Two nights of poetry in one week, then none for a month. I may have to adjust my social calendar.
Monday was our monthly poetry meeting at the library. For a few fragrant minutes it looked as though it was going to just be two of us – the library assistant and me. Then Sandra, a good egg and an established poet turned up. With her was Fatima. I had never met Fatima before. A curvaceous black woman, she wore candy pink and black. Her eyelashes – surely not natural? – curled luxuriously. She was groomed and perfumed. She came over and kissed me hello. I was enfolded in a pink embrace. I wondered nervously how the evening might progress. She was between me and the door. She eased bare feet out of cosy boots and reached for the selection of poetry Trevor had laid out. Opening one seemingly at random, she read a poem that made us all laugh, then another. Both by Sophie Hannah of whom I had never heard. Now I have borrowed the book from the libary, read most of it and laughed out loud on the bus.
Next Fatima said she was putting on her Jamaican voice, although, as she explained, she comes from St Lucia, and read two more in a broad accent. For the life of me I can’t remember who they were by. I would have gladly paid for the experience. Then Alice arrived, the woman who had summoned all our inhibitions several meetings ago. Trevor and I exchanged glances. No surprise that Fatima welcomed her warmly and kindly. By this point of the evening I would have voted for Fatima as Prime Minister. She analysed poems, compared political situations, made us laugh, made us nod, read an exuberant poem called Skin that she had written that afternoon in a workshop with Sandra. Wise, warm and witty; a powerful combination, and a rare one.
Alice (not her real name) wanted to read some of her own poems. She read three. Sandra looked thoughtful. “Do you only write about Princess Diana?” she asked.
I had brought some Phoebe Hesketh poems. I stumbled across her work a couple of weeks ago. She died in 2005, which is the only thing protecting her from a fanmail letter from me. She appears in surprisingly few anthologies, but you can find her on the web. I love Paint Box. At least one of her books will soon be on my bookshelf. Sandra and Fatima couldn’t understand why they had not heard of her either. Trevor kindly made photocopies.
I came home with a smile on my face, and I am already looking forward to next time.
Last night was the last poetry class. I took the Sophie Hannah volume with me. More giggling on the bus. There’s a lot of disappointed, rejected love. Viz Astronomical which I have just reread and which made me laugh aloud all over again. Fortunately I have also found it online, here, so you can enjoy it too. I know I can’t live without this book, so it’ll be squeezed onto the shelf beside Phoebe Hesketh soon. My own copy; I am not planning to steal the one from the library.
It was sad having our last poetry class. Publications circulated. All had published Our Teacher. He told us if we planned to send poems to magazines we should prepare for rejection, and not to take it personally but keep trying. The time went very fast. At the end, we gave him a card and a bottle of whisky, then queued up to write our contact details on a list he promised to circulate. He said he would be there if we wanted advice or support. I scribbled down the names of two poets whose poems touched me, though it was just chance that I opened Iota 72 at the page where they both featured. Helen Hudspith’s poem about her grandmother’s dementia Taxi Rides to Nowhere was sad and funny in equal measure. Gill McEvoy’s Birth spare and raw.
I started the poetry class thinking it was second best to what I really wanted to do. I have ended it profoundly grateful. My weeks have been enriched. It has been a blast.