hap•pen•stance [hap-uh n-stans] noun: a chance happening or event.
I have a new heroine and her name is Helena Nelson, the chief editor of HappenStance. What a great night we had on Saturday at Lee Rosy’s in Nottingham. This was the venue for ‘A Night of HappenStance,’ which featured Happenstance poets D.A.Prince, Robin Vaughan-Williams, Marilyn Ricci, Ross Kightly, Matthew Stewart and Helena Nelson. A rare treat as Helena is based in Fife and Matthew had travelled from Spain. I actually managed to have a good long talk with Helena afterwards about various things, some of which included poetry. She’s clearly interested in people, is extremely approachable and it was a pleasure to meet her. The readings were top notch and Helena’s approach was to introduce the poets by reading out the lines which most appealed to her from their poems. Take these lines from Marilyn Ricci:
‘...she yells, above the roar of her
welding torch out in the hall where she’s rebuilding
a number 39 which used to go to the Crystal Palace,
and will do again if she’s anything to do with it.’
Wonderful stuff. It was great to hear Matthew again, as I so enjoyed his pamphlet ‘Inventing Truth.’ He has a deeply engaging style. He read his poem ‘Instructions for Coming Home’ at the beginning and end of his reading. The perspective altered when he mentioned at the end that the poem was written from the point of view of a widower, the preparation of a simple meal is given a certain gravity by the final line ‘Now confront the day, bite by bite.’
Robin Vaughan-Williams read from ‘The Manager,’ and I think this was my favourite reading by him, probably because it was the longest. ‘The Manager’ is a strange and fantastically sinister short collection and one worth digging out. Ross Kightly was another writer I’d come across for the first time and he was great, despite his own admission that he was being followed by a Mafia boss. It was interesting to hear his work which was certainly entertaining. D.A. Prince was excellent, and I’m always struck by her clarity and ability to simply express what’s there without any superfluity. I think that was a trademark of all the Happenstance poets, and I imagine Helena’s editing has a lot to do with it. It’s sharp, measured and alert writing.
I’d never heard Helena read before, I knew she was probably going to be good, but my word she was better. Her writing is beautifully formed, memorable and – and – funny. Yes, funny, as in it makes you laugh. There are not many poets you can say that about, (Ok, maybe Geoff Hatterlsey, I love his work too).The imagination and verve is startling, for instance ‘Poetry Virgin’ which turns a humdrum excursion on a Virgin Train, with its mundane announcements, into something deliciously surreal:
‘A quiet stanza is situated near the rear of the poem
For readers who do not like howling.
Passengers should familiarise themselves
With the safety exits and the layout of the poem.
I brought a copy of her ‘Unsuitable Poems,’ which I’ve been dipping into since the weekend. At the post-reading drink (obligatory, it was a Saturday) local poet Roy Marshall was there and we also bumped into another local poet Sarah Jackson, completely by ... (forgive me) happenstance. Well, I think that’s a neat ending.