Maria Isakova-Bennett for Poetry in Aldeburgh 2021
Over the weekend in addition to listening to vibrant and urgent Ethiopian poetry— writing coming out of trauma and a love of country, poems of praise and faith directly Zoomed from Addis Ababa, Vienna and New York; and arresting work linked to Human Impact on Nature, Landscape and Climate during which I listened without being able to make a single note, to Dom Bury – his vital poems coming out of reflection and complex complicated decisions, I attended two events linked to the Guillemot and Bad Betty Presses, and an event marking 100 issues of Poetry London. First to Poetry London:
It was an insightful experience to hear poetry selected for one of the most esteemed poetry journals in its 33rd year of publication. New, unpublished work from Momtaza Mehri, vivid character narratives from Janine Bradbury to the epic poem from Sri Lankan poet, Vidyan Ravinthiran, and poetry from Rachel Long, whose energy and passion not only for her own work but for those she teaches, was palpable. I hadn’t heard Jemilea Wisdom-Baako’s poetry before, but I was so taken by her powerful writing, and the vivid settings, I’ll certainly seek out her work further.
These poets, all dealing with uneven power relations, read with conviction so that each set was distinct and memorable. I take away the urgency of voice for Momtaza, the way she saw, tongue as a slug, heard the hoarse throat of a palm reader and the never to be forgotten voice of ‘If’, ‘if counts her options/ if takes a long walk home’. Rachel Long’s proximity to the camera as she read her open exploration of desire offered unflinching presentations of and meditations on the female body and its vulnerabilities, taking in the particularly stark uneven power relations between men and women focusing on the heart-wrenching handing over of a baby.
Guillemot Press Poets on Poetry and Collaboration
I was drawn especially to Sea Change by Katrina Porteus and Phoebe Power due to my own interest in and fascination with the coast, particularly here in the north-west, but also a love of the north-east coast from Coast to Coast to Coast projects. Although the event presented the work of four collaborative poets including other-worldly ‘untellings’and musical improvisations and what I perceived as translations from word to music to word from communications across art forms from Clarissa Álvarez and Petero Kalulé, I will focus on Katrina Porteus’ and Phoebe Power’s perception of the Durham coast as a place of great contradiction: the extremes of garlic-smelling wooded denes and the previous and enduring presence of twelve collieries, and discussion of both the pride in belonging to pit villages and yet a stigma attached to place. Contradictions are expressed in poems such as Kayleigh
It’s a short bike ride from the pit. Though the weeds conceal
Aerosols, glue cans, plastic bags, and in the Gill
Somebody’s big sister is being sick beside a burned-out car,
On Limekiln Beach, among the remains of coal,
You can run and run, dig and build – make fires, feel free –
Crack the sea-smoothed rocks wide open…
Phoebe continued to discuss the development of the project which involved litter picking, community discussion and bringing alive the characters met throughout the project— children and workers given identity and voice in poems reminiscent of river poetry written by Alice Oswald (Dart) and Virginia Astley (Thames)
I fully understood Katrina’s desire to return, her interest in what ecological change had done to Durham’s ‘radical coast’. The project was an exciting collaboration between poets and artists, with wonderful, collaged images by Rose Ferraby highlighting and giving relief to the words in the poems.
The whole project was geographical and historical, writing about the coast’s past and future.
‘Her Mam said; spoilt before she was born, rust-stained and orange
Black with slag and dolly-wash, its terrible lagoons
haemorrhaging sulphates, oxides –
Bad Betty Poets
One of the highlights of the weekend for me: I felt so privileged to hear the great range of styles and voices with themes of loss and elegy. Niroshini’s ‘One Hundred and Eight Commands for my Daughter’, drawing on myth and offering direct address; Joel Auterson’s ‘Pantoum for Adam’
We’ll plant our feet and leave.
A tiny, smiling Death
lives in my coffee now.
I am still here, still now.
and his ‘Unremember’ making vivid what we learn and forget in our loss of innocence
You learn that the world has ended, and that parents are
Over time, you call it healing
and you forget this.
Shareen K. Murayama’s work was infused with an honouring of her mother as inspiration, circling themes of girlhood and daughterhood with a focus on loss of a significant other, a theme which arises again in the work of Kirsten Luckin’s letter to a friend she lost in 2016.
The voices of each poet so fitting content – the lively reading and performance and intimate address of Kirsten’s epistolary which is structured significantly as diary entries revealing the passage of time
the sky today has behaved so rightly, so blue-and-whitely, so deftly Delphedware,
so pompadour and pom-pom,
so gambol and shearling since the storm.
the musicality and vivid imagery of Shareen Muryama’s love of the land and those she’d lost
black pines with tickling hairs yellow tips capped//
a crane stands on one foot
red-crested looks back on the red//
sun as a child
I overlooked moons. peonies
and the vivid narrative’s of Joel Auterson’s characters.
The thing I loved most about this reading, if I can call it a reading because I felt immersed in it so thoroughly as though part of the conversation, was the wonderful mix of intimacy created between the readers and those they were addressing, and yet I didn’t feel any sense of exclusion which a personal poem can create at times. Through the musicality of the poems, the voices of each poet, the listener was drawn into the intimacy.
Writer and artist Maria, from Liverpool, is the author of three pamphlets, Caveat (2014), All of the Spaces (2017), …an ache in each welcoming kiss (2019). In 2020 she published a collaborative work, mira, with John Glenday. Recipient of The Peggy Poole Award 2020, and a New North Poet Award 2017/8, Maria is writer in residence for Mersey Care NHS Trust, tutors for The Windows Project, is Book Reviews Editor for Orbis Journal, and regularly interviews for The Honest Ulsterman. Maria creates and edits the hand-stitched poetry journal, Coast to Coast to Coast. Maria has a new book forthcoming with Hazel Press in 2022.
Drawing by Arjuna Gunarathne made during Poetry London
Rachel Long, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Momtaza Mehri,
Jemilea Wisdom-Baako, Janine Bradbury and hosted by André Naffis-Sahely