Friday, 19 October 2018

Review of "Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary": A poetry workshop with Cathy Grindrod


At the beginning of the workshop (an Everybody's Reading event) we were asked what image came to mind when we heard the word ‘change’, and each participant described something different. The exercise was to demonstrate that the image that comes to mind is the place to start a poem, to be ourselves in our writing, and to use our experiences in our own way.

Working in pairs, we generated answers to a selection of ‘What is …?’ questions (for example, the moon, a bat, a seed). This encouraged us to think beyond the obvious and focus on the precision of words to create fresh descriptions. To illustrate this further, we read ‘Refrigerator, 1957’ by Thomas Lux, and discussed the phrases that made an impact and brought the poem alive. Maraschino cherries were ‘fiery globes, / like strippers at a church social’ in contrast to a ‘childhood of dull dinners – bald meat, / pocked peas’.

Fruit and vegetables provided the prompt for one of the longer writing activities. We were invited to combine close observation with associations and life experiences to create a poem of eight lines. Cathy Grindrod encouraged us to look at everyday objects with fresh eyes, to enjoy the words in our writing, and to subvert the norm to surprise the reader. After fifteen minutes, we had produced a wide variety of ideas in our first drafts: plums inspired childhood memories and reflections on regional accents; and an orange prompted a poem about a child’s hope to grow their own tree.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary included all the essential elements of a successful poetry workshop: a small number of participants; analysis of poems by published poets; a combination of short and longer writing activities; time to give and receive feedback on each other’s writing; and ideas for further development.

About the reviewer
Karen Powell is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Welcome to Leicester: poems about the city, The Interpreter’s House and Silver Birch Press.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Interview with Carrie Etter



American writer Carrie Etter has lived in England since 2001 and taught Creative Writing at Bath Spa University since 2004. She has published four collections of poetry: The Tethers (Seren, 2009), winner of the London New Poetry Prize, Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011), Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society, and The Weather in Normal (Seren, 2018), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Winter 2018. Her individual poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New Statesman, Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals worldwide, and her short stories have appeared in several anthologies as well as numerous journals, and a collection of stories Hometown was published in 2016. Carrie's website is https://www.carrieetter.com/


Interviewed by Lee Wright

LW: What made you want to write?

CE: I started writing poetry and stories regularly from the age of eleven, and I suppose some of the motivations are the same: the pleasure of working with words, of creating stories and poems others can inhabit; the intellectual challenge in grappling with different ideas, forms, etc.; the drive to understand myself and my world better through language ....

LW: Is minimalism important to fiction?

CE: Minimalism is one stylistic approach, and there are many minimalist writers I admire, but I've read much fiction I enjoyed that defies its suggested boundaries. I'm a pluralist when it comes to both fiction and poetry in that I appreciate a wide range of styles.

LW: Raymond Carver once said that the reason he wrote short stories and poetry was because he liked to “Get in, get out. Not linger.” Does that apply to your own work?

CE: I suppose these shorter forms mean I'm not lingering in the way one would in writing a novel, but I have no eagerness to get out! I love the work of a poem or story, the creative challenges of each new work, and always want more time to write. 

LW: What importance do you attach to dialogue in your stories?

CE: I'm fascinated by the way we interact with one another in speech – the things half said, the abrupt confessions, the negotiations, so I tend to use a fair amount of dialogue. I used to love teaching Raymond Carver's slim collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, for the discussions that would arise around the perceptiveness of his dialogue. 

LW: How do you bring your poems and stories to a close?

CE: That really varies with the individual piece. I certainly don't want the endings to try to point the reader toward a definitive meaning. In a story, it's partly about fulfilling the piece's arc, the protagonist's journey in that moment in time, which gives a story a sense of wholeness or completeness. In a poem I suppose I'm usually more instinctively pursuing a motive, an idea, and have a strong sense of when that has been fulfilled. 



LW: You were born in Illinois and later lived in California, before moving to the UK in 2001. Has living in England influenced or changed your writing?

CE: Living in England has definitely affected my writing in numerous ways. One, I read a far higher percentage of British and Commonwealth authors than I did before I moved here – that exposure has been really nourishing, though I should add that I try to keep up with other Anglophone writers as well. Two, the smaller size of the UK gives me a stronger sense of community, a greater sense of engagement and involvement.  

