Rachel Donati for Poetry in Aldeburgh 2020
Daydreams are better than thoughts –
I wrote in my diary this July. In lockdown dreaming and play feel even sweeter. We get to escape. Play opens us up to a permeability of thinking, allows porous thoughts in, lets ideas seep & steep, to percolate. It allows feelings in. It’s fluid, ‘With poems, you never get to settle on a final meaning for your work, just as you never get to feel settled, finally, as yourself’ – Jack Underwood.
A little shapeshifting goes a long way & so we begin on
Claudine Toutoungi’s richly-humoured, pointed, poems ‘Wurlitzered’ (made-up word – why not?) in linguistic cartwheels and surreal settings. A dextrous juxtaposition of words, textures, colours, and sensations, made ever stranger worlds; places where cheese is eaten upon cheese upon cheese, and robot mothers mow lawns. Taut lines prodded at modish lives – a too perfect Switzerland with its ‘artisanal cake shop’ and a ‘stupid crush on the valley’. Her idiosyncratic, funny, mash-up of words enacting the mess-up of life, exhilaratingly and theatrically read – bouncing us into laughter. & then I go
for a mathematical way with word play. Michael Schmidt, Philip Terry, and Lee Ann Brown urge the audience to dive into a gameplay of words. It’s almost algebraic, poems created in predetermined patterns, to release new poetry patchings. Ideally it transforms and re-translates poems anew – as spoken word poet Ross Sutherland did in his askew new take on Little Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, I spy Mary Mulholland (poet and editor of The Alchemy Spoon) on Zoom, knitting & sitting listening & I think – I like that view stitching new ideas together (though I was always terrible at maths). From cool coda I dive into
Love, Lust & Politics
to thrill at work that plays with the body, sexual politics, and gaze through a multitude of lenses. Sparklingly hosted by Maria (quite literally), I was transfixed: Elaine Baker’s cinematic narrative sequence was filled with floating, soaking, pressed palms; Kostya Tsolakis’s tender, longing, poems seeking permission to play, find ‘a seaside room, a scent of lemons’; Ramona Herdman’s joyful, lascivious, vivacious poems – naughty for off-licence boys, thrilling at always summer girls tightless and coatless: ‘it is freezing wet and for you it’s June’; and Jazmine Linklater’s ekphrastic work, coolly located, where we are both the viewer and object in a theatrical soundscape ‘everyone must receive their allotted part’. I play at
Arji Manuelpillai’s Workshop
“How can we be playful with words?” he asks as we all hello Zoom dance together – our bodies already begun. We fast-trip through Mark Waldron, Wayne Holloway-Smith, and Alex McDonald; we rip up paper to play with objects and words; we make games and rules for poems to play with limitations & make new things. I begin – ‘I wish I loved calves’ brains’ & end somewhere ‘walking life like a hospital’. Sweet. & then I bound to the start of Saturday night
PLAY: The Human Comedy
Hosted by Helen, Lorraine Mariner brings us the familiar: Superdrug and nail polishes, postmen and tax discs – coddling domestic settings where irons, fridges, and air dryers are old friends. Her poems a joy-filled hug – generous and knowing, like her postmen who shirk off work, ‘free in the afternoon’; Luke Samuel Yates packs dry humour with a sharpness of detail into everyday language to make surreal, tender, funny, poems of ‘binbags, sellotape, and teamwork’ and broken relationships ‘more complex than a vitamin B complex’; Emma Hammond’s unique word-packed, rhythm-packed, other-worldly poems pour over us like a mythic modern story-telling filled with dogs, stars, forests, and a questing. Words lush and lustrous, with perspectives beautifully strange: ‘there’s a decent amount of stillness in snow’, and the delicate, moving, intimacy of a mother and her new baby ‘in the pink room we have found each other’; Katherine Stansfield has matching Susans, hair-clogged drains and Airbnb reviews ‘I don’t like rats but some people do’, in poems with a comedic tick, and a hint of the circus about them. Her words deftly produce a verbal clowning, with virtuoso turns. Later, it’s time for
Open Mic at the Cross Keys, with Jill Abram
Poets packed in, on first name terms, all the way from India and Florida, from Ireland to London. Bravo/Brava. Well read: Nora, Cameron, Phil, Colin, Patrizia, Gareth, Sriram, Petra, Christopher, Matt, Danne, Lesley, Annette, Angie, Mark, J.S., Jude, Marie, and Christopher. Joyful, piercing, childlike, elegiac, and powerful, poems spit out lines; ‘legs on blondes’, ‘half full loose change’, ‘high rents tiny flats’, ‘I am a factory machine by day’, ‘you think I am deaf and I am dead’, ‘pebble-dashed Troy’, ‘Yanky too gag and lusty’, ‘I walk into a checklist and go wrong in Autumn’. A myriad of stories and voices to take us through odes to London, carers set on fire, Jewish journeys, prostitution, still nature, and sharp dramas. A few poet rule-breakers give preambles, go over line limits. Eggs take on a theme all of their own – blue eggs – cracked eggs – eating eggs. It makes me hungry – I want dawn and breakfast.
Sunday : Reading on Play: A Scottish Fantasy
Different, other-worldly and brilliantly odd, with tribute readings to Edwin Morgan throughout creating a sense of wonder. Louise Peterkin takes us into a collage of memories and imagination, a nun is on the run in the circus, spreading arms in the shape of a cross on a horse, ‘lying with the strongman all night long if you want to’. Her poems heady with sensuous butter sauces, and perfume ‘fuschia tongues of roses’, daft with too many mouses. Andy Jackson’s saints cater to every curious need, gamblers ‘waiting for the cards to burn their fingers’, lottery winners ‘waiting for the balls that never drop’. Saints have meeting agendas and minutes ‘No Julian no tambourines today … no we’re not allowing fuchsia’. Playful, Tommy Cooper, work that makes Dad jokes a thing ‘a comedian drank a litre of gravy and became a laughing stock’. Miriam Nash’s long poem The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr mesmerises in an epic re-telling of a Norse creation story with nine mothers’ own voices. It’s an incantation – rhythmic, repetitive, and hypnotic. With the god giant child ‘snore close’, ‘heart close’ we swoop through repeated phrases, internal rhymes, and echo-sounds crept, slept, chest, flood, blood, it’s a world of pig stews, boots’ steaming, and grinding gold teeth. Intense and compelling, I feel like a wide-eyed child drawn to a bedtime story. Then we ride into a modern-day biblical apocalypse with Rob A. Mackenzie, a world of online shitstorms, combustible thoughts, aliens that word-swap with humans, The Arse ‘everyone walked the talk about the arse’, everyday packed with noise complaints, ‘follow some yellow brick mother fucker’ where we are ‘riding the flames of middle brow hope’. Playful, nutty, funny, anarchic work that’s whip smart sharp.
Then it’s time to say goodbye.
With an Oulipian epigram farewell poem from the festival hosts to all the festival goers (removing BXT and CVD for the precise amongst you), and I feel as though I’ve fallen into Edward Lear’s head, going out on a fanfare of (Zoom muted) laughter. Thank you for letting me come and play with you all awhile Paul, Anna, Robin, Clare, Patricia – it was fun being a logger who logged.
‘… poetry is language at play ...’ – Simon Armitage.