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Poets and musicians celebrate 'tastefully tantric' Totnes and Barrel House venue

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A poetry and music film celebrating a live venue in Totnes, and “the many poets and musicians who have made their home in Devon” has been released on YouTube. The film is a collaboration between Julie Mullen, performance poet and organiser of the Word Café, and the Word Café’s current home, The Barrel House in Totnes. Julie said of it: “We’d love this film to travel to many poetry audiences across the world.”

We at Write Out Loud would like to help in that. It’s a wonderful and often moving film in which Covid is not really mentioned, made on location by cinematographer Chris Plant during “a brief unlocking” in December 2020, and featuring renowned Liverpool poet Brian Patten, fellow poets Matt Harvey and Robert Garnham, and Julie herself, of course, plus younger poets Susie David, Izzy Mattesini, Kerry Priest, and singer-guitarist Saff Juno.

The film opens with Susie David wandering through lapping waves, followed by two very moving poems by Brian Patten – ‘Geography Lesson’, a warning not to leave things too late, and ‘Pipe Dream’, a reflection on the moment of mortality. 

Young Izzy Mattesini contributes a poem about autumn, while Julie Mullen’s ‘Grave Matter’ includes the haunting refrain “Have you seen my dad?” There are shots of the river Dart that flows through Totnes, with appearances from Kerry Priest (‘When the Doctor talks about my IVF Journey’) and singer-guitarist Saff Juno.

Sarah Kidd, co-owner of The Barrel House, which has its own micro-brewery, talks about her surprise and delight in winning a grant to help during lockdown, while music producers Jimmi Stewart and Tommy Williams, and events manager Tracie Gillies discuss the importance of The Barrel House to the town.   

Paignton’s Robert Garnham – who is also a regular at Write Out Loud Woking – delivers a madcap ‘Home Delivery Man’, musicians Peter Shearn and Bev Knowlden wander through the streets and down by – and in - the river, while Matt Harvey pokes gentle fun at “tree-hugging, hemp-wearing, navel-gazing” Totnes, yet firmly concludes that the town is “tastefully tantric. Not tacky. Nothing like that.” 

Kerry Priest reappears with a poem about pregnancy, before Julie Mullen wraps up things accompanied by a rather endearing-looking William Shakespeare puppet. Original music for the film, made with Arts Council funding, is by Martin Seager, and the puppet was made by Californian Steve Axtell.   

Since 2010 Julie has hosted poetry and music events at the Cott Inn, Dartington, the Landmark arts centre, Teddington, the Pleasance theatre in London, the Rosemary Branch theatre in Islington, the Pleasance theatre, Queendome, & Bunker One in Edinburgh, the Old Sorting Office in Barnes and the Tea Box in Richmond. Since 2019 the Word Café’s home has been the Barrel House Ballroom in Totnes.

You can watch the film here


◄ Louise Fazackerley, Huddersfield, 2014

'Here every flower grows ragged and sideways and always beautiful' ►

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