LW: What next?

CE: My next fiction project is to complete a full collection of short stories of varying lengths (and so flash fiction will feature, but there will be longer stories as well) and hope to get started this autumn. Responding to these questions has made me all the more eager to begin!




About the interviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in 2017.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Review by Andrew Doubt of "Waiting for the Nightingale" by Miles Burrows


Miles Burrows was born in Leicester in the 1930s. Last year he published his second book of poetry after a gap of fifty years. These eighty poems are a joy, shot through with humour; they weave big themes of love, death, memories and poetry from life’s experience.

The first verse of the eponymous opening poem considers birdsong on the Indian subcontinent; the second imagines ‘the wandering major in the foothills’ thinking about ‘his own wife back in Hazelmere / With that awful car salesman type’; the third asks whether John Keats is any use to the birdwatcher in the field, illustrating his irreverent approach both to colonial history and to poetry.

He leads us to believe that he has loved many and often. In 'It’s Eight O’Clock', he cannot
remember which one of five women he shared an experience with twenty years earlier; he reports her saying, ‘It’s not love it’s like margarine.’ 'Pussycats' starts: ‘They used to leave their stilettoes by the door / As I recall, coming in barefoot to my study / In nothing but deerstalkers‘ but, ’Now, splitting up is cool … / I’m let go … / Like an old retainer locked accidentally in a home up for sale.’ In 'The Second Affair': ‘At twenty-five, Mutus thought that embarking on a second affair - / …Would be like having a second slice of cake.’

Death is treated in a similar way. In 'Letter to an Elderly Poet': ‘Relax, your rivals are dead.’; in 'Four Last Things' he suggests learning a foreign language, not to keep the brain active, but ‘You could surprise people / By speaking words in German as you die.’; and in 'Junk Mail', ‘I appreciate that you are dead, but even so… / …that intimate sigh / Into the ear, that wakes me at midnight - / Is it really from the orthopaedic mattress?’. 'Should Catullus be Read by Old People?' sees the funny side of living in an old people’s home.

His classical and literary allusions are fun to search out, though sometimes he does it for you: ‘I googled frottage yesterday’ he says in 'Cold Calling'.

Many of the poems deal with memories of home and schooldays, of his time studying classics and medicine at Oxford, and working as a doctor and psychiatrist in Britain and Asia. There are references to the Little Theatre, Leicester Mercury, London Road and tennis on Carisbrooke Road. In 'A Faulty Connection' he says: ‘- If I can get away with [saying, switch it] orf / People may think my parents don’t live in Leicester / But in Eaton Square.’

Although most of the poems are written in spare, conversational free verse, there are poems in sonnet form, poems that alternate just two rhymes throughout, as in 'Trouble at the Nunnery', and poems that half-rhyme, for example, ‘Imogen’, ‘imagine’ and ‘Sanatogen’ in 'Across the Road'. In 'English Provincial Poetry' he writes ‘Rhyme is no more needed than a two-tone doorbell.’ 

The book’s a many-toned delight.

About the reviewer
Andrew Doubt is a former physicist, engineering analyst and marketeer. He has spent half his life in Leicester, after working in mainland Europe. His interests range through literature and philosophy, science and the arts, long-distance walking and the environment, to family, friends and grandchildren. Currently, he’s writing sketches of close relatives from childhood memories, as well as occasional short stories.

Review by Victoria Pickup of "sometime we are heroes" by Reuben Woolley


Reuben Woolley’s some time we are heroes invites and almost forces a new way of reading. His style breaks rules and defies convention, not as an act of rebellion but with intent and conviction at its core. Just as the continuing theme of water ebbs and flows throughout this collection, the reader is encouraged to forego the need to explain or even entirely comprehend the verse, instead letting the poetry wash over them with its beauty, eloquence and dramatic form. In '& mary is the name of her today,' the poet skilfully lays out the lines to complement their meaning: ‘where she walks / on wet sand / & all the fury / waits /a wave / a sliding land’, as the poem itself takes the form of a lapping tide. 

