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A Journey Begun

As a youngster at junior school, I was praised for my articulacy but was actually a slow reader and couldn’t spell for toffee. It turned out I was long-sighted and made to wear spindly Council specs with round lenses, which I hated because they pinched my nose so tightly I had ugly bruises either side.  They did the job though: they corrected my eyesight.  And when Mum bought us Enid Blyton’s ‘Adventure’ novels, my reading really came on apace.  I was Jack, the lad with Kiki the parrot on his shoulder.  Later came Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming.  I was Sherlock Holmes, James Bond…

My Grandad Dawson was my real hero though. A World War I veteran, decorated for bravery in the trenches, he’d gone on to become a Chief Inspector of police in Civvy Street.  He was a gifted raconteur and I’d listen spellbound for hours as he recounted episodes from his military service and police career.  Never will I forget his warm northern tones and turns of phrase.

I was hooked on stories of all sorts and discovered I could tell a good tale myself, a chip off my grandad’s old block. I would be a writer.

***

Aged nine or ten, I invented the game of ‘Stop!’ which I’d play with my younger brothers.

“Stop!” I’d call, and whatever we were doing, whether sauntering through a park, spinning flat stones on the tide, netting crabs, turning cartwheels or throwing snowballs, we’d freeze on the spot. “Think!” I’d command, and we would think about where we were and what we were doing at that particular moment in our lives, that particular moment in the history of the universe.  We’d stretch our five senses to the limit and beyond, seek even to connect with the ancient perceptions of prehistoric man.  Then, after maybe thirty seconds, maybe a minute-and-a-half, I’d cry “Carry on!” and we’d resume whatever we were doing before, but with that frozen moment banked in memory and somehow the richer for it.

Later, reading Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice, I found another way of capturing such moments: poetry. And I began composing stanzas in my head.

***

So there you have it, how I came to poetry and prose as a Lancashire lad many moons ago, when I carried a Box Brownie camera and rode a Dawes Domino bike. My first book is out now yet still I have far to go, the higher regions of verse and narrative to explore.

This journey begun is my life.

Paul Beech

 

 

My debut collection, published by Cestrian Press 2016, is Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (ISBN 978 0 904448 50 4), price £6.50.

If you’d like a copy, please email me on paulbeech@msn.com and I’ll get back to you.

 

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

 

Callander

It was a long drive to Callander, around 300 hundred miles, but we made it with only a couple of comfort breaks on the northbound motorway, and the small Scottish town, famous as “Tannochbrae” in the original Dr Finlay’s Casebook TV series, was gorgeous as ever with the River Teith winding through, the Crags towering above and the sun shining.

King’s Bookshop was packed out with poets when we arrived in the early evening but such was the air of friendship and so brilliant, so uplifting, the poetry that, weary as we were, Maureen and I were fairly buzzing when our turns came to read.

Playing harmonica between her poems, Maureen went down a storm as always. She was a hard act to follow but I did my best, reading from my newly published collection Twin Dakotas, and received strong applause and even a cry of “Good man!” from the aisle.

It was great to meet up with friends. And the whole of the Poetry Weekend, so wonderfully hosted by Sally Evens and husband Ian, was amazing.  Gosh, such talent!  The quality of the poetry was truly exceptional.

Thank you, Sally and Ian, for all your hard work and generous hospitality in putting on another fantastic Poetry Weekend. You were great.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

Heading North

On Friday, Maureen and I will be heading north for the Callander Poetry Weekend 2016 hosted by Sally Evans and her husband Ian at King’s Bookshop in this gorgeous Scottish town, “the Gateway to the Highlands” as known. It will be my second time at this annual event and I’m much looking forward to it after the wonderful time we had there last year (see my post of 13/09/15).

Maureen will play harmonica between her poems and I’m sure she’ll go down a storm as always.

My poems will all be from my first collection, Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, and will include one from 40-odd years ago, when I began pounding the keyboard in earnest. Having no contacts in the poetry world back then and no knowledge of the small press magazines where my work might have stood a chance, I aimed too high with the inevitable result – rejection after rejection.  These days, thanks to Maureen bringing me out, I’m in an altogether better place, but maybe my early poem will chime in with a few others at Callander.  Here it is:

 

POET ALONE

 

A loner –

porcelain eyes, as if on wires,

guide his floating face

above the concourse

as he hacks his way

obsessively

through the jungles of his mind,

his talent his machete.

 

Soon –

a clearing opens before him

and there is the crowd.

But what will they care

for his poem?

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

Boyhood Memories

Coming down to earth after the excitement of my first book launch, I did a spot of desk-clearing yesterday and came across a couple of memories posted on blogs. They’re memories that capture something of my long lost youth in Farnworth, Lancashire, so I thought it would be nice to start the week by sharing them here:

 

[1] Skid

 

It would have been the late-‘50s, myself 11 or 12. A bright summer’s day in Lancashire.  I was very proud of my Dawes Domino sports bike.  But coming downhill full pelt I overtook a moped then skidded into a cinder track at the bottom.  Of course the wheels went from under me and I was badly grazed.

