On the 13th April 2017, the first fringe event for the upcoming Ted Hughes Poetry Festival was held with a poetry showcase, followed by an open mic from Well Spoken! hosted at Doncaster Brewery. The guest poets were introduced by Brian Lewis, founder editor of Sheffield-based publisher Longbarrow Press. The three poets who read were Matthew Clegg, Karl Hurst and Fay Musselwhite. These poets brought an accent of contemporary England from its urban centers to its ragged edges. The theme was poetry from the edgelands, one of Longbarrow’s core themes.

The first poet to read was Matthew Clegg, who began with ‘Because I was Nobody’ from his first collection West North East:

Once, I stumbled down a mound
into a herd of cows. The heat of them
was like a drug. All I wanted was to stand
feeling their breath all night. They let me try
because they knew I had nothing. Was nobody.

Clegg then read from ‘Edgelands’, a sequence of poems based on the classical Japanese Tanka form. Tanka follows the spirit of haiku, usually associated with love and longing. ‘Edgelands’ captures a personal experience of walking in and around Sheffield. The audience was shown the urban environment of Sheffield: “Edgelands. Showrooms, factories / lapsing into pylon fields.” The theme of walking continued with ‘The Walking Cure’, which deals with how walking affects our conscious and unconscious thought processes.

Clegg also read Mexborough Quad Bandits’ from his 2015 collection The Navigators. The audience laughed at the story of a young gang on quadbikes, which forms the basis of the poem. Throughout his set, Clegg explored time and space, with the element of water connecting both. The geographical places mentioned in his poetry range from the Lake District to the canals of Leeds and Mexborough.

Fay Musselwhite was the second Longbarrow poet to read on the night. She read from her collection Contraflow. Many of Musselwhite’s poems are linked to the Rivelin, which rises in peat moorland north-west of Sheffield and descends 80 metres into the city. The river became the voice of the poems through the rhythms that she employed. Her use of imagery and onomatopoeia allowed the listener to flow directly into the meandering nature of the river and the poem.

Here is a recording of Musselwhite reading ‘Here I spill’:

The river was for many people (pre- and post-industrial) their livelihood: it brought food and trade. As migration occurred, people moved into towns and cities, but the river continued to flow despite all these changes. Contraflow explores the nature of the river, its progression from youth to maturity, its journey and ultimate abandonment. Musselwhite gives the river a voice. A voice that was here prior to us, and one that will remain long after we leave.

The final Longbarrow poet of the evening was Karl Hurst, who hooked the audience in with his stage presence. He read from his collection, The Frome Primer (published in two pamphlets, each of 12 poems: Frome I-XII and Frome XIV). Hurst’s voice explored the modern world with its complications and contradictions, both physical and psychological. The loss of self/identity, estrangements from families versus loyalties to families. The need to belong and to be independent; the conflict in all of us.

From ‘Frome XI’:

So, dear friend, no need to ask
if I’m nostalgic for the old life, nor to speak
of the high velocity of current times.
I was obstinate and believed these times
would pass. I’ll write again one high April
morning, when, under a feral moon
the captured have been lifted, astonished
out of signs and prevailing transparencies
return, the common dream.

After the trio of the Longbarrow poets, it was business as usual and all the regular celebrities had their three minute slot at Well Spoken! open mic. Orchestrated by Paul Iwanyckyj (in Mick Jenkinson’s absence), twelve local poets from the audience got up to read their work. I even gave it a whirl myself, feeling encouraged by everyone, including the Longbarrow trio.

Michèle Beck

Well Spoken! takes place at the Doncaster Brewery & Tap, 7 Young St, Doncaster, DN1 3EL, once a month. Visit the venue website for details of the next event.

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