Is anyone in their right mind interested in horror stories at a time like this?
Despite this, I find uploading readings onto YouTube is helping me manage my anxiety. I was talking to my pal Robin Houghton yesterday that this outbreak makes me want to upload all my best work. Robin said it made her want to burn things, which made me laugh.
Anyhow… I intend to upload a few readings of published horror stories just for fun. Peter Kenny’s Little Horrors allows me to give published stuff another airing for a different audience, and to be there for posterity.
This story was first published by the excellent Jeremy Page in The Frogmore Papers, in 2019. Hope you enjoy it….
I have two poetry readings in the pipeline in about a month’s time. In Brighton, and London. Here are the deets:
N.B. DATE CHANGE Wednesday October 25, 2017 7:30 pm — The Nightingale Room, Grand Central, 29-30 Surrey St, Brighton BN1 3PA Pighog poetry evening with Charlotte Gann, Peter Kenny and another guest TBA – Tickets on the door £5, £4 concessions, £3 for open mic participants.
Wednesday November 1, 2017 7.30 pm — The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX Telltale Press & Friends with Catherine Smith, Abigail Parry, Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny – FREE
I’ve fan-boyishly blogged on this blog about Charlotte Gann who is an amazing poet, and I loved her book Noir. We are reading at one of the Pighog events in Brighton on Oct 26th organised by Michaela Ridgway. The excellent Clare Best was also due to read with us, but has had to pull out as the date of the reading had to change.
Then, the following week on November the first, there’s another Telltale & Friends reading. I’m keen to hear Abigail Parry, who has been a magnet for poetry prizes. Her highly-anticipated collection Jinx will be published by Bloodaxe next year. I’ll have another opportunity to hear the extremely accomplished and sometimes saucy Catherine Smith, as well as my pal Robin Houghton, who has a new pamphlet All the relevant gods, out from Cinnamon next year. There are a few more details about the Telltale reading on the Telltale Blog.
I like the flyer Robin put together for the Telltale Reading below. I am pleased I asked Innis McAllister to do a decent shot of me. I think Robin looks like she has something really important to tell you. And what’s more, she has. But you’ll have to come along to hear it.
There is a section of A Glass of Nothing where Beth is transformed into the world’s most beautiful woman and goes into the audience, requests a phone and takes a selfie. I just love this pic taken last night at the Marlborough Theatre.
Our wee two-day run of We Three Kings and A Glass of Nothing is over. Brighton Blonde Productions will be back in the new year, not least with taking A Glass of Nothing to Edinburgh. Running A Glass of Nothing again, in a slightly trimmed version for me was a proof of concept. With Beth shining at its centre, this is a piece I am truly proud of.
The cast of We Three Kings a few minutes before the start of the show. Left to right, James Kuszewski, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons, and Dylan Corbett-Bader. We Three Kings is a half an hour twisted nativity play with hope in its heart, and these are the people who made its hope shine.
I saw Nina Conti’s In Your Face tour at the Brighton Dome last Saturday. The climax of her show, when she had seven people up on stage, wearing her masks on demonstrated her sheer bravery, improvisational skill and speed of thought in remembering all the accents and attributes she had given them.
She had three moments of darker theatre in her show with Monk, her glove puppet. This monkey has such a strong identity, that despite frequent postmodern allusions to it being a puppet, the audience believes in it all the more strongly. The shorter first half ends with Nina being hypnotised into sleep by the monkey. Of course when Nina is asleep, the monkey must remain silent and they are carried off stage.
Later Nina climbed into a black sack, with just Monk visible, and the puppet fielded audience questions. This was brave, especially in a large place like the Dome where it is hard to hear everyone, without first having climbed into a sack.
But most of all I loved the end of her show, when she puts the monkey away, then talking to her naked hand finds the monkey is still present, and beginning to take her over and puppet her. This was all over too quickly for me, but was nodding to a darker, more absurd territory that is clearly present for her. I’d be fascinated to see her enter it.
Gillian Clarke’s remarks on the pamphlet flap for Jessica Mookherjee’s Telltale Press pamphlet The Swellare spot on. Among them she says Jess’s poems are ‘Bold, fiery, truthful, they tell an original story with power’.
