Beaconsfield Reading Series – Poetry and Wine 23/11/2011

-reviewed by James Webster

@ Royal Standard of England

There’s something wonderfully quaint about Claire Trévien’s Beaconsfield based poetry night. Maybe it’s the gorgeous surroundings of the Royal Standard of England (oldest alehouse in England apparently) with its warren of low-ceilinged rooms. Maybe it’s the charmingly mixed audience, comprising all different ages and a mix of locals and visitors. Maybe it’s Claire’s glittering hosting. It’s a very relaxed, supportive and fun environment in which to enjoy some poetry.

HostClaire Trévien

  • Claire began proceedings herself with her ‘Novella’. Apparently it usually goes down well (woof), and, with its nostalgic and joyful look at pretentious and bohemian youth and incredible turns of phrase, I could see why.
  • Next was a piece written using the ‘hipster poetry generator’ method: start with a place, a list of things, vague references to a person and cut the first and last stanzas. It was suitably pretentious and incomprehensible.
  • Finally she read a sort of sestina called ‘Love From’ that started with expressive poeticism and then seems to wear itself down to flat, but exposed, disappointment.


  • Dan Holloway (curator of 8 Cuts, winner of Literary Death Match and whose books are available on Kindle) was a strong performer and very aware of his audience (and wearing particularly dashing braces).
  • ‘Adam’, the first of two poems on Old Compton Street, flowed with slightly destructive hedonism; Dan talks of ‘this absinthe in my blood’ and ‘haunt[ing] the shelves of Foyles’. It was moving and softly seductive.
  • The second ‘How to Make a Soho Quilt’ was at once both rich and actively stripping itself bare. It spat up pictures and images that formed a ‘patchwork skin’ made up of strange places with an urban-bohemian-grime feel to them.
  • ‘Holly’ was on an artist attempting to recover a lost week by spending 40 days locked away trying to get that mad again. It was filled with verdant language that used slick rhyme to race from one image to the next (almost too fast to follow) that earned a chorus of appreciative ‘mmmmmm’ noises.
  • ‘Petals’ was a piece on the Kurasawa film Dreams. It melded the romantic, personal and political in a harrowingly engaging portrayal.
  • Finally ‘Her Body’, on the way peoples’ lives are appropriated after they die, blended fond remembrance with the jolting and grievous loss of a person ‘made of pieces of pain that no longer hurt’. It was triggering and hauntingly beautiful.
  • Laila Sumpton, of the Keats House Poetry Group, was next. Her poetry was steeped in a family history spanning larger than life personalities and a fair amount of strife that went through Bosnia via Pakistan and Hull.
  • ‘Patterning’ was on the characters in a family’s history that almost blend into mythology. It was resonant, using imaginative, interlocking language, but there’s almost too much to take in.
  • ‘Pakistani Postal Collapse’ was a surreal take on a sugar shortage, amusingly describing ‘black market cafes in upmarket homes’.
  • ‘The Only Photo’ (if I can read my own handwriting) was a moving poem about the two objects that survived the war inBosnia. A rescued coffee grinder becomes a ‘device that would defeat everyone’ and you can feel a real sense of pride and resilience reflected in the image of a family gathered in front of the wreckage. It’s a piece that is planted in destruction and struggle, but becomes so joyous. Ace.
  • Jill Wallis, editor of Rhyme and Reason (a poetry collection-cum-diary), read a selection of poems from their last edition which all offered something different.
  • Her poems, while not always as rich or imaginative as other poets, are full of gut-wrenching emotional honesty that really resonated with the audience.
  • ‘Owl Pellets’ described the ‘horde of tiny bones wrapped in hide’ in eloquent and poignant language, almost digesting the idea of the lost loved one and her own feelings, just as the ‘Owl Pellets’ do.
  • Her poem about dying in hospital built a really strong connection with the audience, as she described clinging to your last night with a loved one.
  • ‘Dust to Dust’ expressed the inability to scatter the departed’s ashes. She used hurt, clipped sentences with the smooth assonance of breath, as at the end of the poem she says ‘deeply, deeply, I breathe you in’.
  • Her final ‘Walk by Moonlight’ was a clear expression of the difficulties of using ‘the grotesque props of immobility’. It invited the audience in, then surprised them with the otherworldly beauty of the moonlit walk.
  • Simon Barraclough has been published in the Financial Times and Guardian, and has three collections: Neptune Blue, Bonjour Tetris, and Los Alamos Mon Amour.
  •  ‘Los Alamos’ evocatively compared love to an atomic bomb test in an entertaining (if pretentious) extended metaphor of destruction and recreation.
  • ‘Saturn on Seventh’ started with some nicely expressed grumpiness, then takes a lovely turn into describing a ‘homeless astronomer’ who lets you ‘See Saturn for a dollar’ leading to a charming and fleeting transcendental moment.
  • Poems on hearts: ‘Starfish Heart’ was pleasantly whimsical; ‘Pizza Heart’ was expressive and alliterative; only ‘Celeriac Heart’ disappointed, as it seemed slightly pointless.
  • Poems on planets: ‘Earth’ was amusingly phrased, with nice interwoven imagery running through it as he described ‘God’s gobstopper’. While ‘Neptune’ was quietly and jocularly fond of the planet that’s ‘so blue/ you probably think that Jarman’s Blue/ is about you’. While ‘Sol’ made the danger of impending apocalypse seem so sweet.

The Open Mic

  • Anne‘s ‘Terminal Therapy’ cleverly summed up how airports seem to distil emotions, with some nice phrasing on the ‘second hand arrivals’.
  • ‘White Noise’, on the sound installations of Bill Fontana, highlighted the contrasts of the bustling city against sea noises, but the imagery was a little suffused and unfocused.
  • ‘Evolution in the City’ gave a well-realised portrait of their life, but both the rhyme scheme and the ‘I just want a man …’ message were a little simplistic.
  • Mary‘s ‘Release Me from This Hell’ about Milton returning to London was impressively resonant of Milton’s rich style, making me feel the heat and smoke of industrial London.
  • And her ‘Ultramarinus’ was a lovely delicate sounding poem, all crystals, gems and precious stones.
  • Ted Pike introduced himself with a confident preamble, his ‘Man of Other Peoples’ Words’ was a concisely clever picture of a committee clerk’s life.
  • While ‘West Whittering’ was a charming celebration of human insignificance compared to nature.
  • Phillip read a series of haiku that were in places beautiful, sweet and adventurous. He gave us some really engaging snapshots of a mixture of subjects; rainbows, capitalism, airports, tears and umbrellas.

Summary: a fun, welcoming and moving night, with plenty of different voices, in a warm and inviting venue. If you feel like venturing out to the sticks for some poetry, definitely check it out.

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