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Performance Publishing Reading Telltale Press

Jessica Mookherjee’s ‘The Swell’ – hear her with Judy Brown, Siegfried Baber and Michaela Ridgway 19th Oct in Lewes

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Jessica Mookherjee earlier this month

Gillian Clarke’s remarks on the pamphlet flap for Jessica Mookherjee’s Telltale Press pamphlet  The Swell are 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 Sensations is 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.

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a writer's life Blogging Poetry Publishing Telltale Press Theatre

A new play, poetry and other news…

I have been a bit AWOL from cyberspace this summer. A blissful two weeks in the south of France with my wife. I had been using Duolingo to try to refresh my French before I went. Not that the French I was trying to refresh was any good in the first place. However I tried to speak to people. Sometimes it worked, other times I would launch my français and watch people flinch as if in physical pain. New for me was attempting to read poetry in French. It helps if you are fairly familiar with the poetry in translation. So I am re-reading Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire, poets who were founders of Négritude in 1930s France. It has been a struggle and I must keep referring to translations for words I don’t get. But I’m getting a better feel for the poems, and it’s an improving experience.

Returning from France, my alter ego Peter Kenny the Writer Ltd has been hard at it, with two pitches won, and clients with whom I hope some work to be proud of is possible.

New play to be staged this December – We Three Kings

As for the plays, A Glass of Nothing will be staged again by Brighton Blonde Productions this December at the Marlborough Theatre, and old stomping ground for me and Beth Symons. More ‘deets’ here soon.

The show will be of two plays: a slightly tightened A Glass of Nothing, (fresh from its Brighton Fringe success) plus a new short play We Three Kings that I am writing now. Also a comedy, in an edgy, existential, post modern kind of way. Loads of laughs in it I hope.

Poets and poetry

I’m having the dissonant experience of writing what I think of as some of my best work, but going through a spate of rejections. To quote Wordsworth ‘The poet, gentle creature as he is…’ [no female poets obvs.] ‘… Hath, like the Lover, his unruly times; His fits when he is neither sick nor well, Though no distress be near him but his own Unmanageable thoughts.’  A glut of rejections and I get if not quite unmanageable thoughts, certainly the odd gloom.

More happily, I went last weekend to Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair where I was on the Telltale Press stand, with fellow Telltale poets Sarah Barnsley  and Jess Mookherjee. It was the launch of Jess’s pamphlet The Swell, which is pretty exceptional. I also bumped into Charlotte Gann, whose book Noir is hot of the press. I greatly admire Charlotte’s work so I snapped up my copy right away. By far the most exciting poet I heard read was Judy Brown, reading from her book Crowd Sensations. More about Crowd Sensations, The Swell, Noir, and John McCullough‘s stonking new book Spacecraft, here at a later date.

Below a snap of me and Sarah Barnsley getting slightly overexcited at the poetry book fair. Then one of  Jess Mookherjee, with Sarah. Sarah edited Jess’s pamphlet The Swell.

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Categories
Performance Poetry Readings Telltale Press

Off the bench

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.

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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.