Other than reading The Swell at a fairly late stage before publication, I had little to do with Jess’s pamphlet. Sarah Barnsley, who along with Robin Houghton, helped Jess edit The Swell said that, in the process of finalising the selection, Jess had a whole sheaf of possible replacements for each poem. Amazingly prolific at the moment, Jess is already well on her way to forming a first full collection, and her work is frequently cropping up in many magazines. The reason is that they are fabulous.
The first poem of the The Swell pamphlet, ‘Snapshot’ depicts the loss of a mother’s attention away from the little girl ‘I’ of the poem. ‘I passed on my birthright to all those unborn/ boys,’ the mother tragedy spills into the poem, she becomes a person who needs her ‘worried forehead’ soothed, needs to be watched over:
Stood behind my mother as she prayed at the front door, led her to the kitchen, made sure she looked at the babies.
but finally we are left with an image of childhood abandonment, how the absence of attention leaves its mark with an image of neglect:
There is no photograph of me climbing the stairs two at a time, no evidence that I tried not to slip and break my neck.
One thing I love about Jess’s work is the balance between such nuance, and unabashed boldness. In the poem ‘Red’:
The red curtains in my mother’s house looked like someone had shot her.
A colour is shown as a symbol for domestic disagreement, and disappointment:
I tell you not to wear that that red shirt, it doesn’t flatter. There’s blood in the bathroom again, this month.
The pamphlet is fraught with thwarted hopes and expectations, and its arena is the female body. We glimpse the weight of expectation on women to have sons, to create families, to select the right partner. I find the poem ‘Mother’s Day’ to be eloquent about assigned roles. The poem opens, with typical boldness, describing a delivery of flowers:
Delivered like unwanted children, I didn’t put them into water.
I find a passion and rebellion in The Swell. I can’t recommend it enough. And if you’d like to hear Jess’s next reading, at the Telltale Press & Friends reading in Lewes with a fine array of poets. These include Judy Brown, whose book Crowd Sensationsis becoming one of my favourites of recent times, and will write about it on here soon. It’s a great opportunity to hear Telltale’s Siegfried Baber up from Bath, and Brighton’s own Michaela Ridgway showcase their work too.
Forgot to mention here that I was a last minute substitute for a poorly Siegfried Baber on a recent Telltale and Friends night at Telltale’s old stomping ground of the Poetry Cafe. A quick reshuffle meant that Robin Houghton introduced the event instead of me. Uncharacteristically I was not really in the mood for doing a reading, but having done so I was very pleased I did.
John McCullough read from his new book Spacecraft which is wonderful, and I will write something about it on this site soon. Sarah Barnsley read some extraordinary new and playful poems. Jess Mookherjee, the newest Telltale recruit and gave us a preview of her new pamphlet Swell, due out this Autumn. It’s lovely work, sensitive and direct.
All participants had to hare off afterwards due to the unspeakable Southern Trains debacle. Jess headed off to Tunbridge Wells, while Sara, John, Robin and I got the train to Brighton. Unusually for poets after the meeting, stone cold sober but the journey home passed in a flash with such good company.
Below left to right, Sarah Barnsley, John McCullough, Jess Mookherjee and me. Photo taken by Robin.
Robin has long held an ambition to film Telltale performances, but for all kinds of reasons this has not worked particularly well. During the evening Robin took a film of me reading Postcard from Ithaca. Seeing this film below has already had one positive outcome. I have started a frowny new diet.
Met up with my great friend Matt Pollard recently, with whom I collaborated on the high concept piece This Concert Will Fall In Love With You in the Brighton Fringe back in 2010.
It was a strange idea in retrospect, that a concert could be haunted by an entity with a voice who fell in love with the audience, only to be left brokenhearted as the concert finished and the audience departed.
Naively, I thought that by combining contemporary classical music with poetry you’d double your audience. While we had a more than healthy turnout for our three concerts, the area of the Venn diagram where lovers of poetry and new classical music overlapped was pretty small. I wrote highly-charged prose poetry monologues, and Matt put them to some utterly exquisite music. I also decided, quite rationally of course, that dressing up as a Victorian undertaker was a good idea. I was convinced that the piece was a melodrama, and so dressed accordingly.
