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Indra’s Net

My partner Maureen Weldon and I are both very proud to be included in this wonderful anthology, knowing the proceeds will be going to ‘The Book Bus’ charity promoting child literacy in the Third World.

And what a good feeling the title Indra’s Net will always give me as it was suggested by the amazing American poet Cynthia Jobin, one of its contributors, who was such a generous commenter on my blog Grandy’s Landing before passing away in December 2016.

Maureen and I have now ordered our copies.

Indra’s Net: all profits to The Book Bus charity

Poetry at St. Peter’s

On Tuesday afternoon, Maureen and I did a joint reading that will stand out in our memories as an especially enjoyable and satisfying one.

We’d been invited by Flintshire County Council to do a twenty minute poetry reading at ‘Living Well & Enjoying Life’, a fun day for sheltered housing residents held at St. Peter’s Church in Holywell, a market town west of the Dee Estuary in North Wales.

St. Peter’s is a lovely modern church, very bright and airy, which doubles as a community centre during the week, and we found everyone – Council staff, residents and other guests – very friendly and chatty.

Of course, for me, being a former social housing manager whose specialisms included sheltered housing, it was great to talk shop with staff. Maureen read her newly written poem ‘After the Inferno’ to representatives of the Fire and Rescue Service and they were pleased to be given a copy to take back to the Station.

Just being together on stage was wonderful for Maureen and I. We did ten minutes each then finished with our joint somonka.  And what a lovely, appreciative audience the residents were.  It truly was a most heartwarming experience for us.

Thank you, Flintshire County Council.

One of the poems I read was inspired by a painting in the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight on the Wirral. Here it is…

 

COULD HAVE BEEN US

 

Two Boys in a Boat,

they could have been us, Bro,

the boys we were so long ago,

they could have been us.

 

In their boat ELIZA,

they gaze out to sea,

the standing boy in white shirt,

trousers rolled, me;

the seated boy in floppy hat,

oar hung over stern, you.

Aye, they could have been us, Bro,

could have been us.

 

I’d have been looking out

for gannets and skuas,

you for passing ships,

but the far horizon

would have drawn our joint attention

as we pondered the unknowable future,

brothers true,

best friends too.

Never would we have dreamt

of anything coming between us:

never, no, would we have dreamt it, Bro,

never back then.

 

So close all our lives

until now,

I’d bring you here if I could

to view this oil on canvas

by George Percy Jacomb-Hood,

Two Boys in a Boat.

Aye, they could have been us, Bro,

the boys we were so long ago,

they could have been us,

could have been us.

 

Paul Beech

 

(First published in Sunlight Poems, Cestrian Press, May 2016. Subsequently included in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, Cestrian Press, August 2016.)

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

Alibis in the Attic

I’ve loved crime fiction since reading The Hound of the Baskervilles as a grammar school boy in Bolton, Lancashire, back in ’59. I went on to read all of Conan Doyle’s other Sherlock Holmes stories, both long and short, before exploring the genre generally.

One of my favourite contemporary crime writers is Martin Edwards, author of the Lake District Mysteries (latest, The Dungeon House) and a series set in Liverpool. He is also a leading authority on the genre and his ground-breaking study of detective fiction The Golden Age of Murder (2015) won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards.  Martin is Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and President of the Detection Club.  He is also series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to learn from his excellent blog, ‘Do you write under your own name?’, that he’d be hosting an event called ‘Alibis in the Attic’ at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, to celebrate the official launch of the British Crime Writing Archives there, over the weekend of Friday 9th June to Sunday 11th June 2017.

I’d met Martin at events quite a few times over the last eight years but this promised to be the best yet, with a great line-up of speakers, and Gladstone’s Library is only just down the road from my home on the Dee Estuary. So, urged on by my partner, Maureen, I booked my place as a non-residential deligate (many from farther afield booked rooms as Gladstone’s is a residential library).

Gosh, what a venue! Gladstone’s Library, founded by the Victorian statesman and four-times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone in 1894, and now housed in a gorgeous English Gothic style premises with lovely grounds dating from 1902, seems a world apart from the hurly-burly of today.  Indeed, I seemed to spend the whole weekend back in the inter-war Golden Age with the shades of Sayers, Christie and Berkeley ever-present; also Sherlock himself from the days of gas lamps and hansom cabs, of course!

