Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars? Who Needs the Oscars?!

It was a packed house and a night of surprises. A night to remember, even if it wasn't a night of tears. No, I'm not talking about that minor award ceremony in Holywood. I mean the Shore Poets reading last night. The crowds turned out--well, the Mai Thai was crowded--to hear Jacob Polley, Debbie Cannon and Diana Hendry and for the first Mark Ogle Memorial Poem, from Angus Peter Campbell. It was lovely to have a strong contingent from Mark's family there--his widow and daughter with their partners and his twin sisters--as well as several of Mark's old friends.

Angus Peter may have missed out on the Oscars and we may not have been able to compete with Tinseltown on glitz, red carpets and sartorial swish, but the lack was made up in depth and quality of speech. It was one of those nights when everything fitted together as neatly as if it had all been planned in detail. Debbie Cannon kicked off with a good set well read. For me, her first poem--a strong sonnet about seeing her mother's face in the mirror--had the most impact. (You can read it here. The closing couplet is what makes the poem stand out.) It set the theme for most of her set and, in a way, most of the evening.

Diana Hendry continued the family theme all through her set of typically sharp, witty poems form her forthcoming new collection. Jacob Polley started off in family vein with "Smoke" from his first collection, The Brink, but, with poems from his latest book, soon introduced the second theme of the evening: rain. There were smiles among those of us who knew exactly what was following his set. Diana and Jacob share another link: friendship with the late William Scammell. Diana read a poem for Scammell, while Jacob read one of Scammell's poems.

The reading culminated in the Mark Ogle Memorial Poem. It's a new feature of Shore Poets life but a celebration of one of the group's earliest members. In fact, as founder-member Brian Johnstone said, it was Mark joining him and Morelle Smith that made Shore Poets a group as such. And my! Haven't we grown! Brian's tribute to Mark set the tone of celebration. Mark's widow, Deborah Nelken (who bakes the famous Shore Poets lemon cake) spoke about how much the inauguration of the memorial poem means to Mark's family and his daughter Lizzie presented Angus Peter with the trophy that comes with the commission. It's a beautiful, simple carving of a boat, representing Mark's family connection with the sea and his conviction that life is a journey. Into the top is carved a line of Mark's: "a secret ballast/ steadied your spirit".

Angus Peter then read. He had been asked to respond to a poem of Mark's--"English Rain", which you can read here (third poem down)--and had written three poems, one in English as a direct response and two in Gaelic as slightly more oblique responses. He read the latter two first, before reading Mark's poem and his direct response,"Our Rain", beautifully and movingly. I'll post a link to "Our Rain" once it's been published on the Shore Poets website.

Music for the evening was provided by our very own Alison Reeves on the fiddle. Alison played three sets of three tunes, a lively mix of Irish and Scottish music. She wrapped up the evening by bringing us full circle to family with tunes she'd written for her parents' 50th birthdays. A suitably celebratory note to round off a night of magical connections.

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