A powerful ambience runs throughout Woolley’s poetry, with many dazzling phrases - ‘we look for small / whispers / they’re darkly gold & almost / shining’ ('exits & hiding places') -  amidst the stutters and stops of the line breaks and apparently disordered poetic form ('taking stock/the old gallows'):

listen

leaves crackle
                        in cold
                        ground & winter’s
a place to sleep in

As shown here, Woolley’s poetry gives us a fractured moment created from the deliberately haphazard presentation. This style adds life and spontaneity to the verse, whilst also using the line breaks and scattered format to present the reader with multiple ways of reading or relating to each poem. Without the clutter of punctuation and confinements of grammar, arguably, experimental verse results in a deeper, more profound meaning being exposed. 

I felt that Woolley’s style requires me to enter a state of poetic mindfulness, letting go of convention to savour and share in the immediate moment with the main characters in this collection, John and Mary: their love, their sadness, their bitterness, and ultimately, their longing – for each other and for a distant past.  

The couple’s romance is beautifully depicted in this stanza from '& once again.no one': ‘two step / quick / & a kiss in the dark.i’ll / blow the flame and leave / just the glow / of old/ coals / to light a breast’. There is much to lament too; the broken verses hinting at a lapse in memory and loss of time, as in 'old bows breaking over': ‘Fold up time / & pack it away’.

Amidst these lingering, soulful verses come embittered and sinister poems, which arise out of the ashes of what is often portrayed as a tired and at times resentful relationship. In 'storms are not lead.they stink': ‘I learnt to keep my mouth / closed / said mary / breathe / through my nose.sometimes / he’s minnows/sometimes the shark’. The fear Mary feels is palpable in the darkly atmospheric 'behind the trees are shadows': ‘it’s wild / this wood / we’re walking through / john / I’m catching on briars.they’re / scratching my eyes / red / liquor / to fill a cup’. 

The threat turns to violence in 'no fine butchery no': ‘between / your nerve & nerve / I cut / thin / & twist / am no / ordinary / torturer / I’ll stay & / dig / further’. There are many references to bleeding, although Woolley also touches on pain as a symbol of humanity in 'cutting out & sewing': ‘i wear my cuts / with pride / she says … touch me here / & here my love / pain / is just a reminder / i bear / a daughter / john’. 

The brutality is frequently juxtaposed with slow, reflective verses in this collection. The bitterness is washed away by the frequent references to water, which seems to provide soothing qualities as well representing surrender. In 'shadows of whales.passing', which is itself a beautiful title, ‘& / he said / come mary … it is my water / memory / where rain takes / everything … we’re here in simple confusion’. Comfort is found in the metaphor, and again in stories of dry water: ‘john says she steps / in silence / keeps me in seas / I only sail inside.’ Although whether John feels comfort or claustrophobia is subject to the reader’s interpretation.

As a relative newcomer to experimental poetry such as Woolley’s, I leave this collection with my thoughts fully outside of the box. Playing with the rules is a risky business, but with reflective, concentrated reading, there is so much to be gained, and indeed, so much to admire.


About the reviewer
Victoria Pickup studied a BA in English and MA in Creative Writing at Loughborough University. A freelance writer for seven years, she continued to write creatively and in 2008 won the CafĂ© Writer’s Award with a poem inspired by travels in Bosnia: ‘The Chicken that Saved my Children.’ She was shortlisted for the Poetic Republic (MAG) poetry award in 2009 & 2010. Victoria now lives in Hampshire with her husband, three children and, of course, a pet chicken. 

Review of “Independent Publishing: the joys and tribulations” – a talk by Karin Koller


Karin Koller began her talk by stating that she was an enthusiast rather than an expert in the world of independent publishing.

Soundswrite Press was set up in 2005 with the aim of publishing occasional anthologies of poetry written by members of Soundswrite, a women’s poetry group. Since then, a total of four anthologies, three collections and four pamphlets of poetry have been published. Careful attention has been paid to the aesthetic aspects of the books, and I'm delighted that three of my poems are included in the 2015 anthology.

Outlining the processes involved, Karin Koller made everything sound quite straightforward, and offered advice for anyone considering setting up their own press. She recommended using a print-on-demand service and stressed the importance of investing in a proof copy. She also suggested looking at publications by other presses for design ideas.

Quirky Press, as its name suggests, was established to publish unconventional books and pamphlets. The first publication in 2015, was Somali Lullabies featuring illustrations, English translations of the lullabies, and a CD. This was followed by A Handful of Hungarian Earth - one family’s story of the 1956 Hungarian uprising told in letters written by Anna Koller Eady.