Yes, there was an enthralling talk about our favourite “consulting detective” given by that splendid Sherlockian expert, author, playwright and editor, David Stuart Davies. I hadn’t known before that a meeting with Oscar Wilde in 1889 had helped Conan Doyle shape the character of Holmes.

Martin Edwards gave a talk titled ‘The Detection Club and CWA: Criminally Good Social Networks’, and explained how the archives of these two organisations had been combined at Gladstone’s Library to form the British Crime Writing Archives.

David Brawn from HarpurCollins talked about publishing Agatha Christie. Ann Cleeves talked about the adaptation for television of her Vera and Shetland novels on ITV and BBC respectively.

Murder by poison was a grisly feature of the Victorian age and Linda Stratmann gave a fascinating talk citing cases that prompted scientific advances and brought fame to forensic toxicologists.

Kate Charles, a former Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, talked about clerical sleuthing. Kate Ellis, whose contemporary crime mysteries have historical roots, talked about how archaeology informs her work.  Rob Davies gave a very informative talk on the British Library and later, with Martin Edwards, discussed the Crime Classics series.

Stella Duffy OBE gave a tremendously punchy presentation on the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh, whose unfinished 1940s novel Money in the Morgue she’s been tasked with completing – a tall order with only four chapters and a page or two of notes to go on. Question: Why did Ngaio abandon this promising book?  Stella has heard different theories…

There were two interactive murder mysteries over the weekend, ‘The Glass Room Murder’ hosted by Ann Cleeves and ‘Death at the Dig’ hosted by Kate Ellis. And, with actors playing the suspects, tremendous brain-teasing fun they both were!

The weekend concluded with a panel event in which Alibis speakers discussed Golden Age detective fiction.

On my feedback form I summarised ‘Alibis in the Attic’ as “hugely interesting and enjoyable”. And I’m sure the British Crime Writing Archives will prove an invaluable resource for students of the genre.

I should just like to add that the staff of Gladstone’s Library were wonderful.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Homemaking

Gosh, I see it’s been over a month since my last post, ‘Sub-Zero’! Maureen and I have been offline for most of this time but our computers are now connected at our new home and we’re trying to catch up on our huge backlog of emails.

So much has happened in the interim. I’ve turned 70.  Maureen and I have done another joint guest spot on Vintage Radio’s Poetry Roundup.  Maureen, a former professional dancer with Irish Theatre Ballet under the legendary Joan Denise Moriarty, has also given a brilliant talk on ‘Ballet in Ireland’ at a major Wirral poetry venue, First Thursday at Linghams booksellers, Heswall.  And my son has got married, a very happy family occasion.

So now I’ll pick up where I left off with ‘Sub-Zero’ on 11th April.  Below is the second of my poems published on Angela Topping’s blog, in her Hygge poetry Feature Number 26, titled ‘Homemaking’ like my poem…

 

HOMEMAKING

 

Gulls tumble screeching

in the raw estuary blow

as we pop the radio on.

 

There are those who frown still

but here on our windy Welsh hill

we’re making a home together.

 

She bends to the curtains

as I open a flatpack

resinous wood-tang wafting.

 

Berlioz, Mahler, Miles Davis:

hours fly in the sheer joy

of making,

 

her needle and thread

my screwdriver and mallet

in harmony.

 

On the fence outside

a robin sings

his winter song.

 

We’re done:

her beautiful curtains hung

my chest of drawers looking good.

 

Come the spring

we’ll plant our small garden

and maybe fresh smiles will bloom.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

Sub-Zero

Some weeks ago, in January through to mid-February, Angela Topping the poet ran a series of daily Hygge features on her blog. In her Call for Submissions, she explained that Hygge is “the Dutch term for cosiness, intimacy and taking pleasure from simple things.”  However the poems didn’t have to be all sweetness and light.  “I am interested in the darkness and how poetry can shine a light in dark corners,” she wrote.

Each feature focussed on a different aspect of hygge and presented poems that complimented each other with a great introduction and photograph. The series illustrated how variously hygge may be found and the wealth of work within the genre, comprising in effect a fascinating online anthology.  Thank you, Angela.

