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First poetry reading group – Ní Chuilleanáin, Feaver, Wilkinson

There’s nothing  quite like reading poetry to stimulate writing – something it took me many years to discover. So I was very pleased when Brighton Stanza member Miriam Patrick proposed a new monthly group devoted to reading poetry. Our first meeting was last night – we were a small but perfectly formed group!

The format is that we each bring multiple copies of a poem we’ve read and enjoyed, and we discuss. The focus is on contemporary work, although it’s fine to bring along something you really like even if was written a while ago.

For this session we looked at 3 poems  – Miriam introduced us to ‘The Second Voyage’ by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, from her “Selected Poems’. Ní Chuilleanáin is a well-respected Irish poet who I confess I’d not come across. (For me, that’s the beauty of the these sessions – there’s so much poetry out there I’m completely ignorant of.) There followed much discussion of the Odyssey and whether or not, if you base a poem on myth, it’s reasonable to assume the reader knows the original story. But even for those of us not entirely au fait with Odysseus’s Second Voyage, we agreed there was some stunning language (‘…fountains /  Spraying as wide as willows in empty squares, / The sugarstick of water clattering into the kettle,’)

Then we read Ben Wilkinson‘s  ‘October (after Paul Verlaine)’ which was one of a pair I’d seen in the current Poetry Review and enjoyed. I’ve got a bit of a sonnet thing going at the moment and I liked the clash of registers in this poem, I know the ‘turn’ is supposed to bring a change, and although in this case it seemed a tad unsubtle, maybe that was the ironic intention, and ‘after Paul Verlaine’ was the clue:

Wouldn’t you wager it the truest season,
free of summer’s delusional passions?

and a few lines later, on the turn:

Of course those nutters and the pushovers
all go for spring and dawn

I admit I’d done a hasty search for Paul Verlaine and I wasn’t sure the info I had scraped from Wikipedia was reliable! We talked about what ‘after  XYZ’ meant when we saw it as a subtitle to a poem – in the style of? As a reaction to? An ‘homage’? Anyway, homework on French Symbolist poets to be done I think.

Jo’s chosen poem was ‘Ironing’ by Vicki Feaver. Jo was impressed by the way the poet was able to convey so much about the course of a life within the ironing metaphor, going from a kind of bitterness and anger at a life the narrator clearly wasn’t happy with (‘my iron flying over sheets and towels … the flex twisting and crinking until the sheath frayed, exposing wires like nerves.’), through an intermediate period (of change? of loss? of resignation?) to happiness and love (‘an airy shape with room to push / my arms, breasts, lungs, heart into.’)

We’re going to have to spend less time on each poem if the numbers go up, but that’s OK. I think the group will evolve naturally in whatever way we want it to, and like the workshopping group it will have a different dynamic from month to month depending on who comes along.

(PS: I do feel I lack the analytical skills to take a poem apart with any real insight –  possibly due to my lack of poetry training!  But that’s sort of what I’m hoping to try harder at over the course of time, and learn from listening to others and indeed by reading others’ reviews.)

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Robin Houghton 2021
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