A voyage around her grandfather: Cynthia Buell Thomas at Sale

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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 rodtame@hotmail.com


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Joy France

Mon 22nd Apr 2013 22:02

I was very lucky to be present. I always find Cynthia's poetry mesmerising (tho to be honest she has such a captivating presence & voice that she could read the instructions to self assemble bookcase and make it sound lyrical!)

I was hoping she would read the truly wonderful piece that was selected to be in the Best Of Manchester 3 Anthology, so was disappointed when she started by saying her set would be some linked "prosy" pieces.
Oh my... I didn't know what treat lay ahead. If it had been recorded and been broadcast on radio 4 it would have featured in "pick of the week!"

She deftly took us on a magical journey to another place in a flawlessly refined & delivered performance.
I was lucky to be sat with her family who quite rightly ended up sharing tissues to mop up the blubbings!

Cynthia's set was the epitome of poetic artistry and the result of a poet not afraid to break the mold.

I was chuffed to see that Julian had been touched as much as I had :)

I would pay to see her do one woman show. She must!

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Laura Taylor

Mon 22nd Apr 2013 16:28

Sounds amazing! Wish I could have been there.

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Harry O'Neill

Fri 19th Apr 2013 11:12

I was very interested in this...It looks like Cynthia has paid her audience the respect of a careful preparation and a practised delivery. (not to mention the obvious quality of the poetry)

Having done - and heard - guest-spots, I was struck by your admiration of the `linked` nature of the set. Given that the poems read are often disparate in theme, I think it is very important to get some sort (any sort) of a link to string them interstingly together.

And what a wonderful setting!

Jez Green

Thu 18th Apr 2013 14:32

I couldn't agree more. I was captivated and mesmerised by Cynthia's reading. It was bold, emotive, personal and touching. I was still grinning about it the next morning on my way to work. Sheer class!

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Cathy Bryant

Thu 18th Apr 2013 12:13

She's one of the most wonderful poets around and I was very sorry to miss this. Glad to see that she's getting the recognition that she should. Great article.

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