And colder. Last Friday, on the coldest night of the year so far the Eden Poets, of which I am a member, had their debut reading at The Gathering in Penrith. Who would come? Would the weather (snow and ice forecast) and the dark night put people off?
We needn’t have worried. The upstairs room of The Gathering was full to capacity and it was great to see some new faces as well as some respected Cumbrian poets in the audience, several of them gamely putting their names down to participate in the open mike. The evening was started off by nine year old Annie with her poem about red apples (it reminded me of the blackbirds tucking into my ‘Discovery’ fallers in the back garden). She should be our mascot, I think!
Then the seven of us who are Eden Poets read a brief selection of our poems (we were allowed 7 minutes each). There was a real buzz about the evening. I enjoyed hearing poems which we had work-shopped in our monthly meetings being performed live as well as hearing new poems. We are a diverse group and the form and content of our poems is very varied, but I think because we all know each other the chemistry worked well. I’d not been to The Gathering before but they did us proud with ice creams in the interval (yes, even in November – it gave a theatre feel to the proceedings) and hot drinks and cakes available from the café downstairs.
A big thank you to Jacci for organising the evening and to everyone who took part or were good listeners or who helped behind the scenes (John and Daryl should be mentioned!). More poetry evenings are planned for next year.
The dark days just got brighter too. Next morning I woke to a blue sky, a hard frost and a light powdering of snow on the Lake District fells, the Pennines and the Scottish hills. After last week’s deluge it was great to have the clarity of winter sunshine making everything seem nearer than it actually was. I drove to Castle Douglas for the launch of new collections from Cinnamon Press – a great little press, based in North Wales, that is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Driving down the A75 was a pleasure. It’s not a good idea to combine driving and ornithology but I couldn’t help noticing birds which crossed my field of vision – a dark cloud of starlings near the Solway (their winter roosts there are legendary), flocks of fieldfares on the move near Dumfries, and a buzzard which dropped to a kill (I assume) on the edge of a field bordering the main road.
I like Castle Douglas – its eclectic mix of independent shops lining the high street, its tea shops which all serve enormous slices of cake at ridiculously low prices and its shimmering Carlingwark Loch which comes right up to the edge of the town. There’s another like to add to the list now – the Gordon Memorial Hall (next to St Ninian’s church) where the launch took place. What a lovely setting for reading poetry. It is a modern, stylish building, full of light and space. The seating was in a semi-circle with no stage so there was an intimate feel to the reading with each poet relating closely to the audience.
Of all the poetry readings I have ever attended this one was unique – it started early. I only just got there in time to take a seat at 1.20 (due to start at 1.30). I’m not sure why – but the hall was full, the weather threatening and three of the poets had a long journey home. It was a refreshing change to the hanging about that usually heralds a poetry reading (I assume because no one likes to be interrupted in full flow by a latecomer banging the door and struggling to unhook a chair from the stack at the back).
Jane McKie started off by reading poems from Kitsune with its memories and relationships. Her work is delicate, detailed and surprising. The title comes from the Japanese for ‘fox’, a common aspect of Japanese folklore. Next came Robin Lindsay Wilson reading from Myself and Other Strangers. He’s a writer who makes unusual and striking connections – wondering if terrorists sleep easy at night in clean white sheets, for example. To be honest, the person I’d really come to hear was Islay resident, Mavis Gulliver (Waymarks), whose poems I’ve admired when I’ve read them in the pages of the poetry magazine, Envoi. She is a contemporary writer who keeps faith with the natural world. Her reading included ‘Owl’ and ‘Shearwaters’. Finally we listened to David Mark Williams (The Odd Sock Exchange). The dramatic Welsh timbre to his voice was perfect for his poems. I particularly enjoyed the title poem. Afterwards I bought two poetry books to add to the stack waiting to be read over Christmas.
On the way back I noticed that the gorse alongside the A75 was already showing clusters of yellow buds, lighting up the short days of winter. When I got home I took the dog for a walk and the waxing moon, well past its first quarter, was bright enough for the trees to cast long shadows and to silver the soft pale brown hair on my dog’s feet. I thought of the dog in Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘with paws of silver’. ‘The dark nights just got brighter.’
For more information about the Cinnamon poets go to www.cinnamonpress.com
If you would like to catch them at another reading they are doing an Edinburgh launch at the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday 28 November.