The latest Quirky Press publication is Leonie Orton’s memoir, I had it in me. Leonie Orton is the youngest sister of Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton. Part of the publishing process involved dealing with challenges relating to copyright in order to include quotes from letters written by Peggy Ramsey, Joe Orton's agent. Quirky Press also experienced problems with the print run, and future independent publishers were advised to allow plenty of time to check for, and resolve, any errors before the launch date! Approximately seven hundred copies of the memoir have been sold, and there is now a Kindle edition. Extracts of the book are also available on the British Library website.

Karin Koller is clearly enthusiastic and, after publishing fourteen books, has a great deal of expertise. Once again, she is taking on a new challenge: Take Three will be published in 2019 by Soundswrite Press, and will showcase debut collections of poetry by three women poets.

About the reviewer
Karen Powell is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Welcome to Leicester: poems about the city, The Interpreter’s House and Silver Birch Press.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Review by Sue Mackrell of "Please Hear What I’m Not Saying" edited by Isabelle Kenyon



Words are powerful and these words are more powerful than most. They burst through the gaps and silences surrounding mental health with brutal and searing honesty.

It is sometimes said that creativity comes from a dark place, forged from an intense sensitivity to the highs and lows of what it is to be human. It is certainly true of these poets, who write from direct experience of their own or loved ones’ mental illness.

Images are surprising, sometimes shocking. Grief is a ‘cruel handbag - / its catch snaps shut like jaws’ burying ‘an old compact, / hankie embroidered with an M.’ Clothes are ‘a pile of ugly cocoons’ provoking unwelcome memories of childhood. When ‘Baby Blues / were cover for the hopeless days,’ a baby boy is strapped to his mother’s chest, hidden under a blue raincoat as his mother contemplates suicide. Another baby is ‘kicking out sweet baby legs - / his fat oaf of a mother crawling, hands and knees, walrusing the floor / in search of filth.' Dementia is ‘a sleeping sickness / that makes a drought / of memory.' Anxiety is to ‘walk on the needles / of all my worries, / nettling and biting.’

In ‘My Father’s Paranoia’ Jonathan Taylor writes movingly about  how he once said he would cut the hedge when he was ‘less busy’ and then seeing his father, ‘in a sweat, trembling, / falling over, fitting, minor-stroking ... and all I know now / is how un-busy I actually was / that hot Sunday.’

In my own poem I try to convey the visceral jolt of a sudden descent into depression, the  ‘hangman’s drop to Hades.’ But there is also hope, that ‘streaks of sunlight / will diminish the dark.’

There are moments of beauty, of appreciation of small moments, of survival in these poems which are accessible and engaging but also profound. Those who have felt isolated by mental illness may respond with a sense of recognition, and for others there are opportunities for new insights and understanding.  Crass comments about ‘having an OCD day‘ or patronising ‘jokes’ about ‘schizophrenia’ are challenged here in a way that is courageous and empowering.

About the reviewer
Sue Mackrell ‘s poems and short stories have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Agenda and Fairacre Press. She has an MA from Loughborough University, and taught creative writing there for several years. She enjoys working on local history projects, giving a voice to those who have been silenced, such as local witches and Leicester Conscientious Objectors of the First World War. 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Review of Everybody’s Reading event – Poetry workshop with John Hegley



John Hegley’s poetry workshop was attended by approximately twenty-five people spanning a wide-range of ages and levels of writing experience.

We began by reading Hegley’s poem, ‘Guillemot’, for inspiration. The poem opens with the following lines: 'I am a guillemot / I use my bill a lot. / I get the fish out of the wet, I eat my fill a lot.'

The group drew up a list of three-syllable words as a starting point for writing. Our list included loveliness, fellowship, anarchy, animals and parallel. We were asked to choose one or more words and to play with language in our writing as Hegley had in ‘Guillemot’. Invited to share our work, without any pressure to do so, we read out our acrostic poems, and poems which incorporated several of the listed words.

Our next challenge was to tear out a leaf shape from a sheet of paper (more difficult than it sounds) and ‘fill it with leafiness’! We continued to write short pieces about elephants, dogs and peanuts on small pieces of paper. Thankfully we didn’t have to create paper shapes of elephants or dogs, just peanut shells! Words and/or drawings were encouraged and appreciated when shared with the very supportive group.

