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Dannie Abse, Alwyn Marriage and Rosie Bailey at Keat’s House

Dannie Abse & Lynne Hjelmgaard
Dannie Abse & Lynne Hjelmgaard

Great evening last night at Keat’s House for the Poetry Society AGM (brief) and three excellent readings. I was very pleased to sit with poet friend Lynne and hear about “that” royal reception last week (and no, I wasn’t invited – boo!) and also have her introduce me to some people I didn’t know, such as Cheryl Moskowitz.

Only just now I googled Rosie Bailey and discovered that as well as being an experienced academic and poet in her own right she was also the collaborator/partner of U A Fanthorpe. Now I feel rather ignorant for not having heard of her. I really enjoyed her poems and delivery, even the painfully sad one about a lady in a hairdressers trying to stay chipper about Christmas.

Alwyn Marriage came to the mic with her phone apparently ringing, and in answering it it became clear this was part of her act (together with donkey, bleating lamb and cow hats for another poem about the nativity). She and Rosie had been briefed to read poems on a Christmas theme, a direction which apparently hadn’t been given to Dannie Abse, but I got the impression nobody minded, least of all him. Dannie read from his T S Eliot-nominated book Speak, Old Parrot… I wonder if he was expecting the ‘Happy Birthday to you’ singsong and the cake when it was brought out?

Hard to imagine Dannie Abse is 90, or what might be going through his mind when he contemplates the Poetry Society today and it’s allegedly tumultuous past. (By the way, check out this biog and wonderful photo of him when he was young.) Fascinating to talk with him, and lovely also to run into Hilda Sheehan (Hilda, you’re everywhere!), Tessa Lang of Clapham Stanza, Kate White, Shanta Acharya and others.

As usual, I managed to make an idiot of myself. I marched up to someone who had been pointed out to me as being Paul McGrane of the Poetry Society, who I’ve emailed with but never met, introduced myself very confidently, only to discover it wasn’t him at all. DUH! I had to then avoid eye contact with the poor man all evening as he clearly had me down as a numpty.

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  1. I heard Dannie Abse at Cheltenham earlier this year and was very taken with him… and his reading partner ….Jean Sprackland.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Pseu. I haven’t heard Jean Sprackland read but will watch out for the name. By the way I see you’ve recently had the Ty Newydd experience! I’m interested to hear how you found it.

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Robin Houghton 2021
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