A voyage around her grandfather: Cynthia Buell Thomas at Sale
In 10 years of running Write Out Loud I don’t think I have witnessed as magnificent a reading as that delivered by Cynthia Buell Thomas in her showcase slot at the Sale Write Out Loud last night.
A bold claim, I know, but everything about it was absolutely top quality: her poetry, her delivery, her diction, her timing, her presence – all of it a lesson in how to create and present live poetry. This was not the usual set – a few poems from a poet’s list – but a carefully crafted, pitch-perfect series of six, linked narrative poems about the death of her grandfather and his "lying in state" at home. If you think that sounds unpromising material, think again; think, in fact, Radio 4 drama at its best, or readings delivered by one of those national treasure, safe-pair-of-hands actors. Except that, given the personal nature of this work, having it from the protagonist herself made it both a had-to-be-there experience and a huge privilege for us, the near-capacity audience.
I admire Cynthia’s ability to convey so much emotion from the tiniest of details, to paint a scene from a simple dialogue, to take us inside her head as the drama unfolds. We could feel, with her, her grandfather’s cold, waxy lips as she plucked up the courage to kiss the corpse; her grandmother’s trembling and keening as Cynthia’s 17-year-old self hugged her to sleep; the smell of the whisky as her family collapsed into giggles. Throughout, we were there with her – no, we were her – so vivid a picture did she create. This was poetry as theatre, theatre as poetry.
Cynthia’s set was the icing on an already delicious cake of a poetry evening, organised and hosted so ably by Rod Tame, including another, excellent guest slot from Kieran King and some pretty fine open mic readings, including one in Welsh.
It was made all the more special because we had the use of the old council chamber - now part of the Waterside Arts Centre - with its superb panelling, spectators gallery and theatrical lighting adding to the overall atmosphere, especially for this premier of Cynthia’s magnum opus. I suspect that, if it can be done, using the council chamber in future might provide a far better ambience, than the usual venue, the theatre bar.
Sale Write Out Loud is at Waterside arts centre, a short ride out of Manchester city centre on the tram which stops just across the road. Building on the work of our previous co-ordinator, Steve O’Connor, Rod has built this night into one that is popular, great fun and high quality. All enquiries about reading at Sale to co-ordinator Rod Tame at email@example.com