to its grass roots, Croissant Neuf boasts "The world's largest portable Solar Powered P.A. system." and which blasts out the volume from the main stage, lights the little fairy lights around stalls, yurts marquuees, lights essential stalls and venues - and all powered by the sun (and a little from windmills, too).

I enjoyed running a poetry workshop; later loved sharing the stage to do a set of poems in Cafe Seren but especially enjoyed compering the open mike and hearing new open-mikers, some poets reading their work in public for the first time, including an eleven year old girl and a man in his forties. I love it when new poets stand up and share their voices, ply their written craft into new shape for their voices.

Whilst CNSP would do well to encourage more performance poets at futire events - theirs is an audience that seem to greatly appreciate and enjoy spoken word - I did enjoy discovering two spokenword/poetry acts that combine their words with music: Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, who held an audience-packed Cafe Seren in frenzied, dancing hysteria; and the unique, enchanting storytelling rhymes and wordsmithery of Quercus Burlesque. I will be looking out for gigs by these folk in the future. I want more!

I loved the whole festival. Sean running ongoing green-woodworking and wood carving workshops, eleven year old Natasha playing with new friends and joining in the many craft workshops - even using an oxy-acetaline torch for the first time, to make her tin windmill, and having her first go on a trapeze in the big-top. The sun shone, the loos were clean, we kept good company with new friends and old, and the view was stunning

I hope they will have us back next year.

Croissant Neuf Summer Party 2009 from Croissant Neuf on Vimeo.

The unexpected - at WOMAD

Next festival of the season: WOMAD, at Charlton Park in Malmesbury. Not there for literary pursuits but to assist husband Sean with selling his beautiful woodwork, I was surprised to hear the Bristolian tones of Nathan Filer, as I walked past the Real Ale Tent.

For a festival that so excellently embraces the music and dance of the whole world, even its most obscure regions and distant islands, I think it really lacks something by not embracing further, the poetry voices of many nations. So with exotic Bristol suddenly represented in my midst, stayed and enjoyed every nuance in Nathan's witty, erudite rhyme and ramblings.

It turned out that the tent's stage was being managed by friend and poet Peter Hunter, who is also Apples and Snakes co-ordinator for the South UK (though he was not wearing his A & S 'hat' at the time).
Encouraged to do a few minutes on the open mike the next day, I did just that.

The Real Ale Tent and Pete & friends put on a vibrant, arts community, poetry and music for-the-people by-the-people all weekend. We bought real ale in support of such a venture. Cheers!

A brief divergence from poetry related things:

WOMAD always surprises me with some kind of music or another. This year, amongst other delights, I discovered Spanish based punk-folk band Che Sudaka. I haven't seen a relatively little-known band at WOMAD pull a crowd like that before. On one of the smaller stages, people spread way back into the throng of the festival to get a glimpse of what, who, this phenomena was. Many stood in the pouring rain when the skies let loose for a while. I haven't seen so many people pogoing, proper full-on up-and-down jumping, since...I don't know when. Decades ago. I bought the CD, and am playing it frequently. Not pogoing, though.

Poetry Stars

The Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple

Another highlight of my poetry year was back in June. Mel Scaffold, the South West co-ordinator for Apples and Snakes, booked me and fellow poets Adam Horowitz and Edson Burton as support to Brian Patten, for the North Devon Fringe at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple.

For a small Devon town, Barnstaple is well renowned for its thriving spoken-word scene, and this theatre is at the heart of it.

Brian Patten is a phenomenal performer. There is something inexplicable about seeing a true master at work - and not just because this poet has probably spent more years doing it than almost anyone else in the land - but it is as if his command of the audiences' total attention results from some brilliant, diamond-like quality in his own mind. We breathed in Brian's poems like prana, and they sustained us like that force - joy, sorrow, empathy, humour, and other aspects of our human condition, celebrated with tenderness and wit.

I always love socialising with poets after the gig; and together with some of the Apples and Snakes crew, enjoyed some of Barnstaples hostelry. At one point, as Brian regaled with tales of poets past he told us of some of the poetry conversations he once had with Robert Graves; who in turn, had spent time listening to the wisdoms of Thomas Hardy; who, likewise, had enjoyed conversations with Wordsworth.

I could feel the poetry in the air between us, crackling all the way back through time to the first starlight.

10 Nov 2009


Haven't written anything for ages because I have been too too busy.

Prone to loquacity in my daily life, I only want to write anything here, that is part of my literary and creative life, and that might be of use or enjoyment to someone. I've had a delicious, poetry-suffused summer and autumn, so there are many words just waiting for their moment to be typed up.

I really do not want to discuss my jam-making projects, random serendipities, sketch book, gardening, weird friends, scandals, family matters, or whatever else on here.

As much as my private life has its exquisitely fabulous and deeply interesting moments, I'm quite a private person, conversely, for someone who sometimes likes a bit of showing-off on stage.

So, I will soon be both praising or cursing various literary events and venues where I have poesied this year; and will be saying all kinds of juicy things about other poets, and generally being opinionated, right here on this space.

Come hither...