The new Featured Writer is Gill McEvoy, who became a friend of mine on a course in North Wales. Gill’s poems are precise and passionate and she is a great tutor, too. She organises lots of poetry events in Chester (workshops and regular readings) and promotes poetry everywhere. Helena Nelson wrote, ‘These poems are like jewels. Incalculable pressures underpin their creation. Luminous and compelling (but by no means reassuring) they offer themselves to the light.’
Talking of poetry in performance, my Ways with Words Literary Festival experience ended with a performance of Skeleton Woman. This is an extraordinary Inuit story of a girl who is murdered (in a regretted fit of rage) by her father. After a long time, a young fisherman hooks the skeleton which, getting caught in his fishing tackle, follows him over the stones and into his snow house. In the night, while he sleeps, Skeleton Woman drinks a tear that he sheds and uses his heart beat to bring herself back to flesh and blood. It is a wondrous tale of death and re-birth and the nature of love. It was a moving and inspiring interpretation by the four women – all of whom composed their own pieces: exceptional musicians and singers Rebecca Mayes and Carolan Grzesinki , graphic and potent poet Susan Taylor and virtuoso story-teller Jade Moon,( enhanced by the fact a new Moon was on the way as well.) The story comes from Women who Run with Wolves. After what Christopher Reid was saying about Ted Hughes and the power of story to feed our imaginations and souls I know that Hughes would have loved it … the performance drew us all in to the narrative as if we were children inhabiting a tale, and although I knew it (having seen it twice) I found myself jumping with shock when the girl is murdered and later when she is drawn up out of the sea. All the creators deserve heartfelt congratulations.
Another gripping poetry performance was Martin Figura with his one-man show Whistle at Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre. Accompanied by precisely-timed and inventive audio-visuals giving us the 1950s background and reminding those of us of a certain age about Mansion polish, carpet sweepers (what useful gadgets they were and I want one), Silver Cross prams and the Man from U.N.C.L.E he interweaves the harrowing but unsentimental story of his childhood when his father murdered his mother and its consequences, with a diverse range of poems. When an aunt and uncle take the siblings in he feels he is about to be carved up for Sunday dinner. Another very memorable one was about the fantastical family who later rescued the children from their care homes. I could see why this show has won so many awards as Figura is an extraordinary and easeful performer. You can catch it in Bristol in the autumn.
Afterwards, it generated an interesting discussion for me – about the difference between performing poetry from memory or from the page held in front of you. Reciting poetry from memory paradoxically can create a barrier between audience and poet… whereas there can be more interaction when a poet reads from the page. (This did not apply to Figura imho who was a master at memorising.) As I am always wishing I had the nerve to learn some of my poems by heart and remember them, I took some encouragement to sticking to reading my poems.