28th April 2016, The Swan Hotel, 1 Church Street, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LN
Unseasonal hailstones hammering at the French windows of the Coach House at this month's Words & Ears were matched by some hard-hitting poetry from our headliners Maggie Sawkins and Graham Burchell. Maggie's honest, open sequences from Zones of Avoidance, about her daughter's addiction, pregnancy and the adoption of the baby, where, about to say goodbye to the child, "we listen, stricken, to the words I love you / escaping from the hard box of my throat" were, not surprisingly, deeply moving. But there was dry, dark humour, too: "I wake up wondering what it's like to cluck", and other avenues to explore, including A Visual Exploration of Fetish... Maggie answered questions about her writing and told us a little about her professional involvement with people in recovery from addictions - "Poetry -" she said "they love it, for some reason!" You get a sense that Maggie's unassuming, matter-of-fact honesty has much to do with their response.
Graham Burchell's collection Kate, a narrative sequence about the bleak life of an imagined girl, brings with it its own braveries - not least in that the poet is inhabiting the persona of a young girl. "Such a cheerful book, what was I thinking of?" Graham laughed, but the oddly perceptive collection is mesmerising. Particularly memorable was The Song of the Child That Wants to Come, celebrating the moment (as one of the world's remote tribes does, apparently) when the idea of a baby takes hold in a woman.
After all this, it was not surprising, perhaps, that there were lots of open mic contributions on the subject of mothers, fathers and children - Stephen Daniels' line "Mum filled the teacup for Dad to drown in" is still in my mind as I write this, as is Tom Forrest's poem Dropping South to the Cape (echoing Robert Lowell's Dropping South: Brazil), "to land in a clash of masculinities".
And speaking of masculinities, I thought it interesting that, on a night where poetry about women was so much to the fore, all but two of our excellent open mic-ers (thanks Anna-May and Josephine!) were men...