Supper Room. Town Hall, St Andrews.
5th March 2015
I have to say I am not sure where ‘Border Crossings’ stops and ‘An Archipelago of Poetry’ starts. John Dennison is from New Zealand which certainly counts as an island. Kim Moore is from Barrow in Furness, but unless she’s actually from Walney Island… oh wait, why can we never remember that the bulk of the UK is, in fact, an island? Certainly both Kim and John have crossed borders to get here anyway, and Kim has zigged and zagged across the UK by train to do so.
The venue has a very ‘civic’ feel to it, and straight away the audience knows it is not at a slam (where many of them were twenty minutes earlier) but at a reading. Not that there isn’t wit to be heard, but is embedded in poetry that demands and repays attention.
Kim Moore is the daughter of a scaffolder, and has been a teacher of the trumpet for eleven years. She describes ‘her’ people thus:
I come from people who swear without realising they’re swearing.
I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers,
the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house.
Some of my people have been inside a prison. Sometimes I tilt
towards them and see myself reflected back…
She prefers to record her poetry in a hardback book rather than ‘scrappy papers’, because that way it is ‘more real’. Some of her work deals with harsh facts, such as domestic violence, in metaphor. Other poems, such as ‘A psalm for the Scaffolders’ are celebratory. Others still are blackly funny, such as the curse of a trumpet teacher in return for the various atrocities committed by her pupils, in which she changed the gender of the perpetrators to protect their identities. Or so she says!
John Dennison’s poetry needs more careful listening still. His poems are shorter, nothing much longer than a sonnet, and when he reads them we are aware of the way he wants his words stressed. There is a careful pace to them, and an apparent deliberation in their construction. His background as a chaplain comes to the fore in, for example, a piece he describes as a ‘Jonah poem’ set in the hold of a ferry, or a poem about climate change based on the story of Balaam’s ass from Numbers 22, or one that points out how like a Madonna and child the common ampersand is – that’s ‘&’ to you and me. His poetry is remarkable.
I would like to give this event five stars. I can’t, I have to take a little bit of the shine off the fifth star, and here’s why. The balance between the two poets wasn’t quite right, and all it would have taken to restore it was one extra poem being given to Kim Moore. Maybe because John Dennison’s poems were short and there were more of them, it felt as though he had more time, as he shuffled to and fro in his book for the next one to read. I admit I didn’t check my watch, I just went away with that impression. As regards the actual quality of the material, and its delivery by both poets, I couldn’t fault it.
Reviewed by Paul Thompson