The Gregson – 08/12/09
Reviewed by Carla Scarano
Rich of guests and happenings was the Sixpoets event at the Gregson in Lancaster on 8th December. The star of the night was Carole Coates presenting her new collection Looking Good, Shoestring press, 2009. There was also an open mic, a Christmas raffle in aid of Lancaster & District Women’s Aid and an intriguing quiz. Special guests: Mollie Baxter and George Green. Vicki Lawless and Eliza Mood read as well.
At 7:30 pm the seats were all taken as well as the open mic spots, which opened the evening. A various selection of poems kept the attention high going from a meaningful description of mother’s hands to a hospital experience, a chance meeting with a lady, who talks of her life as ‘doing absolutely nothing’ (lucky her or just depressing). Then on with the ambiguity of fairy tales and their tough teachings, an apparently ordinary washing up and an appeal to ‘Ladies! Ladies!’.
Vicky Lawless, one of the six poets, read her musical poetry drawing the audience in a smooth world of daring alliterations and enjambments. Its rhythm kept us with bated breath .
The Weight of Water, a short story by Mollie Baxter from the Flax collection Before the Rain, 2006, brought us along the canal where swans and girls die. A gripping story, passionate and precise prose, no flaws no wavering. Every sentence drew us deeper into the characters and added consciousness. We were in till the last word.
The Christmas raffle and the break gave us time to absorb the inspired readings and fill in part of the challenging quiz on children’s literature (What does BFG stand for? In which book you will find The Last Visible Dog?). Part of the quiz was also naming the writer from the photo. It was interesting to test our visual memory of the authors as well as our remembrance of their writings.
Back to our seats and Eliza Mood read five poems. A striking selection of thought provoking verses about her charming and rebelling mother, a defenceless, abused old prostitute, the wisdom of measuring in a spinning mill, slave shepherds and a sketched, meaningful picture of her father, like an impressionist portrait. Significant, powerful words filled our mind for a while helping reason and understanding.
Swans again, but this time alive and lively ones in George Green’s short story. Forty swans surfing restlessly, not doing much just bustling about, drew laughers and applause.
Finally Carole Coates read some chosen poem from her new collection Looking Good, a sequence of poems where she explored the state of being anorexic in a period when nobody knew it was an illness. Profoundly meditated poems about the emotions, imagination and physical weakness of a girl whose main concern is to purify and challenge herself to the extreme through fasting. Like a medieval saint looking for the essential, lone knight against evil forces she reaches the verge of nothingness. A few cheerful poems ended her reading, the final one an entertaining imaginary dialogue with the other Carole Coates, American, who lives in Catalina Island. It left tender questions open and the bright Californian light lingering for a while in the hall.
At the end were the solutions of the quiz, which everybody was looking forward to, hoping to learn more and do better next time.
A pleasant evening with great readings and attentive audience, an experience to keep in store till the next sixpoets event.