The prompt ‘mistaken identity’ generated a variety of responses: political, surreal, poignant, and humorous. Our last writing topics were hands and footsteps: our words contained within outlines of our hands and feet.

The two-hour workshop was very lively, with lots of humour and music. At the end of the session, our leaves, peanuts, elephants and dogs all came together to create a poetree. In case you are wondering, the elephants were for the trunk and the dogs were for the bark!

About the reviewer
Karen Powell is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Welcome to Leicester: poems about the city, The Interpreter’s House and Silver Birch Press.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Review by Sue Mackrell of "Dirty Laundry" by Deborah Alma



These vivid and sensual poems sing of women’s strength and survival, sexuality and subversiveness. Deborah Alma offers readers an invitation to share her story, perhaps with '...some smoky tea / and two china cups / laid out with a silver spoon / on an embroidered table cloth.' The power of female friendship shines through and creates a space in which women’s voices are heard. The opening poem is dedicated to Jo Cox, silenced by murder, and in ‘Still Life’ an abusive partner ‘pulls the words from under her feet / as he stamps and stamps and stamps.’

Perhaps the implied question underlying these poems is ‘How did I get here from there', the '1950’s baby overwrapped in a perambulator / with its bouncing chassis?' There are ‘a silver of bangles on a wrist, round mirror chips embroidered / in the the hem of my clothes, my white skin seen tiny times over, / sequins sown into my childhood.’  The sense of difference and exclusion is disturbing, the ‘mix up family half caste council estate bastard.’ In the North London school ‘Miss Minchin says I must show the children / my clothes from Pakistan’ ... ’as I turn round and round up on teachers’ tables / to twist in my pretty pink pyjama suit / like a little blonde doll.'

Shifting roles are charted sensitively. In ‘I am My Own Parent’ there is no longer any need for ‘My Dad’ to pick up beloved red shoes ‘by the scuffs of their dirty necks / and leave them shining in the morning.’ A neat piece of magic realism has sisters swapping eyes, ‘left with little chance of rejection / each looking into our own eyes.’ A broken mug, thrown into the sink by a mother who ‘Moves into Adolescence’ cannot be replaced and it is ‘Suddenly, / terribly, unbearably sad / that there is no Woolworths, / I tell her to go and never come back.’

Sexual experimentation and erotic possibilities are celebrated.’To start with I tried sex with a space hopper’, curiosity leading on to a pencil, a swingers group who ‘drank tea in the intermission / in a Llandrindod Wells hotel’ and a lustful encounter in a cattle lorry on the A49. There is pride in the strength of thighs which could ‘wrestle attacking Picts’, but there are the inevitable judgements and condemnation. The priest’s book ‘open at Revelation’ is countered, bizarrely, with images of dead popes’ penises ‘pickled and preserved’, a practice so weird it is probably true. (I wasn’t going to google ‘popes and penises’ to find out!)

Dark humour is used to painfully excise the wounds of failed and abusive relationships. ‘Only God or his grandmother / could love him the way he wants to be loved.’ Nursery rhymes and fairy stories take on disturbing resonances – ‘After the bird the spider the fly / ... perhaps I’ll die.’ The brutality of the natural world is evoked, a cuckoo ejecting fledglings, ‘and so, in my own kind of pain / push the big baby over the edge, / see it fall on the concrete.’ ‘Dissociation’ is chilling in its listing of strategies developed to cope with abuse. And there is poignant acknowledgement of the price of escape, no one but the AA man to call after a car accident, a ‘yellow striped dress / with deep pockets,' in which 'there is string, a pin, / garden wire and three sweet pea seeds’ but no money.  But there is also the growth of power and strength, the expression of rage – ‘Do you walk on eggshells asked the therapist? No I crunch through / them in my Doc Marten boots.’

There is pleasure and solace in ‘making things tidy’ as my Welsh mother used to say. In the title poem, ‘I hang up a rough white linen sheet / some pretty skirts / a raspberry nightie / and lemon-yellow pants. / I am wiser than Canute / against a tide of grey.’ There is gentle recall of past homes ‘here is the mountain ash I planted / come tall now.’ But there are also ‘plastic soldiers taking aim, / still kneeling steadfast in the dirt.’ Taken for granted, the ‘Angel in the House’ can turn nasty as ‘She hangs up her wings / in the understairs cupboard. / She takes up the three pronged fork.’

