A (brief) history of Beeston Poetry, with DIY Poets and One Plum Poem
A (brief) history…
Earlier this year in April, Henry Normal came to Beeston Library for his ‘Poetry Hour’ as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival. One of the first things he spoke about was that Beeston has had a history of being a poetry hot-spot, and that it was one of the places gigging poets would make sure they performed at. Phrases like ‘Have you done Beeston?’ would pass between poets, giving the town a national reputation.
This has sparked the need for a revival, and you can read our Poetry Round-up section to see the latest poetry events, including a new monthly open mic hosted by Pottle of Blues. But before we get to that, it’s worth having a look at the history of poetry in Beeston, and speaking to a few local poets to get a sense of what Beeston’s poetry scene had, and still has, to offer.
The focal point of anyone considering our poetry history will undoubtedly always end up being the Poets in Beeston series which ran for ten years from Spring 1983, when Robert Gent organised a series of poetry readings at Beeston Library ‘with the aim of strengthening the library’s role in literature promotion’. This was before my time, but I have heard about it over the years, and seen their anthology Poems for the Beekeeper appear in Oxfam Books and Music a number of times.
The first series of events became so popular that they decided to put on a second series, and so on and so on for the next ten years. There are still people in and around Beeston who remember the series, and attended some the events, including Kathy Bell, who offered her insight on the series via Beeston Updated after our editor-in-chief, Matt, shared the sentiments of Henry Normal:
“Highlights included Sarah Maguire, Amryl Johnson, Sheenagh Pugh, Catherine Fisher, U. A. Fanthorpe (reading with her partner, the poet R. V. Bailey) and the double-act of Michael Rosen and Leon Rosselson. I moved to Beeston just too late to hear David Gascoyne and had to be away when Benjamin Zephaniah performed. I was very sorry when the seasons ended as they were a great delight as well as an education in contemporary poetry.”
There was also a message passed to us on behalf of one of the main organisers of the Poets in Beeston series, Margaret MacDermott, who said: “Poetry readings in libraries are commonplace now but we were one of the first in the country to do them. They were the idea of my then manager Robert Gent. They were a huge success and I think we had almost every poet of prominence except Ted Hughes. We also had what were then promising newcomers, people like Jackie Kay. After Robert left our funding was withdrawn, I can’t tell you how many letters of complaint I received. I am so glad people remember them with fondness.”
Just from reading these comments, I can get a sense of what poetry readings meant to people back then, and although performance poetry has in no way disappeared, it is less common in Beeston now than it used to be. However, with the newly refurbishes library, there has been a lot more opportunities for events, and plenty of these have been poetry-oriented.
To try and get an idea of poetry’s place in Beeston today, I spoke to a few people about what they’re doing, and what poetry and Beeston together has meant for them.
The DIY Poets aren’t strictly a Beeston group, as they meet, perform and hold events mostly in Nottingham, but Beeston is home to a couple of members of the group, Martin Dean and Alistair Lane. The DIY Poets started fifteen years ago, with the creation of the first issue of their free A6 zine (they are now on issue 41).
Martin Dean, who has been a member of the DIY Poets for 3 years, describes himself as a ‘one-time Beeston resident’ as he’s lived here for just 6 years. He used to work at Plessy’s as an electronics designer, and liked the area. He says he’s always written in one form or another, but it was getting involved with the DIY Poets and having their support that has helped him with writing and performing at more events.
When asked about what he’d like to see from an open mic in Beeston, he says: “I want to see it bring people in that wouldn’t necessarily go to a poetry gig, but for them to walk away saying ‘that was great!’ The extension to that is being able to nurture new talent and to be able to say ‘so and so: Beeston Poet’ and put Beeston on the map.”
Martin has also been working on a collection of poems, that by the time you read this will be printed and in the hands of readers. It’s titled The Curious Dance Between Life and Death, and when asked what the themes of the collection are, he says, “It has a balance of life affirming vibrant pieces and the macabre. I’ve sifted and sorted bits that I’ve been writing over the last few years and got it down to a shortlist of 20 poems: One hanging, one beheading, falling from a great height, dying a natural death, and a soldier being shot in the trenches…then it’s all uphill from there!”
Jenny Swann: Poet and Publisher
Jenny Swann was one of our judges for the Buzzword poetry competition, and is a wonderful poet and publisher who has lived in Beeston for the past 13 years. Even before she moved here, she had one of her poetry collections published by John Lucas of Shoestring Press, which is why Beeston was on her radar when house-hunting. “It seemed a good place to head for because I knew there was poetry in Beeston,” she says. “Beeston is a fantastically creative community and very much supports its poets, writers and other artists. I feel that by moving to Beeston we got it spot on. It’s a natural home for writers and artists to flourish.”
Her creative journey in the region started when she was introduced to Ross Bradshaw, who asked her to be his poetry editor for Five Leaves. It was doing that job which made her realise how much she loved poetry pamphlets and publishing. “It was through discussions with Ross about how to give pamphlets a higher profile in bookshops that I founded Candlestick Press in 2008 and ran for 8 years,” she says. “I feel that if I hadn’t been in Beeston in the early days I don’t think I’d have been able to do that.”
Sadly, Jenny had to step down from Candlestick Press in 2016, but this has not stopped her creative drive and passion for poetry. In March of this year she set up a new project: One Plum Poem. The concept is that when you give someone a card, they get a poem inside it too, and she currently has 8 different kinds which include: Give Yourself a Hug (a poem to cheer your friends up), get well soon, a poem for mothers, and two designs for children featuring a hippo and dinosaur. They are all illustrated beautifully, and celebrate the idea of poetry as a gift.
“My push has always been that poetry is this wonderful art form that is a treat people are missing out on, I’ve always had the same impulse for wanting people to engage with poetry,” says Jenny. She’s also got two more designs on the way, including a Christmas card with a previously unpublished poem by Carol Ann Duffy. The cards are currently for sale in Five Leaves Bookshop, Foyles in London, and on the website at oneplum.co.uk.
A Buzzword poem:
A poem for Beeston – Alistair Lane
Across the centre of this land,
From town to town I roamed
Till fortune shined its light on me,
And in Beeston found my home.
Not in shops or trams,
Or vaunted green-space treasure
But residing in the people
A simpler, honest pleasure.
Uncomplicated and direct;
Each spade described as such
But dig beneath the surface
And revel in their touch.
Diligent and dedicated
Strong and firm of heart.
Easier to love
Than an apiary work of art.
My wandering days are done:
No further shall I roam
Now fortune’s shined its light on me
And in Beeston found my home.
Free, every first Sunday of the month, 4-6pm Pottle of Blues micropub
With plenty of open mic slots, this is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon listening to (or performing) poetry.
INSPIRE POETRY FESTIVAL 2018
Tuesday 25 Sept-Saturday 29 Sept, prices vary
The Inspire Poetry Festival is visiting Beeston for the first time! More poets are coming to Beeston Library following the success of Word! and the Poetry Hour with Henry Normal. For a full programme visit: inspireculture.org.uk/poetry-festival