From Rowan Ridge to the Mid Wales Arts Centre
I was really lucky that esteemed nature poet Chris Kinsey agreed to endorse my pamphlet, September, with some very kind words on the back cover.
I first met Chris at Ty Newydd writing centre when I was 16. We bonded over a shared love of sight hounds - and nature poetry of course! Although we stayed in touch a little, in the times before social media we fell out of touch, but met again at the launch of the Offa's Press anthology The Poetry of Shropshire, in which we both have poems. Having known Chris for so long, it felt right that she would be the one to comment on September.
I was honoured when Chris got in contact to ask if I'd be available to read at the launch party for her new book - From Rowan Ridge from Fair Acre Press - amongst a group of poets she'd hand-picked herself.
The 'Poetry Party' was on Sunday Sep 1st at the Mid Wales Arts Centre in Caersws - a farm just outside the village which has exhibition and event space, plus catering! Autumn wasn't quite in the air yet as I enjoyed a leisurely drive over to Powys, using the brand new Newtown bypass for the first time. The sun shone (for the most part) as I took in the green hills and valleys opening up before me.
The event was held in a barn on the property, its walls lined with colourful paintings and sculptures jutting towards the ceiling. The room was packed with people, most clutching their free drink laid on by Fair Acre Press to welcome guests.
First, Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press gave an introduction to the two writers who were showcasing their work. Then the reading began with Kaite O'Reilly, whose book Persians was also being launched.
Playwright Kaite had written an adaptation of Aeschylus's tragedy for stage, it subsequently won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and Fair Acre Press has recently published the poetic re-telling as a book. Her reading was powerful and rich, lulling us all into the mood for poetry, and then hitting us with the horrors of war like a punch in the face. Kaite was energetic, her reading fizzing with electricity, fitting the subject matter perfectly!
I've always had somewhat of an affinity towards Ancient Greek literature (especially the myths), but sometimes it feels too reminiscent of those hours in Classical Studies poring over The Iliad, making notes in pencil in the margins while a bored teen stumbles through the dramatic dialogue. This was nothing like that - it was accessible and heartfelt. I enjoyed hearing the history of the work as a performance piece too - it was first performed on Ministry of Defence training land in the Brecon Beacons, where soldiers trained before being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
After Kaite, it was Chris's turn to read. I hadn't seen a copy of From Rowan Ridge before this event, so listening to the poems before reading them was really special. Chris has the feeling of a storyteller - her reading style draws you round, and I delighted in hearing tales of her childhood - growing up, falling in love with her natural surroundings, and also how she's enjoyed exploring hill and dale in recent years with her greyhound and lurcher.
I'm beginning to feel the rhythms and cycles of a natural place I love (Cannock Chase), and I'm simultaneously realising how much I absorbed as a child about plants and animals, while researching greedily about each new or unfamiliar sight. Something about Chris's unspoken feeling of comfort, or home, in the countryside resonates with me, and how I've grown into my surroundings in recent years.
After the interval, it was the turn of us 'support acts' to entertain the audience. I read my poems September and Toads - Chris had kindly dedicated her triptych of poems Frog Schooling to me earlier in the day, so I thought it only fitting. We share a love of the Seamus Heaney poem Death of a Naturalist, which inspired Toads, although we both appreciate our amphibious friends!
There was such a selection of voices - and every one bringing something something different and refreshing to the table. It helped to keep the momentum of a long afternoon, and it was over before we knew it! Just some of the names I read alongside on the day were Deborah Alma, James Sheard, Liz Lefroy, Graham Attenborough, Paul Francis, Steve Harrison, Carol Caffery, Pat Edwards...and loads more! I had heard most of the the names before but had never heard many of them them read - and it was a joy to tie it all together.
Chris invited me to stay behind afterwards where she bought me a delicious slice of gluten free orange and almond cake, and we chatted with Kaite about Birmingham, poetry, the weather, greyhounds, and many other things!
I came away feeling very calm and full of poetry! I feel so blessed to be part of such an invigorating event, outside of my usual comfort zones around the west midlands.
I've been dipping into From Rowan Ridge since then, savouring the poems before moving on. It's a truly sumptuous book, and anyone who loves the outdoors, plants, animals, and geography, particularly around the borders and mid Wales, will appreciate the attention to detail and rich imagery.
Next stop: Persians!
Photos of people by Kaite O'Reilly.