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At Water Yeat

On Saturday I set off on the train to do a poetry reading in the Lakes. I was staying with Jennifer and Martin Copley. I'd met Jennifer briefly before, and read her Arrowhead book, but I had no idea that what was going to happen could be so . . . well - it all seemed extraordinary to me.


It was a very nice train journey in all sorts of ways. These journeys are always odd for me because I spend much of them memorising poems (not all of them by me). But you meet interesting people or overhear conversations that haunt you afterwards. This time one of the people I will remember was Francis, who had been a missionary in Angola. What he saw there traumatised him so much that he went (in his own words) 'into solitude' for twenty years. But he was one of a family of 12, and he was meeting three of his siblings for the first time in two decades. His solitude up to then had not even extended to talking to family. He said he had almost not travelled at all: he was fearful of meeting the sister he had always been close to, because twenty years ago he had shut her out. Even at the station before the one where he got off, he said - 'I could still turn back.' But he didn't turn back. He got off the train in his straw hat with his shopping trolley of luggage. He seemed ineffably cheerful to the train travellers, me included. Sometimes cheerfulness seems to grow on top of sadness, like brilliant flowers on top of a dung heap.

Then Jennifer picked me up and took me to her house, which is a dream house, a glorious glorious house. It is quite beautiful in and of itself, but also because it is full of beautiful things, many of them sculpted heads created by Martin, her husband. It is the sort of house that belongs in a book. You could stay there for a year just wandering round picking up little objects and curiosities. Or watching the light falling across the floors or filtering through the windows. Even Ruby, the little dog, seemed like a magical dog out of a book.

Before the reading, which was at Water Yeat village hall, near Coniston, Jennifer took me for a meal with some members of the committee. That sounds a little like a meeting of the People's Commissariat, but no, no, it was wonderfully not like that. Again, we arrived - after a sequence of beautiful deep green twisty lanes at another beautiful and ancient house, with stone flagged floors. We were to have eaten in the garden, but great fat drops of rain began to announce their inevitability, so we repaired to the dining room where an amazing meal appeared. It was a kedgeree with a whole quail's egg in its shell on the top of each portion, and beautiful salad with walnuts, and then a huge bowl of strawberries with cream for dunking, and then a plate of cheeses... Oh a fabulous meal!

And then off again in the summer evening, down more poetry lanes, to Water Yeat village hall, with its little tables, each adorned with a posy of flowers, and quietly merry people chatting. What a lovely atmosphere there was - what a privilege to be invited to read there. There were floor spots where each poet read just a very few texts - and each poem was delivered as if cherished. The quality of listening was second to none, and although this was a real old-fashioned village hall that FELT like a village hall, the acoustic was very good indeed. And there was serious writing and there was mirth. And in the middle there was an amazing performance on a trumpet from a beautiful young woman called Kim Moore who also writes poetry! People are astonishingly gifted.

It was a lovely atmosphere, a very special kind of event. If I lived near enough I would go to each and every one of their readings: there are about five a year . .

fair but fleet
the pleasure sweet
when metres meet
at Water Yeat
at Water Yeat

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Thursday, 09 February 2023