I’m still very proud of this work, and working with Matt was an education. Through his enthusiasm I listened to all kinds of music I would never have otherwise encountered. Some time later we recorded the piece and made the world’s worst selling CD from it, called Clameur.
If you have a moment, listen to this, one of the tracks from the album, called ‘the story of your eyes’. If you’d like to hear the rest of the work, it’s on Spotify under Pollard & Kenny. The words are below.
The story of your eyes
Because you are still here, I choose to tell you now that your eyes are beautiful.
To me, they are your supreme feature. When you gaze at me, I come to life.
It’s as if I called out, like a poet in a storm, and suddenly you tumbled wingless from the sky just to see me.
Your fascinated eyes inspire me; they have seen unimaginable things, and now I live among them in the cinema of your mind.
But when you look away, my love, darkness advances. For I believe that beams of light shine from your eyes. And just to be seen by you is to bask in perfect light.
I adore the colour of your eyes, but I love your pupils even more. I watch them dilate, excited by the dark. Or I see them contract to pinpoints when you are led into uncertainty, our tracks melting behind us in the paper-white snow.
I gaze back at you now, transfixed by your eyes and their flecked perfection.
This morning I thought I’d write an update from the safety of the duvet.
At the end of our last rehearsal (we crowbarred four complete run throughs plus a tech rehearsal into the weekend) I told Beth, Kitty and Dylan how proud I was of them. They’ve expanded the play and added so much. Beth has the pivotal role, and is onstage most of the time, but she still has been able to direct proceedings, with me also chipping in. Casting Kitty and Dylan was a big win, and spending hours in rehearsal rooms is much easier when everyone is so easygoing and professional.
Happily, we’ve pretty much sold out the Theatre Box. This means we will have covered our venue costs, promotion costs and so on. There’s little money to be made from this malarkey, but doing better than breaking even means we can put the money towards our next venture.
After we sold the bulk of the tickets there has been a small wave of publicity surrounding Dylan, who is the late Ronnie Corbett’s grandson. The Daily Mail, the Argus and no doubt some other places are picking up on Dylan’s ‘taking to the stage’. We all had a laugh at the photo from when he was about 15 that the Mail used for him. Dylan has a naturally loveable presence, a fine asset for an actor – and has been entirely professional about carrying on despite being very sad about his loss.
My nerves are just about under control. I’m trying not to twitch like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies. Naturally my excitement is seasoned with the odd flash of panic… Visions of everyone forgetting their lines, a stony-faced audience, haywire sound and lighting, and then how an unexpected tsunami rushes in from the English Channel and washes the Theatre Box and the rest of Brighton away mid-performance…
One good thing was that Beth, Kitty, (see above in their white coats) my wife Lorraine and I went about the Warren at the weekend asking people if they’d like to drink a glass of nothing. Several people drank it and commented on its flavours. That the glass could be full of possibilities, imagination and fabulousness seemed to be readily understood. Get that, you get the play.
Right. No more displacement activities. Better get up, and get on with the day. We’re on at 8:30 tonight. Breakfast, then a spot of work, then gym then… YIKES!
On the top deck of the bus, travelling to rehearsals yesterday, I took a blurry snap of people assembling The Warren where our show will be staged. Seeing The Warren being built, focuses the mind more than it would if it were a permanent theatre. Bum-clenching proof that there are just three weeks till the show’s opening night.
Happily enough, we’ve already sold dozens of tickets which is making the Kenny twitchometer slightly calmer. If you’d like to come, and please do if you can, find a link here to tickets. The comedy play runs at about an hour, which is enough to fulfil Beth Symon’s three wishes of absolute beauty, having the perfect partner, and a glittering career. She’s ably abetted by the Kitty Underhill and Dylan Corbett-Bader who are playing several figments of her imagination with gusto and versatility.
Rehearsals have been excellent. Thankfully we’ve got to the point now where the stabilisers are coming off the bike, and we’re freewheeling through entire show in rehearsals. Lots to be done in the next few week, and I’m still tweaking the script, but we’re on track. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Rehearsals for ‘A Glass of Nothing’, my dark comedy, fittingly began in a dark and blurry basement. Left to right below are a blurry Kitty Underhill and a blurry Beth Symons, while Dylan Corbett-Bader stands absorbing the script before he swaggers on. Tickets are now available directly from Other Place Brighton.