Maureen and I had two poems each published in the series. My first was a newly written haibun included in Hygge Feature Number 8, Outdoor/Indoors, and was based on observations walking beside the Shropshire Union Canal (“The Shroppie”) seven years earlier, on Boxing Day 2010…

SUB-ZERO

It’s Boxing Day, noon. And down “The Shroppie”, a mile below Bunbury, a solitary narrowboat lies trapped against the bank in ice and snow.  The boatman, a cheery soul, chops logs.  Only the fragrant woodsmoke from his boat’s stove mars the dazzling white.

Now a large hare scurries, skidding, over the frozen canal with a buzzard in pursuit. They vanish from view but a thin cry will plague our snuggling boatman until taken by a good malt, curtains drawn.

in the golden glow

of a log fire

jugged hare is served, amen

Paul Beech

~~~~~~

Dear Readers, please note that I will be offline shortly for a little while whilst our computers are being installed in our new home. I will reply to any comments when back online again.

My very best to you all,

Paul

~~~~~~

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Bluecoat and Front Row

Gosh, how wonderful it was, last Wednesday, for Maureen and I to take an evening off from the gruelling business of moving house. We headed over to Liverpool, a favourite place of ours with its zestful vibe and friendly cosmopolitan air. Radio 4’s Front Row programme (which follows The Archers) was to be produced and broadcast live from the Bluecoat arts centre to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound: Penguin Modern Poets 10 from Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. We’d booked tickets for the show.

Before going in, we bought crêpes (pancakes) from a van – crêpes with sugar and lemon – and enjoyed them hugely sitting in the cobbled side-street with hopeful pigeons and gulls gathering at our feet.

The Mersey Sound ushered in a new type of poetry – punchy, provocative, socially relevant and widely accessible – bringing the trio fame as “The Liverpool Poets” during that heady period, “The Swinging Sixties”, when The Beatles sprang from the city’s Cavern Club to take the musical world by storm.

Presented by John Wilson, Front Row was simply brilliant, with Roger McGough and Brian Patten present to discuss and read poems from their ground-breaking anthology. Adrian Henri, a painter and musician as well as a poet, died in 2000 but his partner, now his literary and artistic executor, Catherine Marcangeli, spoke about his “total art” vision and introduced a series of exhibitions and events called Tonight At Noon (after a Henri poem) celebrating The Mersey Sound’s half-century.

Lizzie Nunnery, a playwright and singer-songwriter, performed with musical accompaniment, an extract from Horny Handed Tons of Soil, her new work inspired by The Mersey Sound and Adrian Henri. Andrew McMillan, the award-winning poet, premiered his new poem, written in response to The Mersey Sound.

The Bluecoat, built in 1717, is Liverpool city centre’s oldest building, a charity school for nearly 200 years before becoming the UK’s first arts centre in 1907. And Bryan Biggs, artistic director of its 300th anniversary programme, spoke very interestingly about the centre’s role in supporting contemporary artists.

It was altogether a most enjoyable evening which Maureen and I will long remember.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Somonka

I’d never heard of Somonka until Kemal Houghton, our Chair at Chester Poets, invited members to submit Somonka poems for reading on Poetry Roundup, his show on Vintage Radio (Birkenhead) on Wednesday last week.

The Somonka is an ancient Japanese verse form, each poem comprising a pair of tanka on the theme of love (romantic or some other type), the first a statement, the second in response. Usually the first tanka is written by one poet, the second by another, but a Somonka may be written by a single poet assuming two personas.

Maureen and I gave it a go of course, and we had many a laugh over it. I wrote a solo Somonka first, about my much loved infants’ school teacher back in ’53, when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Then we did one together, the first tanka (the statement) by Maureen, the second (the response) by me. And we were delighted when both poems were included in the programme, Kemal reading the male verses, his co-presenter Linda Bradley reading the female, as they did so brilliantly with the other Somonkas too.

Below is my solo effort. We’ll reserve our joint-Somonka (quite a funny one) for publication elsewhere.

MISS T

floral smock chalky
mistress of the scout hut school
she gave of her love
calmed this little boy’s fear
and let him sit with the girls

Coronation year
my sweetheart lost in the war
I gave of my love
to his brave comrades’ children
beneath a Union Jack

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017