September 2016 – July 2017

This year we marked our fifth anniversary in July and look forward to many more years to come.

Our themes this year took shape around our usual mix of simple words which lend themselves to interesting and surprising interpretation. Our membership was unchanging and we reached our five year milestone.

          The new season began in September with a theme we had visited before and where poems are in strong supply: Animals. We admired The Gazelle by Rainer Maria Rilke for its stunning imagery, The Pettichap’s Nest by John Clare for its simplicity and truth to experience, while Teaching a Dumb Calf prompted some talk about what we like and dislike about Ted Hughes’ poetry. Also heard that evening were: Cat by Mandy Ross, Tyger by William Blake and Mrs Malone by Eleanor Farjeon.

          The Supernatural was our choice for October. We enjoyed but failed to be spooked by: The Listeners by Walter de la Mare, The Way through the woods by Rudyard Kipling, and Windy Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson - all of which set the general scene and atmosphere for the other-wordly. Then came delicate poems about personal grief: Spectres that Grieve by Thomas Hardy, The Other Side of the Mirror by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, and Tenebris Interlucentem by James Elroy Fletcher. For those who don’t take the supernatural too seriously or see a way to use it to personal advantage, we had: The Ghost of the Murderer’s Hut by Banjo Paterson, and The Apparition by John Donne. Ballads, wonderfully atmospheric and resonant as always, ended the evening: The Sands of Dee by Charles Kingsley, and The Silkie of Sule Skerry (Anon), the latter sung truly, deeply mournfully.

          We tried something new in November, a season suited to a poem from the wintry lands of Scandinavia. We read extracts from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, these featured centre-stage: the hero’s journey, where clashing arms ring out against the keel of a boat speeding through the waters, the rituals of welcome in the mead hall, the heroic battles of man against monster, the nature of fate - unknowable but certain, the humbling grief of a mighty king bereft of son and heir, Beowulf’s death and the chaos of grief contrasted with the consolation of a ritual farewell. If you allow it, it will transport you and Heaney’s language reflects a principled, doleful and stoical world.

          In December, we were entertained by Banquets and Feasting: Open House by U A Fanthorpe, How Shall I Dine? by Jonathan Swift, The Twelve Days of Christmas (anon), The Ballad of Bouillabaisse by Thackeray, The Boar’s Head Carol (Traditional), The Jumblies by Edward Lear, King Wiflaf’s Drinking Horn by Longfellow, Last Supper by Liz Lochhead, The Waitress and the Knights of the Round Table by Lemn Sissay, and The Diet by Carol Ann Duffy.

          In January New Beginnings brought us: I am Selling My Daughter for 100 Won by Jang Jin-Sung, Invictus by William Ernest Henley, The Rolling English Road by G K Chesterton, New Year Poem: O That Abstract Garden by Ben Okri, A Psalm of Life by Longfellow, La Cigale et la Fourmi by Jean De La Fontaine and Thermopylae by Amy Clampitt. I spent December and January in New Zealand, so can’t comment on how these poems played.

          In February we succumbed to the pressures of the 14th and pursued Romance for the third time in our short history: She walks in Beauty by Lord Byron was praised for its evocation of a moment, perfectly formed. A Marriage and Luminary by R S Thomas were sensitive and intriguing, especially as one of them was found after his death and clearly not meant for publication. The Ballad of the Oysterman by Oliver Wendell Holmes was a lively piece, and we issued a collective exclamation as its calamitous tale unfolded to its climax – works every time! Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc continued the lively mood with its musicality. Valentine for a middle-aged Spouse by Elaine Feinstein divided opinion - some wondered ‘what’s all the fuss about?’, others, ‘I think it’s a satire’, and to conclude, ‘it’s the reality of marriage and you shouldn’t feel threatened’. Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley was at first accepted as a sincere love lyric – but he was a free thinker and is it only a kiss he’s after? The Horse Susan Premru was an interesting piece from a newcomer, the poem had to stand on its own two feet as we couldn’t find out much about her. Finally Farmhand by New Zealander James K Baxter and Ploughman Lads (traditional) were offered for comparison. One explored the individuality and social experience of a buttoned up, laconic young man while the ballad offered insights into the collective psyche of country people from the past.

          March suggested Madness but there were no hares in the poems we read. We interpreted the theme widely and although we didn’t avoid the issues of depression and alienation, things turned out to be more light hearted than gloomy: Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun by Noel Coward, Wander-thirst by  Gerald Gould, Talking to Yourself by Kathryn Simmonds, Ode to Melancholy by Keats, One need not be a chamber – to be haunted – and Much Madness is divinest sense by Emily Dickinson, I Am by John Clare, Requiem by Anna Akhmatova, and the Lady Macbeth sleepwalking scene from Macbeth by Shakespeare.

          Our theme for April was Time, it produced one of the widest selections of the year: Five o’clock Shadow by John Betjeman, If I could tell you by W H Auden, And the days are not full enough by Ezra Pound, Ruins of a Great House by Derek Walcott, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Against that time, If ever that time come and That time of year thou mayest in me behold, Star Gazer by Louis MacNeice, Out upon it by Sir John Suckling, Second Hand by Ciaran Carson, To the virgin to make much of time by Robert Herrick, Never the time and the place by Robert Browning. We ended the evening with a reading of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Pete Seeger’s song: To everything there is a season, sung with clarity and beauty by Judy Collins.

          The poetry of Simon Armitage was the focus of our discussion in May. ‘He’s brutal, he’s lacking in warmth, he’s so varied, he’s funny, he has developed so much as a poet’, we all said. We read: The Ornithologists 1992, You May Turn Over and Begin… 1992, The Two of Us 1993, The Tyre 1997, Cataract Operation 2003, I’ve started to think 2002, The Spelling 2006, A Vision 2006, Poodles 2010, and In Avondale 2014. The evening did his reputation no harm and some liked him better by the end of it.

          The Summer Solstice – The Longest Day was an appropriate theme for June and we read our poems in the lingering heat and fading light of a summer evening in the garden: Summer Solstice by Stacie Cassarino, Moonrise by Gerard Manley Hopkins, lines from Tithonous by Alice Oswald, Campaign by Carol Ann Duffy, The Longest Day that God Appoints by Emily Dickinson, Midsummer Eve by Siegfried Sassoon, Heliotropical by Lavinia Greenlaw and The Longest Day by George Meredith.

          In July we went out for a meal to thank each other for our contributions to this enterprise: for taking pains to make good choices, for thinking of others when we choose, for doing just enough research, for respecting each other’s preferences and being good readers and listeners.