Sunday, April 11, 2021

Soliloquies, books, self-absorption and bluebells.

Southampton's Art House continues to find ways to share entertainment and this week offered After Shakespeare, a quartet of monologues created and performed by Lexi Wolfe. Weighing in at 2½ hours zoom-time this was quite a heavyweight session but raised intriguing questions about the bard's plays: what was Hamlet's relationship with Laertes? Why was Lady Macbeth so avid to see Duncan dead? How did Portia really feel when her betrothed failed to recognise her in barrister's disguise? Was HenryV heroically brave, or pathologically vicious?  

Taking tiny clues and clearly with intensive research as well as imaginative intuition, Lexi explored these and other depths, creating a sense of interactive listening without too much of the 'what's that I hear you ask?' device. Setting the four characters does take some time, but the reveries are all provocative & interesting. Here's Portia, the chat-line's favourite. 

Sunday evening saw the return of the famous Proof Pudding Club initiated by Hunting Raven Books manager Tina Gaisford Waller, held on zoom since live book clubs and actual pudding-sharing have both been off the menu. Tina's very good at picking new titles that will intrigue, and this busy session covered a wide range, with Tina as host choreographing our contributions: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, inspired by the discovery that the word 'bondmaid' was discarded by the compilers of the first dictionary, and Jackie Polzin's debut novel Brood emerged as fiction front-runners.  

My last post pledged to avoid the politics of Northern Ireland, but last weeks news stories are inevitably my main preoccupation.  The Assault on Truth, Peter Oborne's exposé of the UK's catastrophic decline, charts the ruthless sacrifice of Northern Ireland by our mythomaniac prime minister: newspapers are focusing on the rioters but my thoughts are with the individuals & families living in cities on fire. Hobnob Press published my novel The Price of Bread, about living in the fringes of similar 'Troubles' fifty years ago, with this press release: ‘This powerful evocation of a fractured and dystopian society may be read as history – an insider’s chilling recollection of a conflict which most people not directly involved failed to understand, and saw unfold with incredulity. But it can also be read as a warning to be heeded: the anger and hatred, suppressed for decades, never went away. It could and quite possibly will return – it may even now be reigniting.’ It's a distressing thought. Thanks to those who sent comments - they're on my novel's Facebook page here - and my piece was published on American online journal Medium last week. Credit David Goodman for this compilation created for my website.

On a more upbeat note: last week's sunshine allowed more walks along paths where the green carpet of wild garlic leaves will soon be a forest of white blossom: in the meantime, there are violets and celandine, wood anemones and primroses - and the first bluebells are already showing. so I'll end with that happier thought as we edge gingerly towards the first steps of what we once called normality.  

Monday, April 05, 2021

The cafe edition - short, but with an otter.

The  Barrel House Ballroom in Totnes has been home to the Word Cafe created & run by Julie Mullen since 2019, and on Thursday Julie introduced a 30-minute film of poetry and music from local poets and performers which hopefully will stay on YouTube because it's delightful. Beautifully filmed in a variety of enticing local locations (cinematography by Chris Plant) this features poetry and music by local creatives, including Matt Harvey, with an acrostic about Totnes to compensate for his recent move to Dartington, and Brian Patten, still ruggedly scouse. Brian Patten was one of my poetry heroes - the title my published collection Crumbs from a Spinning World is derived from one of his poems - and his book launches unmissable, a fact I confided to him after his eighth, Storm Damage, and received the sighed reply 'Yes, we're all getting old.'  That was back in 1995. Here he is now, and here too is Susie David reciting her poem The Sea Calls.

Back in Frome, Black Swan Arts is preparing to reopen its gallery and the cafe reopened on Friday as the River House Cafe relocated - lock, stock, and staff - from its popular but cramped location on the bridge to the spacier premises - with courtyard seating too - of the Black Swan building. It's another upward step for this 17th Century alehouse, nearly demolished in 1974 until rescued & reopened in 1986 as an arts centre. Here's me looking very happy to join the queue on the official opening day. Thanks Emma Warren for the snap! 

Also in Frome: Our last couple of weeks' sunshine has coaxed the swirling mudscape beside the river bank to regain its role as a path, thus widening the range of rambles available in town and beyond. Frome's online Wildlife Watch group, a treasure trove of birds, butterflies, and recently beavers,  been getting excited about otters, and I was lucky enough to spot this sleek-headed little guy in the exquisite garden of Marston Mill on the Mells River after a writing group meeting. 

Drama has been coming at us from all sorts of places since our theatres, initially muted apart from pleas for donations, have regrouped and come back with online options and now National Theatre has premiered their Romeo and Juliet on the telly - Sky Arts on Sunday night. Directed by Simon Godwin and commendably contracted to 90 minutes, this pandemic production of Shakespeare's violent love story becomes a timeless tale of families and passions. Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley are the lovers, but it's Tamsin Greig as Juliet's powerful mother who stands out in a production that changes relationships and scythes speeches but creates the constraints of family dynamics and social controls in a fantastic, and memorable, way. Look out for repeats.

This blog, or rather this blogger, is determined to chicane through our present Troubles, as the Irish so eloquently delineate stuff too big to name, without discussing either of them, nor the western religious calendar,  so this spring holiday bulletin will conclude with a 'poem for today' as chosen by Poem for the Day (1) ed. Wendy Cope which is by Maya Angelou: Still I Rise was written 1978 and is shockingly still relevant, read it and weep. More cheerful is the other choice for today, from Poem for the Day (2) ed. Andrew Motion, which is Adrian Mitchell's ditty to Celia: 

When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope has gone
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on

They later married & lived happily ever after, which shows there's more that one way to look at Easter.