Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Jam Jam Jam: John Goodby Reports

Report on the 3rd Hay Poetry Jamboree, Oriel Gallery, Bell Bank, Hay-on-Wye, 2-4th June 2011.

Thursday evening, 2nd June, 2011. Glorious early summer weather. Jammers slowly assembling from Salford, Essex, Hereford, Bangor, London, all over; slowly milling around inside and outside the Oriel Gallery, waiting for Ralph Hawkins and Allen Fisher, the opening event. Thanks from organisers Lyndon Davies and John Goodby to the sponsors, including the funding body formerly known as Academi, Literature Wales, and Marjorie Perloff, who has generously agreed to be our first patron. A brief tribute by Lyn to Geoff Evans, proprietor of Oriel, who first made the Jam possible, and who died in May. And so, on with the motley; Ralph reading first, from his coruscating Gone to Marzipan, Allen from a range of things, including newish pieces from Birds, ten of which resurface in the splendidly lavish Proposals 1-35, this taking early pride of place on the bookstall. Retire for food back at Lyn and his partner Penny’s place in Llangattock, with wine and chat in their garden for some, me included, until way too late, under the stars.

Friday morning, 3rd June: kicked off early, but only slightly bleary-eyed, with Colin Still’s enlightening and often hilarious introduction to a showing of his C4 film ‘In search of Frank O’Hara’, which seemed to be set largely in the Cedar Tavern, NY. This set things up nicely for the afternoon readings by John Freeman, Angela Gardner, Paul Green and the bardic staff-wielding, fernfrond-sporting, Rhys Trimble.

Apologies had arrived from Helen Lopez, absent because about to become a grandmother—another reminder that birth and death wait for no poet, and aren’t distinct from poetry. Brief break, and then Robert Sheppard’s lecture on ‘The Innovative Sonnet Sequence’: ingeniously constructed, in fourteen parts, saying much about the strange reanimation of the once-moribund form, and taking in a good number of practitioners, from Ted Berrigan to Geraldine Monk. And so to the big evening reading, Carol Watts and Sean Bonney. Great stuff, this, with Sean giving his all, as ever, Carol reading from her latest, the Reality Street published Occasionals, with its miraculous sense-twisting and sense-extending weavings (‘Hindsight, if only we had. / Known, that. Or, yes. Enjoy this culpability and then. / There is no imagining otherwise, even when spring is / indulgent’).

Saturday morning 4th June: third and final day, gorgeous weather still, and back into Hay, through the sweet especial Marches scene, all cow-parsley hedges and twisty B-roads, to hear Frances Presley and Glenn Storhaug, main man of Five Seasons Press, but no mean lyricist in his own right on this showing. During the later, afternoon session it briefly tipped down outside, the only rain of the Jam, but even though the door was open, few among the engrossed audience—and it was standing room only at this point—noticed; Gavin Selerie had kickstarted this session, and was succeeded by an enthusiastic David Annwn, who treated us to some of the shorter pieces from Bela Fawr’s Cabaret, including a performance of/on ‘Mein Steinway’ and, with suitable mitteleuropean inflections, things with titles that were poems in themselves (I think I remember ‘Depravity, Horror & Ecstasy, / The Seven Addictions and Five Professions / of the Daughter of Vice, Dammen und Herren / Ich stele stolz mich dar: Anita Berber’). From noon onwards, in the chapel next door, Elysium Gallery had been showing a sequence of short films under the title Bus Stop Cinema": Jammers and passing families dipped in and out, fascinated by pieces ranging from the antics of an ice-cream van in traffic to a jaffa cakes take on the Downfall meme, grateful for the coolness and shade too. On to Tiffany Atkinson’s wryly intelligent, humorous reading, and Zoe Skoulding of Poetry Wales—one of few journals continuing to confound the ‘mainstream’ / ‘alternative’ binary—who presented guests Richard Gwyn, Carrie Etter, and the precociously impressive Steven Hitchins (seek out his Fisheresque The Basin, from Literary Pocket Books). Followed, after a break in the beer garden, by a grand finale worthy of the name: Kelvin Corcoran in stomping form, reading a new sequence about his stroke and recovery therefrom, moving and brilliant in the last of the sun, and then the closing set by Maggie O’Sullivan, who hit her top form and soared. We were brought back down to earth by a session from a local band, Chris Twigg’s Chicken of the Woods—bluegrass with teeth, catch them on YouTube—a last repairing to the Kilvey Arms, and then home. All in all, the best of the Jams to date; for some reason, despite the packed agenda, time seemed to pass generously, allowing space to talk, link up, share ideas, swap books and numbers, plan future meetings. Lyn and I will be doing it next year, for sure.

Thanks to all who attended and made the Jam such a memorable one—to Steve, Tim, Chris, and Penny, as ever; and to the individuals and organisations who sponsored us: Llenyddiaeth Cymru / Literature Wales, Poetry Wales, Marjorie Perloff, Elysium Gallery, CREW (Centre for Research into the English Language and Literature of Wales, College of Arts and Humanities, Swansea University).
Pics and more information at the Jam website: