For our Halloween gathering, The Cellar Bards thought that Bethany W Pope would make a perfect guest, dealing as she does, in much of her work, with the unsettling depths and truths that define us as human creatures, in our lives as well as our deaths.
I’d seen Bethany read her work at a couple of different events over the past year and thought that her performance style – a disarming mix of intimacy and joyful enthusiasm for words – would suit The Cellar Bards evening and crowd, where the emphasis is on celebrating writing in all of its forms and incarnations.
Bethany’s most recent poetry collection, Undisturbed Circles, hadn’t yet been formally launched and so the evening served as an unofficial launch night for it. She introduced the volume and explained something of the form she’d used in the writing of it. Her technical descriptions of double acrostic sonnet crowns were fascinating, and she went on to illustrate her descriptions by reading samples from the collection. ‘Fox Cycle’ was particularly, beautifully, intricate and made me wish that I had something on paper in front of me, a visual anchor for her words as she read them aloud.
The evening was divided into two halves, with each of Bethany’s slots being followed by an open mic session and separated by a break, when the audience were able to chat with her. There was a lot of interest in the poetic styles and forms she used in each of her collections and she was as engaging and informative off the stage as she had been on it. This poet’s passion for her subject, and expert knowledge of it, spread through the audience like a contagion and by the end of the break I had received several requests from people, who had been undecided about participating, to be added to the final open mic slot so that they could read out their own work.
I was already familiar with Bethany’s two previous collections, Crown of Thorns and A Radiance, and had been looking forward to her reading from them. Each poem has a fascinating back-story and from my memories of her previous performances, Bethany is generous in sharing these stories with the audience. This occasion was no different and no less enjoyable, with Bethany inserting a compelling narrative frame around each poem, demonstrating her skills as a prose writer and storyteller as well as a poet. She held the audience through poem after poem, and after the final open mic slot had ended, way beyond our usual finish time, she continued, with grace and enthusiasm, to talk to those members of the audience who hadn’t yet had a chance to speak to her.
In my role as host with The Cellar Bards I meet a lot of different writers, and I haven’t yet had reason to regret any of the bookings I’ve made. On the whole, us writers are a humble and pleasant bunch. Bethany W Pope, in her professionalism and her passion, both as a human being and as a writer, was a true delight and a guest the Bards will remember for a long time.