Thursday 26 November 2020

Review of Sheaf Poetry Festival (3) by Jon Wilkins

It was a real pleasure to listen to the work of three poets; Tom Sastry, Phoebe Stuckes & Will Harris at the Sheaf Poetry Festival via Facebook.

Tom Sastry told us that reading his work was a pleasure for him. It was also a pleasure for us as he read a section from ‘a man’s house catches fire.’ He told us that 'the fire in the book is the worst thing in the world happening without being named …' He wrote about experiences that are unmentionable. His house is a furnace but he didn’t get burnt. We heard him tell us that suffering is isolation as he spoke about Covid. He had an interesting look at the situation in his poem 'Screening interview Bristol 2032' where he was asked 'Did you think it was enough to be kind?' and we have to ask ourselves: was it? 'The fire still raging and me not dead' perhaps sums up his outlook on life. A poignant look at contemporary Britain.

Phoebe Stuckes read some beautiful poems from her latest book Platinum Blonde as well as others from her catalogue. She conveys a cruel version of her life as in the poem which included the line 'My life is the joke and everyone is pointing.' Her narrator does not play the victim, she is too strong for that, but she does lay herself open to disappointment in relationships which she describes openly. The to and fro in her life is documented cleverly. In ‘Bad Girls Club’ she reminisces:

           How could you really know yourself
           If you’ve never had that fake hair extension
           Ripped from the back of your head.

So much is going on in those three lines about life and the social bubble she lived in. The sadness of love and loss is exemplified by the lines:

           Is it too late to tell you this is what love looks like
           Holding her name like a cough sweet …

It's a strange allusion but one we understand as the numbness pervades her mouth then heart.

In ‘Paris’ she tells us: 'All I think about is love and money, marrying for money and falling in love…' Then: 'I don’t want that kind of love or money. I want to be stinking drunk in a restaurant.' She knows what she wants and is tough enough to get it despite the tender nature of much of her work.

Finally Will Harris read some of his work. He found it strange reading to his computer. In ‘My Name is Dai’ we see a man disintegrating after the death of his wife:

          Try a little tenderness, mmm nuh uh uh. That was when Susie saw
          the haze descend. Like an explosion in a quarry the inward collapse
          rippled out across his face, throwing clouds of dust into the sky.
          I’m sorry. A man shouldn’t cry. I haven’t cried since I was a boy.
          I haven’t ...

He read from ‘The white jumper’:

          We were sitting upstairs and in the whitest end-of-day light
          the walls white too it felt not just like we were above
          ground but that in spite of being in Covent
          Garden we were on a ridge above a
          forest looking down our feet in
          thicket dark our heads
          in thickest

This is a wonderful story, telling us of his search for his white jumper. The format changes throughout the narrative and his reading caught this perfectly. You need to have a look at the full work.

Indeed all three poets deserve more attention. As a taster this was a wonderful introduction to their work.

Festival Director Suzannah Evans and her Team Angelina D’Roza, Brian Lewis, Katie McLean, Ellen McLeod, Amy Smith, and Elle Turner have done an amazing job curating the performances and events over the weekend of November 20-22. This was a pay what you feel festival and easily accessible to everyone and anyone on YouTube! To access: follow the poetry on @SheafPoetryFest and visit where the performances will be available after the weekend has finished.

About the reviewer
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. 

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