Great Grog Again
Last night, though tired out after a busy day that included helping our neighbour to rebuild the fence along our boundary, I headed into Edinburgh for the third Poetry at the Great Grog event.
Elizabeth Gold kicked off. The work she read jumped off from anecdotes, snatches of overheard conversation and tabloid headlines, but took us to unexpected places. She had a cat poem, but please do not run for cover: it was a poem inspired by seeing a cat posing for a portrait of a dog (where else but Hollywood?), written very wittily in the voice of the cat. Really, it was about celebrity, dreams and reality.
Second up was fellow HappenStancer, Margaret Christie. Margaret’s wonderfully quirky and individual work is laden with musical references and metaphors and often shifts from serious to hilarious and back again without missing a beat. The poem that impressed itself on me the most was her “Eurydice on Skye”, a take on the Orpheus myth from Eurydice’s point of view and a sharp observation of the relationship tensions that can arise on a lengthy walk!
Joy Hendry of Chapman fame followed Margaret. Joy is rarely to be heard reading her own work — I think I’ve heard her only once before, at some Scottish Poetry Library event or other — and, indeed, the editor’s passion that obviously drives her led her to read not only her own work but a few poems from this book. However, it’s her work and performance I want to talk about. Joy has suffered very ill health over the past several years, so it was great to see her looking vibrant and well. She treated us to a lively and varied set of poems in Scots and English, including a Scots translation of the quartet “In a contemplative fashion” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers and a memorable defence of women priests in the Episcopal church.
The last and main reader of the evening was Tom Pow. More than anyone else, Tom had to contend with the music and noise from the bar area — not a problem on previous Great Grog evenings — but he made a great job of it, reading mostly from his new Salt collection, Dear Alice–Narratives of Madness. The book is based on case notes from the 19th century Crichton lunatic asylum near Dumfries; it looks an interesting read. The asylum is now the university campus where Tom teaches; he quipped that the only problem encountered in converting a lunatic asylum into a university was the lack of parking. (One of the New Voices events I did for the SPL took place there; there’s a report here.)
All in all, it was another fine night at the Great Grog, a unique combination of voices I don’t think we’d have heard anywhere else. The audience was a healthier size than in February, perhaps partly because the weather was better, but maybe also because the events are establishing themselves. I spent most of the breaks chatting to artist and pamphlet poet Dorothy Lawrenson, who was along for the first time, as well as to Rob himself, and ended up getting a lift home from Sally Evans. Rob has done an incredible job in sustaining the momentum across the three events so far, and June’s gig — with Kapka Kassabova, Mike Stocks, Eleanor Livingstone and Jim Carruth — looks to continue the quality and distinctive mix.