darren thomas

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The Howcroft Bolton - July 09

If some conspiracy theorists are to be believed, man did not land on the moon. It was some elaborate hoax instigated by a New World Order through the conduit of a United States’s and their aeronautical space agency. The more you read about this alleged hoax, the more plausible it becomes. Rather foolishly, I’m inclined to agree. Man did not walk on the moon. Instead, they held a poetry night at The Howcroft. Filmed it for posterity in ridiculously grainy images, before sitting back and wallowing in the gullibility of a species…

Last night’s gathering of poetic personalities was not without its faults. Not without its drama, and almost certainly not without its controversy. If this evening was likened to a space mission - it was Apollo 13. Depending on your interpretation, it had the potential to be WOL’s most lack-lustre and unatmospheric evening since its inauguration as a launch pad for aspiring poets all those years ago. With so many elements of the evening’s mission seemingly falling apart at the poetic seams - it was only a matter of time before the poetry world was met with a disaster of Space Shuttle sized proportion.

However, if NASA can take the positives from out of missions such as Apollo 13, maybe it’s possible to do the same with last night’s poetry and performance? Indeed it is. Last night wasn’t WOL’s most damaging moment - it was its most defining moment.

Sixteen astro-poets attended. In that fine tradition of male dominated pastimes - Val Cook was the only representative of the female species. The rest were made up of seasoned, battle weary male poets who landed with the minimum of rocket-fuel remaining in each of their tanks. Choosing therefore to observe through their hubble’s of spectator sized spectacles. There were only a handful of performers. A small hand. A very small hand.

Commander Eric Tomlinson was our very own Neil Armstrong. Taking small but significant steps, he convinced us all that we were capable of breathing inside an environment with such low levels of atmosphere. He set the tone with his familiar, well paced delivery making wry observations about aliens - or ‘the young uns’ as they’re better known to Eric.

Shepherding us all around our individual orbits, Paul Blackburn was the man on the ground. Compéring with his usual wit and subtle jibes - some of which were, not surprisingly, lost in space.

Jefferama beamed himself in from the Starship ‘Half-evil poetry’, his recent intergalactic poetry battles that had obviously taken their toll. He read about his home town Bolton and delivered in what has become an imitable style. Actually, that’s not quite true. There was a brazened attempt to replicate Jeffo’s style later in the evening - but that’s another close encounter.

Flash Gordon Zola finally met his emperor Ming. No longer secreting himself inside rolls of cheese, Alan Gray has decided that ‘Gordon Zola’ has walked his last cheese high-wire.
Introduced as himself, Alan Gray performed in a very similar style to that of Gordon Zola - except he kept forgetting his words. On more than one occasion. Problem?
Nah… ‘Houston - the Alan has landed’.

Alan’s ad-lib, and the informality of those that gathered, allowed him to drop Clangers in a safe environment. At the same time injecting some much needed blue string nourishment into an evening.
Goodbye, Gordon Zola - live long and prosper.

Simon Ellis is an enigma. The dark lord conceals his true identity with a sociable reluctance that you cannot help but admire. He delivers his fantastic poetic prose with a precise diction and yet, this is the only real star-gate that leads into his world. A world into which few have ventured. His words are his stars. His meanings are fathomable galaxies - and that makes him all that more exciting to listen to.

Gus Johnson, the bizarre and often comical soup dragon of our world, read some wonderful poetry. Introspective. Intimately personal. Tranquillity based delivery. A dark side to Gus’s poetic moon. Like the rest of us - he read three poems. Each one just as significant as the last. Each one piping pure oxygenated poetry into a room.

Rob Goodier is a natural performer. We share a common interest - The Stranglers. It came as a surprise when he dedicated one of his poems to me. This level of dedication was appreciated when he sacrificed an audience’s comprehension for reading a skilfully constructed poem made up of The Strangler’s song titles.
And rather like space travel and its cost of billions - it made sense to just the few.

Rob later took the opportunity to play his guitar and sing. This seemed like an impromptu jamming session that allowed him to showcase his guitar playing skills and at the same time remind us all of the noise a distraught R2-D2 would often chirp. But it was great entertainment - you can’t deny that. Can you?

Don Parry is often relied upon to fill the room with the sound of song and steel strings. Last night he read poetry. Delivered with the momentum with which his words allow - he has a precise metre and it’s obvious that his anti-war poem had some profound message... However, all his work was jettisoned into the space-void of forgetfulness when Paul Blackburn asked ‘why does nobody ever do a pro-war poem’? Good question. Afterall, some Starwars are beneficial for all mankind.

Major controversy came at the raffle draw. Each ‘picker’ of tickets selecting their own ticket and winning a book of poetry and a bottle of wine respectively. Their identities are to remain guarded. I shall only refer to them as Mr. Robert Goodier and Mr. Gus Johnson to protect their personal safety.

This long-odds event eclipsed the quality of the poetry. To be fair, most participants had been involved in other, more formal and demanding events during the week. It felt like the last day of term. Adults allowed to bring in their favourite poetry games and play them before a class of peers. Interestingly, there wasn’t one poem making reference to NASA’s fortieth anniversary of its moon landing - or even blatant or subtle references to space and all thing galactical. If you cling on to that thought - it’s really quite bizarre…

Perhaps the star of the show was Sam Widgeys. His appearance at the end saved us all from a fate worse than deathstarvation.

Some photos are at


Mon, 20 Jul 2009 10:58 am
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<Deleted User> (5593)

Great review as always Darren and some fantastic photographs as well!

However, I think you missed Tony McNeile's first poem which indeed celebrated the moon landing with a commentary on space litter!

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 11:34 am
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darren thomas

Hi Paul - I was in the room when Tony performed. I was twiddling with my apertures. Apologies to Tony. He also read a poem about the Lake district which I remember most. I have more chance of travelling to the lakes than I have of going to the moon.

I enjoyed the night. It lacked pretention. It was real. Unless of course, it was all an elaborate hoax...?

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 11:47 am
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Lovely Darren... Merci ; )
Great analogy with anniversary of moon landing.
Mon, 20 Jul 2009 12:09 pm
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