Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Night of 'The North' in Leicester and a Poem by Ann Sansom

A couple of months ago, a Londoner told me they were planning to head to Leicester. According to her, Leicester wasn't just north of London, it was (emphasis on the definite article) the North. I wasn't sure how to break it to her that Leicester is in the Midlands. Being a Londoner once myself, however, I was aware that everywhere north of Watford is usually the north to most Londoners. At the beginning of April, however, Ann and Peter Sansom, two poets utterly linked with the north on the poetry map, came south to join us for a reading in Leicester, the Midlands. This was for WORD! at the Y Theatre, a regular spoken word event which includes Open Mic readings, which I often write about here. There were Open Mic readings from Richard Byrt, Jayne Stanton and Michael Brewer and others.

I was lucky enough to be the support act, along with Roy Marshall, and read a few poems that had appeared or about to appear in the next issue of The North, the magazine edited by Ann and Peter. Earlier, the pair had held a workshop at De Montfort Uni, which was great for me as I literally finished work for the day and nipped over. Readers of this blog will know that I often pop up to Sheffield for workshops with Ann and Peter, run as part of their organisation The Poetry Business.

The evening was compered and organised by Pam Thompson, who also read some fine poems too. Both Peter and Ann read really well and Peter’s reading was warm and entertaining. I had heard him read once before in Leicester at States of Independence.  I’d never heard Ann, although I’d read quite a bit of her work, including the Bloodaxe collection In Praise of Men and Other People. Here's a pic of the cover:

I’m sharing Ann’s poem ‘Confirmation’ here; Ann very kindly gave me permission. This poem has previously appeared in The Rialto. Ann read it at WORD! and I thought there were so many interesting things going on in this poem. The tone is conversational perhaps and actually quite funny: ‘what miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’ but there’s a great deal of menace here.  I also learnt a new word, apparently ‘slaumed’ is a dialect word for smear.  What struck me in this poem is the way the school girls are made to literally work on their ‘knees’ for their visitor and then in their own social lives behave in a servile way. That final couplet, where the roadie is ‘here / and cocky and think yourself lucky.’ is compelling and you feel a bit sickened for the girl. I thought this poem was pin-sharp and here it is:  


In honour of His Grace, you had us on our knees for weeks,
‘a blessing on this visit and please god no silliness.’

Run ragged with dusters, shouted at for holey plimsolls,
threatened with expulsion, some broke down, distraught

in the branches of the forsynthia arranging, or, bright black with Brasso,
muttered in the trophy cupboard, ‘he’d better be worth it the bastard.’

We slaumed silver paint on the refectory radiator, lugged planks
to make an altar in the gym, ‘what’s up with the table we always have?

What miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’
But we were whispering by then, disappointed by the almighty

but holding our breath when He drew up. We queued and bobbed
to kiss his glove, got te absolvoed, took the slap to strengthen us.

Amen. Friday night: Roy Orbison invited Kath McMahon
to his dressing room at the Odeon, Bo Diddley’s drummer

got Jacintha Malley’s phone number, Gerry Marsden’s roadie
Instructed, I forget who it was, on the needs of the elderly

balding purple silky not so godly nor entirely manly, but here
and cocky and think yourself lucky. Obedience. We knew our place.

Thank you, Sister Mary Frances. 

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