World Book Day – and everybody literary had organised something for us to go to that evening. Which is odd, when you think about it, because they all clashed, so we were all forced to just choose one. I was miffed that I couldn’t go to several other events in London and Oxford, but I went to Beaconsfield Library, to hear three poets from Penned in the Margins, for three good reasons:
- It was nearest to home and I’m lazy
- I’d promised myself I’d go to one of Claire Trevien’s book launches and missed the London and Oxford ones due to other clashing appointments
- I’m supposed to be doing a review of Oliver Dixon’s book, and background info is always good.
This is how poetry is supposed to be: some chairs hastily set up in a provincial library on a lovely spring evening; a cohort of older ladies who know one of the poets from a poetry group; a photographer from the local paper; free chocolate biscuits. And time to ask questions at the end.
The first reader was Sarah Hesketh, who to my shame I’d not heard of before, reading from her 2009 collection Napoleon’s Travelling Bookshelf. This gets my WIST award (Wish I’d Said That) for the most envy-inducing language. My favourite was ‘The Boy Who Read Homer To His Cat’, about a dying cat called Hengist, which is excellent in so many ways:
He thinks about a hardening of earth
about a barrow. The point
at which his eyes will narrow
to the split-width of a star
and he shall raise his rift of fur
against the northern winds
his soul flying out over the whale-road
Go well, Hengist! Sarah also read three new poems on the subject of ‘endlings’; the official name for the last animal of the species before extinction; a chance to meditate on isolation and death (so many dead animals!). I loved the poem about the last Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree-frog, saying goodbye to the second-last of its clan. Hoping those get published soon.
Next up was Claire herself, last seen in these pages running the Penning Perfumes event in Oxford. Her collection, The Shipwrecked House, is newly available, and blends Claire’s Breton origins with her English life. The sea features heavily; there are whales under the floorboards, rusty seas and whiskered fish. Wedding rings are twisted like weathervanes, there are poems inspired by Rimbaud and Breton dancing. Lovely, delicate, spooky poems, with striking use of language and an eye-catching cover.
Oliver Dixon is a little older than his co-readers, and although he said he has been writing for many years, he might not have published a collection if Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins hadn’t seen one of his poems and contacted Oliver to see if there were any more. I won’t say too much, because I’m reviewing his book Human Form, for Dr Fulminare on the Fuselit website. The title poem explores material familiar to parents – how when you have a small child, you are never sure where you, and the child, are going to wake up: ‘Pluto and Tigger my feral bedfellows, / Spiderman lamp still on in the light.
A very satisfying combination of polished poetry from three engaging readers. And, driving home over the top of the Chilterns, I saw a UFO, which might lead to a poem of my own.