Friday, 4 March 2016

Becky Cherriman, Ian Harker, Tom Kelly and Tom Weir in Headingley Library

Four Big Splashes

Síle Moriarty writes:
Becky Cherriman, Tom Kelly, Ian Harker and Tom Weir
Photo by Richard Wilcocks

I do love these LitFest events at Headingley Library – the staff are so welcoming and the atmosphere is relaxed and easy with much bantering and teasing and back chat. Also, as Ian Harker pointed out, they happen in the right place i.e. in the children’s section of the library where they are part of a continuum that starts when youngsters learn to love the written word and books and literature.

Our four poets last night were inspiring to listen to; their easy natures and good humour belied the intensity and quality of their work. I enjoyed their different voices and themes and the variety of ways in which they used poetry to express themselves. All four poets read from their latest published books/pamphlets and we also heard newer unpublished poems.

Becky Cherriman took us into the binding passing places of love and motherhood and loss, opening her set with All Princes were Monsters Once in which ‘One day I come home to find the sofa/ is no longer big enough’ and, in the same poem, a child becomes his mother’s ‘first accurate mirror’. I admire the fact that she has the confidence to write in the first person (though not in every poem) about such intimate and fundamental matters but at the same time with immense objectivity.

Ian Harker went on flights of imagination (where do you get your ideas from Ian?) for example in The Lions of Leeds Town Hall where the lions set off up Park Row, their stone claws ‘clack-clacking on flags’. It does have to be said however that some members of the audience assured Ian that this was no flight of fancy as they too had seen the lions going for a stroll on a Friday night and they weren’t at all surprised that later in the poem ‘Nesyamum , three thousand years dead’, might sit up and start ‘tapping against the glass’.

Emma Walker sold the poetry collections
Photos by Richard Wilcocks
Tom Kelly, who didn’t look at all like the photo in the brochure (it was the wrong photo), explored a number of themes but I was particularly taken by his poems that included the natural world -  for example his Sigurd’s Tale in which a finch has three songs - of love, to warn, and for his rival - but which also has a fourth song that has no words  ‘Sung in joy or sorrow,/ this song is for no one save himself/ and the air in his throat.’ I love that song.

Tom Weir didn’t have time to finish his pizza before he had to read but that didn’t put him off. As always I am intrigued by the language of his poems which deploy precise description and imagery. He read Dog Suicide which, as a dog lover, had me in bits - ‘You didn’t struggle just placed your chin on the water and looked at me’. But that look is universal as ‘the current took hold and pulled you back/ towards the bridge, the ice cream shop, /the waterfall none of us knew how to stop.’ Tom read a number of short new poems to finish his set and floated them out to us on single slender sheets of paper that fluttered in his fingers.

Thanks to all of the poets for such a lovely evening.

Natasha Lyons writes:
It seems fitting that, on World Book Day, we are gathered in Headingley Library to listen and enjoy some of the flourishing local poets of today. After engaging performances from Becky Cherriman and Ian Harker, Tom Kelly takes to the floor to read aloud some of his poetry, both old and new. Tom’s poetry draws upon some of his experiences in Leeds, or recognisable areas that he’s particularly taken by, such as the miniatures in the University Parkinson building in his poem, aptly named The Miniatures. His personal anecdotes are also appreciated by the audience and are humorous in his take on the little eccentricities of life. The Theory of The Mark was a particularly witty and interesting poem, inspired by a birthmark on Tom’s grandmother, which, Tom adds, looked exactly like the shape of a rabbit. Tom’s poetry continued in this playful and lively fashion, with the animals being a continual theme. The Surfing Hippos in West Africa was a hilariously comic poem, conjuring up quite an entertaining thought! Even more so, when Tom’s poem went on to put the hippo in a museum, labelled by a dumb curator as ‘The Surfing Seal’. Tom’s collection of poems finishes on a thought provoking note, as Tom explains how the news of Cecil the Lion inspired some of his animal poetry. Tom’s poetry took us all around the world, from the local environs of Leeds all the way to the African jungle with rhinos and hippos to local restaurants in Paris.

The final poet of the evening was Tom Weir, whose poetry was also inspired by personal anecdotes and day-to-day life. Dog Suicide was a saddening, but fascinating poem about Tom’s dog flailing in the water, confused by its need to paddle back to the surface. The Circle Line brought us back to the Capital and meditated on the dark and introspective mind of the daily commuter where we were treated to imaginative lyrics like the ‘train having its own breathe’ and the ‘belly of the gypsy’s accordion on the metro’. I especially enjoyed The Book of British Birds and Vocabulary which brings back memories of learning new and complicated words for the first time, at school. As a teacher, Tom explains how these ‘Tier 3’ words are taught to children in the classroom and it feels apt that we are sitting in the Children’s Book section of the library, where many children, as in Tom’s poem, will discover literature and the fascination of words for the first time. Tom concludes with a few short poems: Tobogganing, We Might As Well Have Been Made of Glass and Visiting Hours. A fun end to a lovely evening of diverse and warming poetry.

LitFest Committee writes: We were really grateful for the support from Leeds University volunteers Natasha Lyons and Francesca Wilson, who helped with all the behind-the-scenes work to make the event successful.  And, of course, huge thanks too to the staff of Headingley Library - Chris Stephenson and Chloe Derrick - who gave their time and efforts to make the library an inviting venue.

Audience Comments
Lovely to read with such considered and accomplished poets. Made to feel welcome.

A wonderful medley of local poems – evocative, witty, deep. The styles of recital were distinctive and satisfying, bearing the stamp of character of each 'rhyme-smith'

Brilliant poems, and a great setting. A fantastic way to celebrate World Book Day.

Really great event – excellent line-up of poets, and a lovely relaxed atmosphere. And thank you for the wine!

Good varied programme - from the way Becky read with emotion and Ian with clarity, Tom K with quiet confidence and Tom W with laid-back humour.

Very enjoyable event with 4 clever poets! Good to see local talent celebrated.

Such acuity, such emotion, such imagination, such condensed language. Thank you!

Much enjoyed all poets' work (much already familiar) notably the differences of sensibility between all four poets. Note the differences between all of them and the voice of the women's work. Fancy there is an assumption that everybody interested in poetry has email - presumably anyone who has not is as good as dead? Forgive the script, I am partially sighted.

Excellent readings from all the men. The female more a performance than poetry. Words are not enough. Artifice and theatre.

A very nice and interesting evening with four very good poets; Becky Cherriman, Ian Harker, Tom Kelly and Tom Weir. I found all the poetry very interesting, particularly Becky's poetry on her own parenthood.

All poets were entertaining – their poems stimulating and easily accessible, and great to have wine at the event as well as opportunity to buy pamphlets. Perhaps a more 'professional' introduction to the event, and to each of the poets, would be in order.

Lovely event. Nice to hear a range of poets with different styles. Also nice to hear poets try 'new poems'. Lovely that it coincided with World Book Day.

Four very good poets, three of whom I know very well anyway. Good location.

Brilliant reading especially by Tom, Ian and Tom

A wonderful opportunity. So many poets for free. Thank you! I particularly enjoyed Becky Cherriman and Ian Harker. Excellent speakers as well as poets.

Four very accomplished poets, enjoyable evening.

I've just arrived in Leeds – am on loan from London to a sister charity here in Leeds. And I thoroughly enjoy my first Headingey LitFest and can't wait to come to more events.

An excellent and diverse programme of contemporary poetry. Well done to the poets!

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