One thing about the pandemic is that it is opening up new windows onto the world that I would never have thought of before. Visiting a poetry festival online for one. I took the opportunity of visiting the Sheaf Poetry Festival led by Festival Director Suzannah Evans and her Festival Team Angelina D’Roza, Brian Lewis, Katie McLean, Ellen McLeod, Amy Smith, and Elle Turner over the weekend of November 20-22. This was a pay what you feel festival and easily accessible to everyone and anyone. Oh, the beauty of Zoom and YouTube! Covid has certainly been a boon to both these platforms! To access: follow them all on @SheafPoetryFest and visit www.facebook.com/SheafPoetryFestival where the performances will be available after the weekend has finished. The website for Sheaf Poetry Festival is here.
Saturday I watched performances by three Carcanet Press poets, namely Isabel Galleymore, Mina Gorji & Kei Miller.
Mina Gorji is an emigrant from Iran and her poems echo her upbringing and her travel. She read short poems full of simple rhymes and rhythms with haunting echoes of where she had come from. The unusual “Tenacity of Dust” is short and sweet and to the point. She wrote of the migration of Pinkfoot Geese in Norfolk in “Writing into Winter”:
V M V W M V I
More foreign than Icelandic runes.
The skein of geese is spelling out a secret song.
As she read those words I could see the geese fly. A beautiful description. She talked of the relationship between nature and the natural. To highlight this she talked of the Oak Gall Wasp another emigrant to our country brought here to use their gall to make ink. Something else I learnt today! "Smuggled in Aleppo Oak / An alien acorn.”
She moved to the UK when five and her poems reflect this idea of migration and immigration of spiders in fruit or dandelions to the New World. Her story is all connected to this feeling of being an alien in a foreign world.
I don’t suppose you could be more of an alien than as a resident poet in the Amazon, but that is what Isabel Galleymore did and the poems she read showcased this.
Her prose poem on spider monkeys told us “ … each limb an animal of its own.”
When discussing the moth trap she captured the atmosphere of the Jungle when she wore a blouse that acted as a second moth trap. She found the atmosphere of the jungle full of sex and death, She had mixed and matching feelings of past and present of home and in Brazil. Her language is sensual. “I can’t stop the air indulging in me.”
She knows that “ … the more I let myself be touched the less I will be bitten.” We see and feel the crawl of insects upon flesh in hair, on clothes.
We meet the scarlet macaws and the visitors give them names, humanising them and then watching them argue and flirt as if they really were human. They try to communicate but fail and then they cant bear to look into each other’s eyes when they leave, having failed to connect with the birds.
She has however connected with the reader and as with Miona Gorij I think you should read more of Isabel's work.
Kei Miller read several poems and his final one about homophobia in Jamaica is stunning. His protagonist had to leave his village when he was outed. He said, “When I left I went through the bushes because if I’d taken the road they’d have killed me.”
Miller had hoped he'd never hear that again. Unfortunately, it was not to be. A dark and eloquently tragic anti-paean to homophobic attitudes.
What a wonderful introduction to the Sheaf Poetry Festival.
Jon Wilkins is sixty-five. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years. He has always loved books and reading. You can read a review of Jon's recent novel, Poppy Flowers at the Front, here. His website is here.