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The Dive

A trip down memory lane this morning, to that very different world of 1959, when I was a 12-year old grammar school boy in Bolton, Lancashire, much into skiffle, rockabilly and rock-‘n-roll, who sported a quiff like Elvis and was becoming rather interested in girls…

It’s a trip that half-amuses me and half-horrifies me – thank goodness we’re rid of corporal punishment in British schools now. One song I’ll always associate with “The Dive” is Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Hang down your head Tom Dooley’…

 

THE DIVE

 

Down “The Dive”

we felt alive,

back in ’59.

 

Satchels dumped, ties askew,

we were grammar school boys

from up the cobbled hill,

fresh-faced still

but keen.

 

Nettle beer, cold and sweet,

jukebox belting out the beat,

we’d pose with fags unlit

and try our luck

with the girls.

 

Caught, we’d be for it next day,

teeth gritted against “The Whack”,

determined not to crack,

shed a tear

or scream.

 

Down “The Dive”

we felt alive,

back in ’59.

 

Paul Beech

 

‘The Dive’ is included in the author’s collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016).

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

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Callander Poetry Weekend 2018

So there we were, bowling along a tree-lined road, Bob Dylan on the sound system singing ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, as we glimpsed Ben Ledi ahead, just a few miles to Callander now – Callander, “the Gateway to the Highlands”.

It was Friday 7th September 2018, mid-afternoon, and Maureen and I were back seat passengers in Kemal and Caroline’s car.  Our good friends were giving us a lift as I couldn’t have driven the distance this year with my left big toe heavily bandaged because of a nasty diabetes-related injury.

Minutes later we were cruising up Main Street, the Crags towering above. We were back for the Callander Poetry Weekend, greatly looking forward to it of course, but a little sad as well, knowing this would be the last of these wonderful annual events hosted by Sally Evans and Ian of King’s Bookshop.

***

After unpacking at our hotel, Maureen and I popped over to the bookshop to say hello to Sally and Ian, and to our lovely friend, the poet and writer Morelle Smith, of course – she’d arrived mid-week and been working solidly, helping with preparations for the weekend. Sally was delighted with our flowers and Morelle arranged them in a big vase on the table.

Soon more poets were calling in and the old shop, with its packed bookshelves reaching almost to the high ceiling, was abuzz with friendly chatter, not only about poetry either. One conversation was about a swarm of bees!

Later we enjoyed a wee walk down to the River Teith and back with Morelle.

Ian King opened the evening and the first event, compèred by Sally Evans, was a Mass Book Launch for books published since October 2017, with only two minutes allowed for each (stop-watch running!) and no reading of poems from the books permitted.

The long list of books included two of our Chester Poets anthologies, Angels in the Hedgerow and Out of the Ark, ably presented by Kemal and Maureen respectively, and Autumn Voices presented by Morelle. It was a tall order for those presenting but good fun really, with votes cast and prizes awarded at the end.

Now came the first round of readings of this final Callander Poetry Weekend, Sally leading in brilliant form with five poets following, all excellent, including Maureen who completed her set with ‘Thomas Kettle, 1880 – 1916’ plus ‘Boolavogue’ on harmonica, and Morelle, whose poetry always touches hearts.

***

Saturday was a long day of amazing poetry in the Kirk Hall with refreshment breaks along the way, during which books were on sale. People also slipped out from time to time for a breather in the busy, touristy little town, though there were showers to dodge!

Our friend Kemal Houghton gave the first reading of the day and I really enjoyed it, as the audience obviously did too. I came next and was pleased when Colin Will, who was compèring he session, commented afterwards that it was good to hear haibun read, as haibun was a favourite form of his.

Truth is, every poet reading had something special to offer, with certain poems resonating particularly for one reason or another. One example for me was Pauline Prior-Pitt’s Alzheimer’s poem about her mother, as my own late mum was also an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Being a Lancastrian, I was also much taken with Sally and Ron Williams’ Lancashire Dialect performance, which brought the day’s readings to a perfect close.

After supper, a Ceilidh was held in the hall, compèred by Ian Blake, with music and song from Alan Gray and the Tone Poets, Rita Bradd on harp, Morelle singing, and several others including a lively performance from Kemal on guitar.

Finally, for those with the energy left (not me, I’m afraid), there were pints to be quaffed down the pub.

***

All too soon it was Sunday morning and the final session of this final Callander Poetry Weekend after twenty years. It was due to take place in the Friendship Garden but had to be switched to the bookshop because of the teeming rain.

