September 2012 - July 2013

With its unpredictable take on mundane themes the poetry for pleasure group has completed its first full year of meetings.

We now have an archive of over 180 poems – all chosen, shared, discussed and enjoyed since we set up in January 2012. We enjoy reading aloud, a bit of research, a touch of drama and the surprise of the new and unfamiliar.

Here is a selection of the year’s highlights and a record of our themes month by month.

Lost in Translation was our first theme of the new season in September with poetry in Welsh, French, Spanish, Italian, Zulu and Afrikaans. We heard all these languages spoken during the evening and paid a lot of attention to losses or changes between English versions and the original texts. We thought of les soirs étoilés, grug y mynydd yn eu blodau, Con el aire se batian/las espadas de los lirios and piove su imirti/divini/su le ginestra fulgenti – who needs translation when the originals sound this good?

Autumn/Harvest was the obvious choice for October which introduced us to unfamiliar poems by O M Livingston, Charlotte Zolotow and Edna St Vincent Millay. It wouldn’t be autumn without being reminded of Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but this time seeing how it compared with T S Eliot’s more urban and industrial yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes.

Our November theme was War, made less predictable by a wide choice of poems reflecting on many conflicts in many styles. Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est stood alongside Kenny Martin’s contemporary reflections in I went to see the soldiers. Wars past were represented by Southey’s plain speaking satire on The Battle of Blenheim and George Bilgere’s rueful reflection of hero worship and disappointment in At The Vietnam Memorial. J G Magee’s High Flight is a favourite we seem to keep returning to, it has featured three times so far. Finally, the Child ballad Bonnie George Campbell, sung by Nick Jones was an eloquent and heart-felt reminder of what love, pride, family, community and landscape mean to those who have left home to fight in wars down the ages.

Christmas poems enlivened our December meeting along with some party food and drink. We evoked moods as different as Christina Rossetti’s Love came down at Christmas, U Tube’s Twelve Gays of Christmas and Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys!

January was a good opportunity to imagine bleak landscapes like that of Aarhus in Seamus Heaney’s The Tollund Man, to ponder Ted Hughes’ Snowdrop as it bows its pale head heavy as metal and to feel the keen wind of man’s ingratitude as Shakespeare fashioned it in As You Like It. Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening may be an over-used anthology favourite but it never fails to mesmerise with its somnolent easy wind and downy flake. By contrast Jacob Polley’s Smoke gave us fresh insights into the drama of family relations and a wonderfully unsettling view of the unborn child: looking up at the light let down her throat/when my mother sang or spoke.

Shakespeare’s Tough Chicks certainly brought some warmth to our February evening, a chance not only to give voice to some of the most dynamic women characters of the Early Modern period but to do some group play reading. Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Olivia, Emilia and the Duchess of York made thrilling, demanding companions and perhaps a few school days’ ambitions were fulfilled.

Shakespeare spilled over into the following month to ensure everyone had their fifteen minutes in the limelight, leaving a little bit of time to spare for humour and satire, our theme for March.

April brought an excursion into the poetry of North America with offerings as diverse as Fred Voss’s The Inspection and Dorothy Parker’s The Gunman and the Debutante; but most intriguing was the voice of French Canadian poet Émile Nelligan. His writing has a lyrical melancholy which some of us associated with his modern compatriot Leonard Cohen.

One of the year’s highlights in May was a group reading by candlelight of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This was a demanding choice which produced an interesting range of interpretations and for those who let the doomed and troubled mariner into their minds, a rather restless night.

Sport was June’s more light-hearted theme; poems celebrated cricket, tennis, football, bowling, diving and fencing, often drawing parallels between their particular nature and living one’s life. There was also time to reflect on love as a sport and how Tudor deer hunting was a cultivated metaphor for Henry’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn. There would definitely be something missing in an evening on sport without Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song and someone duly chose it. It’s very familiar but still prompts questions about Betjeman’s tone and feelings for Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

A warm summer evening meant a party in the garden to end the season with flowers and gardens as our theme. As usual the choice was eclectic; ranging from Sheridan’s mildly risqué The Geranium through Jimmie Rodgers’ singalong In an English Country garden, Kipling’s The Glory of the Garden and Dorothy Frances Gurney’s God’s Garden. We ended with the more sombre and puzzling lines from I made a Garden by Felix Dennis and Christina Rossetti’s wonderful Gothic, melancholy piece Shut Out.

Songs were a strong feature of our evenings this year. Among a particularly memorable bunch were: Nat King Cole’s version of Autumn Leaves, Eric Bogle’s And the band played waltzing Matilda, Where have all the flowers gone sung by Pete Seeger, Fairy tale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl, Suzanne by Leonard Cohen, and the truly bizarre There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys.

During the year we were sorry to say goodbye to Robert (humour, great choice of poems, rich dramatic voice) and pleased to welcome Sally (interesting research, great take on modern poetry). Diane Maybank (group co-ordinator)