Our First Half Year

January - July 2012

As William Armitage and Diane Maybank sat in an empty David’s Bookshop on a winter evening in December 2011 they could have been forgiven for thinking that a poetry reading and discussion group would never catch on. People called in, but they were looking for Art Appreciation, had got the wrong evening and couldn’t be tempted to stay for a poem.

Rather than give up they re-scheduled, advertised in The Comet, banked on Seamus Heaney’s Casualty to pull in the crowds and returned to the bookshop in January 2012 to wait and see. Of the nine founder members who turned up that evening eight are still in the group which is now thriving and keen to attract new people.

The group tend to choose themes inspired by the season or national events. February was LOVE, March was SPRING and so on. These seem straightforward but the novelty, pleasure and challenge lie in the variety of ways people interpret each theme. So LOVE invited playful and intense poems from moderns like W H Auden: O Tell me the truth about Love, Sylvia Plath: Morning Song and U A Fanthorpe: Atlas. Thomas Wyatt’s They flee from me that sometime did me seek, John Suckling’s Out upon it, I have loved and William Shakespeare’s Shall I compare thee to a summer's day were a reminder of the enduring contribution the Early Moderns have made to this great theme; while Christina Rossetti’s Echo was a mournful, Gothic voice from the 1860s.

Lines from Chaucer and T S Eliot stood at the gateways to our exploration of SPRING which paid attention to some classics like John Clare’s The Thrush’s Nest and Spring Pools by Robert Frost. More unexpected was the sharpness of vision in Philip Larkin’s Coming and the anguish of Ted Hughes’ Daffodils while The Goose-Girl by Edna St. Vincent Millay kept us intrigued with the strangeness of its symbols and allusions.

In April we indulged in the luxury of a single long narrative poem, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. Some brought illustrations of the poem in contrasting styles: Gothic, romantic, comic book. The evening was fun, full of competing ideas and interpretations. Was the poem a religious allegory? Did Rossetti warn against forbidden desire? Or did she embrace it? Was it a moral tale about transgressing the rules? Whose rules? Its musical rhythms, rhymes and virtuoso word play were a pleasure to read and listen to even if the only certainty to emerge was that it had a wonderful depiction of fruit in and out of season!

On to MAY when our theme was poems written by our Poets Laureate. This offered the chance for us to enjoy some celebrated pieces while others took up the challenge to hunt down and dust off something seldom read and obscure. Poems like: The Prelude (extract) by William Wordsworth, Song to a fair Young Lady, going out of the town in the Spring by John Dryden, and Ladies in Arms by William Davenant made for a memorable evening.

In June we took part in two community events which saw us reading to wider audiences. Two of our group read poems at A Wild Rose Concert in Little Benslow Hills, Hitchin and our June meeting became part of an Open Churches event at The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Letchworth where our theme was FAITH/DOUBT. Members of the congregation and the public read poems and we contributed to a very interesting discussion with: Christina Rossetti’s Twice, John Milton’s On his blindness, Andrew Motion’s For Now, William Herbert Carruth’s Each in his own tongue, Philip Larkin’s Water and U.A. Fanthorpe ‘Unauthorised version’.

The season ended with summer food and drink in the garden enlivened by a rare warm evening and some poems on the theme of SUMMERTIME (when the livin’ is easy). We were intrigued by hearing several versions of the song of that name from Porgy and Bess, while Derek Walcott’s Dark August, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Silent Noon, Emily Dickinson’s Summer Shower, and Heavy Summer Rain by Jane Kenyon were read and much admired. We ended late with a recording of Richard Burton giving his all to Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill.