Stanza Bonanza: poets from Reading and Greenwich in high-scoring draw
The Poetry Society had billed it as Greenwich v Reading. But you mustn’t think of this meeting of two of the society’s Stanza groups at London’s Poetry Cafe as a football match, I kept telling myself. Stanza groups are regularly invited by the society to … well, not pit themselves against each other, exactly. Just to share poems with one another, let’s say. Last night’s line-ups, each introduced by a team captain, were impressive, bristling with published collections or longlist citations from the National Poetry Competition, and sometimes both. Greenwich’s Suzanna Fitpatrick, who was recently among the Hippocrates prize commendations, read poems from a sequence about pregnancy and birth, including ones titled Retch and Placenta, and wound up with a haiku from a conversation overheard on a train:
Well out of order.’
We plunge into a tunnel.
Reading’s Stanza group is relatively newly formed, although there is a lively scene in the town, which includes the university, a local poetry venue, and the well-respected Two Rivers Press. The well-respected Susan Utting led the Reading team, which also included Christine Webb, reading poignant poems about the death of her partner from her Cinnamon collection Catching Your Breath.
Only one male had been listed among the 12 participants last night, although the Poetry Society’s Paul McGrane added to the minimal representation when he stepped in with some entertaining poems including one about Benny Hill, to fill the gap caused by the late withdrawal of one Greenwich team member. Greenwich’s Alan Ward has recently written a sequence of poems about the Victorian ice trade for the London canal museum: “They say you can’t buy time / Ice is another story.” He also introduced one which he said guardedly “had been described by someone as an anti-football poem”, written from observing games on Peckham Rye: “Mud and grass congealed / to the shape of heels.” As a pro-football man, I warmed to it.
Reading’s Judi Sutherland read poems about rocks and geology, and one about her cultural confusion when the dominant musical force changed from rock to punk in the mid-70s. Another poet from Reading, Louise Ordish, told of watching the sights and sounds of Nottingham Goose Fair from afar. Nancy Hynes, a National Poetry Competition long-lister, finished with a poem, Health Tips for the Year Ahead, which was shortlisted for the Live Canon poetry prize in 2011, and became the inspiration and centrepiece of a visual arts/interactive installation in Greenwich theatre. Jane McLaughlin's poem, called, simply, Greenwich, focused on the timepieces of longtitude’s John Harrison, one of them “round and perfect as the moon”.
Each poet is given a decent-sized slot to deliver, on average, around five poems. The atmosphere last night was relaxed, warm, and attentive. At the end someone from Greenwich thanked Reading for giving them “a run for their money”. I’d call it a high-scoring draw. Next fixture? A local derby, Clapham v Brixton.