Sitting in a ring around the room, we were to read one poem each in random order, as called by Sally. Maureen read ‘Early Morning Cigarette – Callander 2011’.  I’d decided on my poem but a late arrival, who crept in and sat on the floor by the door, bodhrán on lap, caused me to change my mind.  And when my turn finally came, I read my tanka about Magi McGlynn, first published in Callander Haiku (diehard 2016):

 

Divine radiance

the warrior-poet cocooned,

wise blue eyes aflame…

 

Hearts and swallows gravel-drawn

his bodhrán becomes a heartbeat.

 

“Thank you,” Magi said, hands pressed together as if in prayer. “Thank you…”

Following the last poem from the circle, a most beautiful one from Sally Williams about a jigsaw with one piece missing, Magi was called upon to perform with his bodhrán, which is just what he did, weaving a visionary poem to the gentle rhythm.

The church bell struck 12 noon as he came to an end. Magi then shook my hand vigorously.  “We will meet again,” he declared.

And who knows, maybe someday…

***

Thank you, Kemal Houghton and Caroline Wilson for the kind lifts you gave Maureen and me both ways.

And thank you, Sally Evans and Ian King, for being, once again, the best hosts ever.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

The Swerve

I’m just now starting to put together my 10-minute reading for the Callander Poetry Weekend in Scotland, Friday 7th September – Sunday 9th September 2018.  And the first pieces into my folder are my haibun ‘The Prayer Book’, published last month in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society, which I’m now a proud member of, and ‘Septic’, my senryu sequence poem published 1st September 2018 in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 2, Issue 33 (Guest Editor: Adjei Agyei-Baah).

Next into the folder go my senryu sequence poem ‘Curlew Sunset’ published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 2, Issue 20, 1st August 2017 (Editor: Mike Rehling), followed by two recent anthologies from Cestrian Press, Angels in the Hedgerow: Poems on Nineteenth-Century Writers (Edited by Edwin Stockdale), containing my haibun ‘Shades’ (about Sheridan Le Fanu), which I’ll read, and Out of the Ark (Edited by Julia D. McGuinness) containing my haibun ‘Exhibit 20’ (inspired by Joe Rush’s sculpture ‘War Horse’), which I’ll read.

Maybe I’ll even squeeze in a short poem or two from my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016): we’ll see.

You’ll notice that a big swerve has occurred in my poetry over the last couple of years or so, a swerve eastwards, towards Japan’s ancient haiku and kindred verse forms.

My poetry in Twin Dakotas is mostly modern freeform but I did include a few of my early haiku and my first ever haibun, ‘Upriver’. A writer friend who read the book commented that “you certainly write good haiku.”  And I wrote ‘Upriver’ having been pointed in the direction of haibun by my wonderful partner, the poet and former professional ballet dancer Maureen Weldon, who thought the combination of prose and haiku would suit me well.  I took my writer friend’s remark to heart, and shall be eternally grateful to Maureen for opening up a whole new horizon for me with her advice, a horizon bright with promise.

Maureen is putting together her own Callander reading of course, and I know it’ll be brilliant…with a tune or two on her harmonica, naturally!

Roll on Friday the 7th.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

Cherry Bakewells

When an elderly lady neighbour gave me a box of Cherry Bakewells as a thank you for changing a few light bulbs, I realised at once that I had a haibun to write…about my wonderful Dad, who passed away on Sunday 15th April 2012, aged 89:

CHERRY BAKEWELLS

First bite and I’m right back there with him now, Dad in his kitchen on a Saturday night, Lancashire roots rich in his speech again. “My word, Paul, you’ve got big feet!”  He’s frail in old age, his precious girl lost, my Mum.

And didn’t we achieve a new understanding, chatting over hot sweet tea and Cherry Bakewells? Dad told of days spent pedalling around, a lone apprentice wiring up air-raid shelters; evenings courting Elsie as Blitz sirens wailed.  He joined the RAF on turning eighteen.  I spoke of my work with the homeless.

Aye, a new understanding for sure, his crushing handshake, saying goodbye, always proof enough of that.

slide-rule foolscap love

he taught me more than equations

my Dad

Paul Beech

First published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Vol 2, Issue 21 (1st September 2017).

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017, 2018

 

Robin

The other evening, I was driving down a road of big posh houses on the outskirts of Chester, Maureen at my side.

After the ferocious heat of the day, the air was cooling rapidly with occasional rumbles of thunder far away. And something about the atmosphere carried me back to a time in the early ‘60s when, as a young apprentice electrician, I worked briefly with a lad called Robin in one of those big houses.

