Saturday, 19 March 2011


Sheila Chapman writes:
The LitFest launch happened in HEART last night in the Shire Oak Room, a ‘large spacious and bright space’ (Bill Fitzsimons) which had been thoughtfully set out by the HEART volunteers and staff. The room was filled with people who sat at round tables clutching their drinks, raffle tickets and a ‘golden ticket’ entry into the free book draw for one of the twenty-four copies of Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People's. As Richard Wilcocks explained, the LitFest had received these books courtesy of World Book Day. He also read out his valediction for John Jones, which will appear on this blog separately.

So, we were off to a good start and James Nash, our compère for the evening, explained to us that the literary quiz on the tables was to be completed as a team effort by each table and the results announced at the end of the break – more of this later.

We settled down then to hear the Word Birds, a group of female poets - Sue Vickerman, Jean Harrison and Sue Butler - who were accompanied by a male musician, Robin Fishwick.

Robin started us off with a Song for Headingley and after songs about Croatia, Croatian Wedding Song, and Hungary, he finished with Green Man, a song inspired by standing at the pedestrian crossing outside Mike’s Carpets in Armley. He played a timple (have I got the name right Robin?) and also a tenor recorder through which he hummed at the same time as playing. This produced a very different sound which, as Ruth Wynne said, ‘was adventurous, interesting and original’.

Sue Vickerman’s  first poems reflected her time in China: she mused on the fragility of the skyscrapers which have grown up during current economic boom – something which has particular resonance given the devastation of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. She then treated us to a series of poems drawn from her experience as a life model which she thinks allows her time to muse and compose poems and ‘hang out with artists’.  She spoke of the continuing rounding and softening of a woman’s body charted by an artist as he draws her through her developing pregnancy, and ‘the nicotine finger ‘of the drawing instructor as he gets intimately close to demonstrate the lines and angle of her body and her ‘pelt rises’ . This Bird weighs her words carefully and builds her evocative  images to entrance and enlighten her audience.

James Nash rounded off this first half with a humorous and well observed poem about his experience as a gooseberry in The Lounge cinema. He had gone there with two friends, who were a couple, obviously, and their casual intimacy, when one of them stroked the other’s leg, set him off on a desperate search for a leg of his own to stroke.

The audience worked hard during the break to complete the quiz. There was a great deal of muttering, sly glancing over shoulders and desperate argument and counter argument. Was A Touch of Frost filmed in Leeds , or was it Banks? I don’t know! The results were announced. Had anyone got the maximum twenty-two?. No. Twenty-one? No. Twenty? No. ... sixteen? Yes! A draw! Two tables were entitled to the prize - drinks for the whole table. But were there enough drinks to go round? Yes, phew, what a quiz.

There was more of the Word Birds for the second half. Jean Harrison described her place poems as ‘not romantic’ and yet there was romance in her description of a Zen garden where there were bushes with ‘meditative shoulders’ and in the ice-cream chimes which made a fragment of Greensleeves run through her head for days. Sue Butler who has lived all over the world, spoke of the hardships of Russia in 1937, of joyriding in someone else’s glasses and of using poetry as a weapon, particularly against her rich and handsome brother. Sue Vickerman spoke of her return to Bradford and the tree outside her new Bradford flat ‘which will never dapple anything’ and of her days as a student in Headingley when she was a ‘rock dove’ The evening was rounded off by more music from Robin and by a very welcome sonnet of love from James Nash.

The audience set off home clutching raffle prizes, books and drinks. As one of them said ’Thanks for a lovely evening! Nice blend of words and music!’ (Sue LS6)
The evening was filmed by two students from Leeds Metropolitan University (Joe and Matt) who also conducted interviews with performers and some members of the audience.

Below - two of the Word Birds - Sue Vickerman and Jean Harrison

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