15th December 2016, The Swan Hotel, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1LN
Mention the word 'haiku' in a roomful of poets, and the reaction can be the same as when you mention the word 'poetry' in a roomful of non-poets. There's a bit of a shuffly silence, a couple of smart quips, then a hasty change of subject. Which is why I think everyone should take time out to read (or, better, to hear) John Hawkhead's haiku. As relevant to now as Facebook and climate change, these beautifully balanced tinies from his new collection Small Shadows each turn you one way then the other with such adept manoeuvring, they've taken your breath away before you know what's hit you.
Here's just one to whet your appetite if you missed the night:
the bright red tattoo
on the side of her arm
a fading palm print
It helps, of course, that John's delivery is so good - he has a genuine and disarming connection with his audience. Maybe it's a haiku thing, as it's certainly something shared by Alan Summers, the new President of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, who gave a funny and accessible introduction to haiku - how it came about, and the connections this very modern verse has back to the old hokku/renga verses. And we were also given a bit of insight into the world of small press publishing by John's publisher, Kim Richardson of Alba Publishing, to make for a really well-rounded presentation.
John's co-guest poet, Elizabeth Parker, read from her new pamphlet Antinopolis, treating us to portraits of a large cast of creatures from the animal kingdom - pigeons, bats, spiders, house martins and the superbly captured 'black crossbow of the lone cormorant' - drawn from her current home by the waterside in Bristol, and her childhood home, a garden centre in the Forest of Dean, run by her parents. That curious inheritance of background seeps into her work - sometimes almost tangibly, in a world where land is 'mulched until trees drank their own names'. Gorgeous.
There was a particularly fine stash of poems from the open mic-ers, too - as Jinny Fisher said later, "All were winners and all shall have prizes!" In the running were: Stephen Payne, Sam Loveless, Crysse Morrison, Claire Williamson ('poetry in the seams of lives' - love this), Pey Oh Colborne, Chaucer Cameron, Kate Escher, Bob Walton, Jinny Fisher, Luke Palmer, Peter O'Grady, John Powell, Paul Deaton, Paul Brokensha and Trish Hawkhead.
All this, and a great buffet in the interval courtesy of James and the team at The Swan - huge thanks to them for that.