I’d told Maureen about him before but couldn’t help doing so again. A fellow apprentice, Robin was a bright, cocky lad with mocking eyes…

 

ROBIN

 

We were never best mates,

you made that very plain,

how well I remember your disdain.

 

You were a wild lad, Robin,

wild on your motorbike

in those distant days of The Cavern.

 

Leather-clad and devil-may-care,

you laughed at our warnings,

our promise of flowers for your funeral;

two fingers to Fate as you roared away,

Bader after Messerschmitts.

 

It was unbelievable when you died, Robin,

died the front-seat passenger

in your best mate’s car.

But we kept our promise.

 

Paul Beech

 

Written nearly thirty years ago, the poem is included in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016).

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

Scallywags

Dawn chorus two hours past but still too soon for church bells, our Welsh hillside, sweet-scented beneath a sky of purest blue, is still and silent save for the cooing of doves and the limpid song of a goldfinch. And I am irresistibly drawn to a wee poem I wrote in a different time and place, at a different stage in my life’s journey…

Wishing you all a very happy Sunday.

 

SCALLYWAGS

 

Nice morning, soft blue,

cheeky beaks at my window;

the sparrows are back.

 

Chirpy scallywags

gossiping in the laurel;

quick wings beat the air.

 

Nice morning, soft blue,

I feel like a boy again.

Aye, the sparrows are back.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2013, 2018

 

First published in Reflections, Issue 96.

Included in the author’s collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016).

Subsequently published in Indra’s Net (Bennison Books, 2017).

Alibis in the Archive 2018

In June last year, I attended a most amazing and enjoyable weekend event at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire. This was ‘Alibis in the Archive’, organised and hosted by Martin Edwards, Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and President of the Detection Club, to mark the opening of the British Crime Writing Archives at the library.

Martin had a terrific line-up of speakers. And, as noted in my review of the event (Grandy’s Landing, 18/06/17), I seemed to spend the whole weekend back in the inter-war Golden Age of crime fiction with the shades of Christie, Sayers and Berkeley for company.

It was all fascinating stuff for a crime buff like me. So when, at 2:15pm on Tuesday 23rd February, tickets went on sale at Gladstone’s Library for the second ‘Alibis in the Archive’ weekend (8th – 10th June 2018), again organised and hosted by Martin Edwards, with a galaxy of top flight crime writers on the programme, you can be sure I rang on the dot to book my place!

We had a spot of Friday evening fun for starters, in the form of a murder mystery, ‘Bannocks and Blood’, written by Ann Cleeves, which had me scratching my head to no avail.

On Saturday morning, Simon Brett entertained us with his one-man show, ‘A Crime in Rhyme’, a Golden Age murder mystery in stanzas of side-splitting wit. This was followed by a riveting talk from Andrew Taylor on three real-life murder cases and how they contributed to the upsurge of interest in crime fiction between the wars.  Andrew then interviewed Martin Edwards about collecting crime fiction and we were able to examine a number of rare books from Martin’s own collection.  I was particularly interested in a copy of Freeman Wills Crofts’ short story collection ‘Many a Slip’ with a revealing inscription by the author.

The mid-day session was a fascinating talk by Sarah Ward on crime fiction in Derbyshire. After lunch, we had Ruth Dudley Edwards on how she enjoys writing satirical crime fiction as light relief from her serious work as an historian followed by Michael Jecks on writing medieval mysteries and getting the period details right!  Professor James Grieve, the eminent Scottish forensic pathologist (who appears as himself in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland novels) then reviewed some famous cases before the day’s proceedings were brought to a close in a panel discussion with questions from the audience.

Asked which crime novel would panel members recommend that we probably hadn’t read, Peter Lovesey’s answer was ‘The Monster of Dagenham Hall’ by James Corbett. He then gave us a taste of Corbett’s prose style…and boy, did we laugh!

Sunday began with Jessica Mann talking about the prominence attained by female crime writers in the Golden Age. Martin Edwards, accompanied by Peter Lovesey and Sheila Mitchell (widow of H.R.F. Keating), discussed the development of the British Crime Writing Archives.  Then Peter Lovesey, on the “genius” of crime writer James Corbett, rounded things off in hilarious fashion.

‘Alibis in the Archive’ 2018 was altogether a most interesting, inspiring and enjoyable event. And how amazing it was for delegates like me, being able to mingle and chat with so many top authors of the genre.  I was delighted to sip coffee or wine with several of my personal favourites.

I shall look forward to ‘Alibis’ 2019 now. I’ve noted the dates in my diary: 22-24 June.  And of course I have a stack of signed books to keep me going in the meantime.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018