So my new year’s not-quite-resolution to do less, to go out less, got off to a flying start this week when I went to two poetry events on successive nights. It was my second visit to Beyond Words in Gipsy Hill, which takes place on the first Tuesday of every month. January’s star attraction was Agnes Meadows, founder and host of Loose Muse, London’s only regular event for women writers, and a fine poet in her own right. If you’ve been to Loose Muse, you’ll have heard Agnes read one or two of her poems to start the evening, but Tuesday was a great opportunity to hear Agnes perform a longer selection of her poetry. Her first set included her storming feminist ode Woman, the wonderfully life-affirming When I Die – some wake that will be! – and a thoughtful and tender love poem The Study of Clouds. In the second half, Agnes read some darker poems, such as Red Onions, arising from a period spent living in Gaza, and her devastating account of a visit to a mass grave in Iraq. Poems of witness. She finished with a poem about the loss of sparrows in London and their reappearance as an imported Chinese delicacy, Smoked Sparrows, mixing nostalgia and absurdity with delightful panache. Her poetry is full of rich and sensuous imagery, heat and spice, and Agnes is a wonderfully engaging performer. We were also treated to a cameo by Nigel of Bermondsey, introduced as a ‘site-specific troubadour’, who sang three captivating ballads based on London’s dark and grisly past. Add to this some generous open mic spots, candlelit tables, a raffle for a package of poetry books, and it all made for a warm and uplifting evening.
The following night, being the second Wednesday of the month, I was at Loose Muse in the Poetry Café. It was one of the busiest of Agnes’s evenings I’ve been to, and quite a double bill. First up, Ivy Alvarez read from her recently published verse novel Disturbance. The book concerns a double murder and suicide, one of those shocking episodes of a husband and father annihilating his family, with poems written from many viewpoints including neighbours, police, relatives and journalists, as well as the victims and perpetrator. The whole room sat in silence, riveted, as Ivy read from these powerful and disturbing poems. The writing is taut, unsparing, much of the detail chilling. Strong stuff, and absolutely necessary.
Jill Abram was the featured writer for the second half and performed a series of droll and often lightly self-deprecating poems, starting with Changeling – a portrait of who she is not. There’s a lot of warmth and wit in Jill’s poems and she really engaged with the audience. She read two poems that vividly evoke her day job as a sound effects artist for radio, and I was interested to hear her explain, in the short Q&A at the end of her reading, that she has always kept her day job separate from her writing, something I strongly identify with. Some of her other poems take a wry look at getting older, and having confessed to an approaching birthday, we all sang Happy Birthday to her. I have Jill to thank for introducing me to Loose Muse, where over the last couple of years I’ve regularly put my name down for one of the open mic spots and found the atmosphere very supportive and encouraging.
And next month’s Loose Muse, on Wednesday 12th February, I have my very own feature spot, when I’ll be reading some of my poetry and flash fiction, alongside Sally Spedding. Very deep breath. . .