Loose Muse: poetry, stories and a ukelele

Last night I went to Winchester Discovery Centre for my first Loose Muse event. I’d heard about them from friends who write fiction, but this one centered on poetry. Run by Sue Wrinch, Loose Muse celebrates literary women.

I apologise now for missing out a whole load of people’s names from this account. If I’d been more on the ball, I’d have realised I would want to blog and maybe made a list and, you know, done some research. Bloody poets. Can’t trust them to be professional reporters.

Checking her set list

Checking her set list

Top of the bill was Rhian Edwards, who had been persuaded to bring her ukelele along as well as her fabulous poems. Full disclosure: I already knew I’d love her performance, not only because my Welsh half pulls that way, but also she was half the judging panel awarding me the Cardiff prize last summer. A decision of two halves, then, which happily is the correct one. She was brilliant. Anyone who can calmly clasp their hands behind their back and recite all their work BY HEART is special. When that person reaches to a nearby table and straps on a uke … well. She delighted us with poems from her collection Clueless Dogs: in turns funny, playful and melancholy. My only regret is forgetting to ask her to sign the copy I bought later.

We had Open Mic after the interval, which because of the hoards of poets wanting to read (take a moment to imagine a hoard of poets) was restricted to one poem each. Being me, I’d brought along five so I could dither right up to the last minute. In the end, carefully reading the mood of the room and telltale expressions of audience members, I selected one about nose-picking. I think it brought just the right amount of squirm factor. (Yes I also had serious ones with big words. Sometimes you have to go with your inner silly.)

I heard a stream of clever, articulate, talented writers reading poems about love, the 11-plus, loss, talking plants, invoking religious ceremonies and more. It was incredibly varied and fantastic to listen to. Sue had even generously made room for frankly over-qualified and giddily successful novelist (my description, and I think you’ll find it’s a fair one) Claire Fuller, who read a tiny piece of fiction about a boy who ran away from home for less than a day.

[As an aside, I think interleaving flash fiction like this into poetry readings works really well. The nature of it is somehow the same: brevity and punch. We should do it more.]

Two local writers closed the evening.

Helen Whitten won the Winchester Writers’ Festival poetry competition in 2013. [Another aside: in a bizarre coincidence I met Helen recently at a poetry performance workshop run by Live Canon at RADA. Poets from all over the place were there, yet we discovered we both live in the same road. Plus she wants to learn the cello, so I’ve offered to start her off. No, you didn’t need to know that but it’s interesting, dammit.] She read a number of her poems, which look acutely at the world and dare you not to examine your prejudices. Beautiful language, and one in particular relating a shocking incident that left us reeling. That is powerful writing at work.

The final reader was a local short story writer I hadn’t previously known: Rebecca Lyon. She read a story that had me giggling all the way through, and performed it perfectly, inhabiting her characters so completely the way she changed her voice seemed the least of it. If I tell you it was about a defecating cat and succulents and crossing into the dangerous part of an estate, you won’t understand. It was hilarious and touching, and a great way to end the evening.

PS: If you’re interested, this is the one I chose to read. It is very silly, and probably sounds better out loud.

The Handshake

You should never pick your nose
in a glass-walled lift, gliding up
the Lloyds Building, no less.
Little is endowed with less appeal.

He may well be vital to a deal:
incisive and assured but sadly blind
to those poor watchers idling below.
And yet, he should have known
the properties of glass. I guess
it could have been much worse.

I froze, highly priced cashew at my lips,
transfixed while he rummaged deep.
He rose too high to see withdrawal
but an extracted fingertip was licked,
so I imagine it was not a wasted excavation.

He plunged with purpose through the airlock,
moolah warlock, scenting money’s breath,
which must have called him ever stronger
now obstructions no longer lingered unfingered.

I replaced my nut, suddenly without appetite
for a small, salty bite, and pitied the next hand
he would shake at his meeting. Would he use
the one so recently employed for eating?