The narrative of the poems conveys a strong sense of the passage of time, from the confidence of ‘I will shake off this man I am wise enough / witch enough to know that I can cast again’ to ‘We heal more slowly as we age / don’t quite recover our old selves,’ become fearful, like the chicken, ‘not sure anymore / that we want to cross the road.’ But perhaps there is also wisdom gained, a fantasy not acted upon, a ‘Co-op carrier bag-for-life full of regret and relief, / I found green sequins scattered in the street.’  A magic spell which enchants men ‘Sewn into a tiny felt pocket, pinned into my knickers’ is passed on to a younger woman, ’A gift or curse, I cannot tell.’ There is sympathy for a young woman with ‘naive city eyes ‘I could see me in her bit, / twenty years ago, before babies, divorce, / Guardian soulmates, other shit.’

There is anxiety about ageing, ‘When I am old’... 'Will a lover recognise me / from more than 200 yards / across a car boot sale?’ and in a disturbing dream, ‘... here she is, the crone in her feathered nest,’ who passes her a folded fan with ‘ japanned panels, / a white lily, lavender, a dandelion, a rose.' ‘Oh but  I cannot make it neat again. / I cannot get it back to how it was before.’

But there is also a sense of contentment and peace, in ‘Morning Song', ‘the women I have been no longer fight their corners ...They stay and stare, these women, across the hazy / sunstrewn wooden floor of my dreams / and my ageing; the mirror crazed / and hung with beads, the pink and the red.’ The joy of a warm and trusting relationship is evoked in ‘The Dog Knows its Mistress,’ ‘scratch my back where the bra strap is too tight and release the clasp / let my breasts sag and sigh out / with a wonder of release.’ There is also anticipation, a sense of excitement at what is to come, ‘I still choose the window seat on buses, / trains and planes, and ‘Fortune lives in a hut / in the garden...’ It is to write poems in / to please Fortune.’ Something for us all to look forward to.

About the reviewer
Sue Mackrell‘s poems and short stories have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Agenda and Fairacre Press. She has an MA from Loughborough University, and taught creative writing there for several years. She enjoys working on local history projects, giving a voice to those who have been silenced, such as local witches and Leicester Conscientious Objectors of the First World War. 

Friday, 5 October 2018

Review of "Shakespeare for the Terrified (or Rusty)" - a talk by Julia Pritchard



Having avoided Shakespeare since secondary school, I was both terrified and rusty when I arrived for this Everybody’s Reading event.

At the beginning of her talk, Julia Pritchard assured us that we are already familiar with Shakespeare’s writing by pointing out that many phrases from his work that are still in common use today. ‘It’s Greek to me’, ‘a fool’s paradise’, and ‘the long and the short of it’ are a few examples. We were also reminded that Shakespeare’s plays continue to be relevant today because they deal with universal themes, and include the ever-appealing elements of magic, sex, and violence.

The next step in our gentle introduction to was to learn a little about the theatre. In Shakespeare’s day theatres were not considered respectable places and so were situated outside of the City of London along with bull-baiting arenas and brothels. Day-time performances, standing audiences, the lack of toilets, and the sale of fruit and ale made the theatre a noisy and foul-smelling place. Perhaps it’s just as well that both The Globe and The Rose theatres were open-air!

Moving on to his plays, those new to Shakespeare were advised to start by a reading a summary and perhaps watching a film or stage version before reading one act of a play at a time. Books with the playscript and explanatory notes on opposite pages are particularly helpful. 

We read the original prologue to Romeo and Juliet along with a modern version, and this provided a brief outline of the play, the characters and the setting. Although the play is set in Verona, there is no evidence that Shakespeare travelled to Italy. During such a turbulent period of history, it was less controversial, and safer, for writers to set their plays in the past or overseas. 

We then watched two very different versions of the opening scene: the 1968 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and the 1996 interpretation set in contemporary America with Leonardo DiCaprio cast as Romeo. I expected to prefer the 1996 version but, based on the scene we watched, the earlier film was more appealing. I think that means I’m a little less terrified now!

About the reviewer
Karen Powell is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Welcome to Leicester: poems about the city, The Interpreter’s House and Silver Birch Press.