Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crystal Clear

Ledbury Poetry Festival takes place (more or less) on my doorstep. Sadly, this year I have been so busy at work that I only managed one Ledbury afternoon, on the last day of the festival. So, while everyone else was in end-of-festival fatigue, I was experiencing beginning-of-festival buzz. The same can't necessarily be said of my long-suffering, poetry-agnostic partner - although he did enjoy the very entertaining reading by Sophie Hannah, perhaps one of the rare poetry performers you would be itching to invite to your next dinner party (just take a look at her blog to see what I mean).

Andrew Motion gave an engaging talk about his new 'sequel' to Stevenson's Treasure Island, as well as reading some poems from The Cinder Path and discussing this time as Laureate. Motion has a great talent for communication - he comes across like a kindly university lecturer who allows you to feel as clever and erudite as he clearly is - and that skill certainly did the office of Laureate a lot of good.

Nevertheless, the highlight of the festival for me was a very short reading by three poets who have been published by Leicester's Crystal Clear Creators in pamphlet form. Crystal Clear are relative newcomers, with their magazine Hearing Voices currently running to a fourth issue. They have now also branched out into pamphlets, with six elegantly-produced titles on sale for a very reasonable £4 each.

All three of the writers I heard seemed to me to be worth reading, but I was particularly taken by the work of Jessica Mayhew. Her pamphlet Someone Else's Photograph is precise and subtle, eschewing the strained exuberance or self-conscious 'coolness' sometimes to be found in young poets (Mayhew is 22). As the cover image suggests, the sea is a constant presence in these poems, introduced with the story of the drowning of Mayhew's grandmother's grandfather at the beginning of the collection. The sea is a mutable symbol in Mayhew's work, but often suggests both the fragility of human lives and relationships, as well as the haunting effects of their loss. There are also several poems which draw on Greek myth to address sexuality, mortality and their inter-relation.

What impresses me most about these poems, however, is the quality of their imagery. In 'Stealing from her Garden', for example, Mayhew describes a scene following her grandmother's death where her uncle 'pinches the flesh of his hands, / as if to draw the whole of her dying / out like a splinter.' Elsewhere, birds fall onto a boat-deck 'like bright drops shaken from an oar.' Let's hope some sensible publisher is soon offering to publish her first full collection.


  1. David, great to meet you at Flarestack launch. I'm enjoying your pamphlet.
    I was very pleased to find this review of the Ledbury reading. It's great to see Jess's work getting the praise it deserves and I entirely agree with your astute comments.

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  3. Great to meet you, too, Roy! I'm glad you're enjoying 'Gaud'.