Much Wenlock : Four Voices from Gatehouse Press

I really look forward to going to the Much Wenlock poetry festival because it is such a beautiful place and the venues are excellent. It is such a friendly poetry place! This was my third year and I met my good friend Charlotte there to go the event titled ‘Four Voices From Gatehouse Press at the Pottery. This event stood out to me after reading the programme and it was the work of Sarah Law that caught my eye. She had written a collection called Ink’s Wish based on the writings of medieval writer Margery Kempe and I am fascinated by anything from that period. Here is some information about the collection:

‘A collection of poems inspired by medieval Norfolk visionary Margery Kempe. Eccentric, bold, entertaining, and a well-travelled pilgrim, Margery was a notable and controversial character, and the first to write an autobiography in English. From prose poems to song lyrics, the poems in this collection draw on Margery’s life and visions while often taking unexpected turns of their own. They encompass the strange, the spiritual, and the playful, as Margery did herself.’

Sarah Law read first and her poems were extremely interesting. Her reading was gentle and playful, emphasising the personality and humour of Margery Kempe. However, despite this lightness of touch the poems were layered like reams of folded fabric, with each layer revealing unexpected emotion that evoked the raw passion and revelation that was part of Margery’s spiritual experience. The reading included song lyrics that were particularly mesmerising and captured the pilgrim spirit of the medieval writer.

Next to read was Andrea Holland from her book Broadcasting. Andrea Holland described to us the background of her work. Five villages In Breckland, Norfolk were requisitioned by the British Military in June 1942, to enable them to train for D Day. The villagers had to leave their homes behind, which are now ruined; a ghostly reminder of past village life.

‘Real and imaginary villagers who gave up their homes and their land for what would have been described as ‘the war effort’ appear in this sequence of poems for the Cafe Writers Norfolk commission. Poems and original pre-requisition photographs of villagers and village life bring to light a significant episode in Norfolk history which has nevertheless been almost entirely forgotten by the subsequent two generations.’

Andrea’s reading was very emotional (not that she betrayed the emotion in her voice, she was a strong and composed reader) but her vivid choice of detail captured the village in words that were as specific as a photograph. She made the villagers and their activities come to life. Her exactness of description expressed the loss of village life and past history. Andrea Holland’s poems allowed the listener to fill in the background of war, which was very skillful and effective.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave stood up and gave an assured and confident recital of her poem about Tiberius from her collection Splitfish. Her poise and expression made sure every person in the room was held by her words. And the words were excellent. Extremely descriptive and vivid, the five senses were in full effect so the listener could hear the fish slapping on the floor, feel the poor man rubbed to death with the scales and see the red silk, pearl, green, rainbow and azure colours that were all detailed. Kiran read another ‘myth’ poem at the end of her set that was about the Minotaur’s Mother. The poem focuses on the pregnancy and the moment the mother realised she had the bull child growing inside her. It was as equally striking and memorable as Tiberius and I particularly liked her skillful use of long pauses, shown here in her choice of line breaks and enjambment:


Finally, Andrea Porter read from her book called House of the Deaf Man. I really liked how each poet had drawn on very different thing for inspiration: medieval writer, abandoned village, mythology and now the paintings of Goya.

‘Artist Tom de Freston and poet Andrea Porter explore the dark images Goya created on the walls of his house Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man) in the last few years of his life. Using these paintings as a touchstone both artist and poet create a world in which Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’ provide a vital and significant link between the present and the past.’

Andrea was an extremely interesting person, I would have liked to chat to her and learn more about the paintings. Her introductions between the poems gave little glimpses into her own life experiences and  this was apparent in her poetry, which was very rich in variety, with subtle rhyme and rhythm, changes of pace and veered from the normal into the surreal world of Goya’s dark paintings. Very enjoyable and ended the event on a high note.



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