Bandaged, I enjoyed sitting out in our back garden, sipping dandelion and burdock and reading a book of true-life exploits from the Second World War. All our dads were heroes then and mine had served in the RAF.

 

[2] Message In A Bottle

 

As a 15 year old, on the eve of moving home with my parents and family, I put a message in a bottle and buried it under my dad’s shed. Returning recently after 54 years, I found the shed gone and much else besides.

Probably the house has changed hands several times since those distant days of my childhood when a vista of factory chimneys greeted the eye through our rear leaded panes. Whether my bottle was ever found and the message read, I don’t know.  My message was hardly deathless prose, so I doubt anyone would have been very interested anyway.

Planting the bottle was certainly an emotional moment for me though. And wondering about it occasionally down the decades has always brought a whiff of the old days, something more than nostalgia, something…mystical, perhaps.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

And I joined in with an egg!

We only ever get one first book launch. And for Mike Penney with his brilliant poetry collection Where Silence Deepens, and me with my collection of poetry and prose Twin Dakotas, it was a long time coming, over forty years of serious writing for us both.  And, by gum, we enjoyed it!

Our shared book launch in Chester on Thursday night, so wonderfully compèred by my partner Maureen Weldon, was truly amazing, exceeding even our wildest dreams.

What a venue! Built in 1622, and named after King Charles I, who stayed nearby during the Battle of Rowton Moor on 24th September 1645 (which he lost to the Parliamentarians), Ye Olde King’s Head on Lower Bridge Street is reputedly one of Britain’s most haunted inns, with thirteen resident ghosts!  And our large upstairs room, complete with stag’s head on the wall and suit of armour in the corner, was packed out with a guesstimated 45 people attending.

Mike accompanied me on guitar as I read my title poem ‘Twin Dakotas’, about my dear mum and dad, Bert and Elsie Beech, whose memory my book is dedicated to. Maureen, on mouth organ, played ‘The Sound of Silence’ and ‘Both Sides Now’.  Mike played and sang his song ‘Visitation’ with Maureen singing along and hilariously performing character parts.  The poetry and music went so well together.

And following our readings and a concluding address from Kemal Houghton, our publisher at Cestrain Press and Chair of Chester Poets, I joined in with an egg (of the rattly, musical variety) as Kemal on guitar, accompanied by Maureen on maracas and Mike on spoon-and-bottle, performed his very lively and liberated song ‘Fly’ to great applause.

It was quite a show, great fun for us up front and obviously much enjoyed by our audience too, and was followed by book sales and signings. Thanks for manning the stall, Caroline.

Thank you to all who came and made the evening so special for us. A big hand from us to you.  And thank you to the licensee, management and staff of Ye Olde King’s Head for use of your room – you were great!

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

Rehearsals

Yesterday Mike Penney, Maureen and I did another rehearsal for our event at Ye Olde King’s Head, Chester, on Thursday 11th August.  Mike will be launching his first poetry collection Where Silence Deepens and I’ll be launching my first collection of poetry and prose, Twin Dakotas.

Maureen, my partner (Maureen Weldon, actually), will act as compère, something she’s able to do superbly well, having great stage presence as a former professional ballet dancer with the Irish Theatre Ballet, and as a poet herself – a very widely published one!

Mike, who plays guitar, will accompany me when I read my title poem, ‘Twin Dakotas’, about my wonderful late parents, Bert and Elsie Beech, whose memory I’ve dedicated the book to.

Maureen plays the mouth organ and maracas. And Kemal Houghton, Chair of Chester Poets, is also a guitarist.  So there’ll be plenty of music weaving in and out of the readings.

I’ve no musical skills at all but will join the others and have a jolly good go with an egg (of the rattly, musical variety) when the final number, ‘Fly’, is performed.

A lively evening in prospect, to be sure. And with only nine days to go, it’s getting exciting!

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016

Bandage

Here’s a sneak preview from my book, Twin Dakotas. And my finger really was heavily bandaged at the time of writing!

 

BANDAGE

.

Two sad women waiting,

bloke with iPad fiddling.

Wintry sunshine through a skylight,

landscape on the wall.

.

My turn at last.

A tweedy, jovial doctor:

he examines it,

squashes it,

tells me not to mess with it,

just wait for it to go.

.

And now it has:

my blister has burst,

messily,

and a bulbous bandage

encases my right index finger,

a barrage balloon,

a blue whale,

a flock of starlings

under the moon,

one hundred thousand strong.

.

I cannot bend my finger,

can hardly hold my pen,

yet write this poem I will.

Bet on it, Doc:

for those brave glossy starlings,

I will.

.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016