Like so many other events this year, our Summer Celebration had to be held online as a consequence of the current Covid -19 pandemic. There was, this time, no assembled audience in the Music Room at Ripley Arts Centre. Instead, members and associates sat in their own homes, using Zoom to watch and listen to two invited poets — also on Zoom. The famous buffet was sadly unavailable but the feast was there.
Our President, Anne Stewart, welcomed everyone to the virtual meeting which was attended by 23 people, including, Maggie Hoyle who now lives in Dorset and Kathleen Mustoe who recently moved to Amersham. Zoom is a great enabler in this respect. Also present were Ron Hoyle and Christopher Town, Chair of Bromley Arts Council
After the general welcome, Ruth Smith introduced the two poets – Jane Kirwan and Stephen Elves, starting with Jane:-
Jane Kirwan’s poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies in both the UK and the Czech Republic where she lives half the year. She has read poems on Czech television.
Jane’s three collections are all published by the Rockingham Press, the last written with Ales Macháček. In 2002 she won an Arts Council Writers’ Award for ‘The Man Who Sold Mirrors.’
She has won prizes in various competitions including the National and has read at poetry festivals here and abroad. With Wendy French she wrote ‘Born in the NHS’ a poetry, prose memoir sparked by a conversation about threats to the NHS.
During his earlier life Stephen worked as a journalist for both The Times and The Independent.
Since then he has earned success as a poet, his work having been widely published in magazines. Stephen was been placed as runner-up in both the Yorkshire and Torriano Poetry Competitions.
In 2012 he completed an M Phil in Writing from the University of South Wales and is a member of the Torriano Poetry group in Kentish Town.
Stephen says his poems deal with a lifetime of serious illness and finding solace in nature, especially birds. He also writes about the experience of growing up in a dysfunctional family.
Stephen read for the first 15 minutes of the event and shared eight poems beginning with the political ‘Gross Moral Trumpitude’ giving the subject a visionary twist and beginning every statement with ‘I saw’ — using, as an extra touch, the biblical ‘verily.’
There were, as might be expected, poems about the natural world, especially birds; a sparrow — a heron with its ‘ lazy flapping clap of wings.’ Stephen explained that he now lives in Faversham, Kent reading poems that celebrate its local waterway ‘Faversham Creek’ and the nearby Oare Marshes — so rich in birdlife. To end this first session, Stephen read a poem about smoking and the progression from his schoolboy ‘five a day’ to adult smoke-induced illness — a cautionary tale of how one thing leads to another.
Jane read poems from her latest collection, ‘The Goose Woman’ which is set in the village of Slabce where she and her Czech partner Ales ‘bought a ruin’ and set about repairing it. She began with a poem in the voice of Slabce, ‘I am Slabce and I have 730 inhabitants/ who all go to Croatia in August or stay in their gardens/ and eat cucumber —’ There are poems, often displaying Jane’s wry humour, about how to get rid of moles , about the hitchhiker Vladimir who turns up every year to work and drink slivovic.
In the second half of their readings, both poets read about visits to grandparents, Jane to her grandmother in Ireland, steeped in local gossip and Stephen to his grandparents in Hackney where conditions were somewhat austere, as described in his poem, ‘ Washing in the Sink with Lifebuoy.’
Stephen read a poem about his favourite stargazer lilies while Jane read a a poem about imminently becoming a grandmother and what her ‘user name’ would be. Because of the Zoom format it was possible to see and hear people’s reactions to the poems and both poets received their share of umms and ‘wonderful’ ‘marvellous’ ‘aaah’ which indicated how successful both had been in holding our attention and often delighting us.