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Susan Evans at Sheer Poetry

Susan Evans at Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry: Sheer Delight with Susan Evans, John D. Robinson and Lucy Brennan-Shiel

Collapsible stools, a bike and a motley collection of folk poured into the space in Bookbuster’s that Tim Barton had only just managed to get ready at the end of his long working day. And nobody could guess what a heavy day that had been as he handed out glasses of wine and, along with Pete Donohue who was hosting the event, made everyone welcome: the three special guests, poets from the surrounding areas and the ones like us who had come to listen.

Pete Donohue hosting Sheer Poetry

Pete Donohue hosting Sheer Poetry

Pete Donohue, tall, elegant, warm and expansive opened his arms in welcome (literally and it felt good) and started the evening with some of his own poems. Political ones that were clever and funny but it was the personal ones that were the most moving. I remember the one about the young lass who went every day to swim in the sea:

…to wash away the sins of her abusers

and the guilt they had gifted her
 (extract from ‘she swam in the sea’  by Pete Donohue)

Zarir Sethna

Zarir Sethna

Pete switched the mood, made us laugh and started introducing the local poets. There was Brian Docherty, originally from Glasgow, a published poet who read one of his own and then a few of Joyce’s poems to celebrate Bloomsday (of which more in a minute). Carole Segal was there and she’d brought her dog, who did for everyone his yap equivalent of clapping and mostly in the right places. And there was Zarir Sethna with thoughtful evocative poems (not yet published):

We are ghosts that grow to hate the rattle of our chains.
We are hiding in the driver’s seat of the last train home.
extract from poem by Zarir Sethna)

Dee Howard read despite having her arm strapped up and Paul Green read, too. Paul is a widely published author of novels and drama as well as of poems (see his website details below). And Carol Segal presented one of her poems, cheered on as always by her faithful dog, Buster (and there was another dog present, too, Lola from Eastbourne – you can see that everyone was welcome).

Well, we might have been motley when we arrived, but by this time we were blending into a happy mix. No longer disparate, we were getting bound together, happily synched by the rhythms, the sounds of the words, and by Pete chatting in between things and bringing us closer. We were feeling comfortable and comforted. Mellow and ready for more.

John D. Robinson

John D. Robinson

Time for the first special guest and we were introduced to John D. Robinson. I had heard about John before I came because my friend Chandra Masoliver had talked to me about him. “I like his poems,” she said, “especially these words:

like a ghost
falling into the rain.”
(extract from ‘Hang in There‘ by John D. Robinson)

And I liked them, too.

She was right. His poems came straight from the heart and touched you and his images hung in the mind. Among others, John read ‘The Accusation’, ‘Nails it Dead’ and:

Learn to listen,
learn to speak,

and then,
learn to listen again,
most stop
at the 2nd lesson.
(‘Listen, Speak, Listen’ by John D.Robinson)

John was reading from his book Hang in There which you can buy from either Bookbuster or Hastings Independent Press. I’ve got it. It’s a marvellous book.

‘Marvellous?’ Pete asked. ‘What does marvellous mean?’ And Chandra told a story. A mother was brushing her daughter’s hair and the girl whispered the question, “What is sex like?” and her mother kept on brushing saying, “Marvellous.,,,, it’s marvellous…. So ‘marvellous’ will never be quite the same again…

Susan Evans takes floor

Susan Evans takes floor

And then special guest Susan Evans took the floor. A thrilling performer. Dark and intense with beret and smile and laugh that gathers you in and makes you want to hug her. (My dad would have said it was a smile to coax the ducks off the water.) Her poems were the same as she was – powerful, warm and caring. First, she made us laugh (especially us women – but the men, too because I saw them laughing) and then there was a sudden switch and one of her poems brought tears to my eyes.

Susan EvanSusan Evans asks a question

Susan Evans asks a question

“Why do you write?” Susan asked us and Brian said he didn’t care where the inspiration came from when he wrote. Some others of us muttered this and that and she said yes, yes, yes, we were all right, of course. And then she told us about Anais Nin who said that she wrote ‘to taste life twice’. Aren’t we lucky that we can write to taste life twice I thought? And that’s what I’m doing while I’m writing this. I’m tasting last night all over again (so I hope you can taste it, too).

Susan performed ‘Brighton’ (beyond the tourist trail), ‘Moon on a Stick’ (unwanted attention in the workplace), ‘Murder on the Gatwick Express’ (privatisation and erosion of civility on rail services – we’ve all been on that one), ‘Beautiful blur with brown sauce on’ (an elegy), ‘Rude Boy’ (mental health), ‘Irony’ (anti-austerity),  ‘Doorways’ (homelessness), ‘Barcelona’ (takes you there – you can smell the place, feel the heat, think of Lorca – Susan wrote it to ‘taste life twice’ and so we tasted it, too) and ‘Coconut scented bath’ (reflection on time in Havana). Susan is due back in Hastings this autumn as part of the Hastings Story Telling Festival where she will share work from her new book Shift Happens so we all need to look out for that. I can’t wait.

Lucy Brennan-Shiel

Lucy Brennan-Shiel

Just when you think the evening can’t stay this good, it does! There’s a change. Something glorious in a completely different way and it is the third special guest: Lucy Brennan-Shiel performing Joyce. I learned that Bloomsday on 16th June is an annual celebration day of James Joyce and his work. First of all, Brian Docherty read some of Joyce’s poems and then Lucy talked to us about him (James Joyce that is, not Brian).

Not many people present had read Ulysses (including me) and Lucy told us something about the man and the masterpiece. How Ulysses was set in Dublin and the whole novel spanned just 16 hours while Leopold Bloom, the hero, went about his life. Everything in Ulysses seems to be linked to something else. The events follow Homer’s Odyssey. Leopold Bloom is of Hungarian and Jewish descent and so on and so on so that no one person or place can own the book without admitting the existence and importance of the connections to the other people and places.

Lucy Brennan-ShielLucy’s enthusiasm was catching and even before she started performing the section of Ulysses that is dedicated to music in the form of a fugue (or like an orchestra warming up she said), I was wanting to read the book. She said Joyce’s work needed to be absorbed slowly and read in community. I wish you had been with us because I don’t have words to describe it except to say that the sound of the words and the rhythms made me think I was in Ireland, in Dublin, in the book. I was transported. And I wasn’t the only one. She had us spellbound.

Tim Barton and Susan Evans

Tim Barton and Susan Evans

And the evening was over but we turned to talk to our neighbours instead of getting up to go. We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to break the spell and leave so we nearly missed our bus. We have to thank Tim Barton and Pete Donohue for making it possible and thank all the wonderful performers who took part.

The next Sheer Poetry session is in the same place Bookbusters on the Queen’s Rd on July 18th starting at 6 pm. Don’t miss it!

For further information, please see:
Susan Evans and Listen to ‘Barcelona’ and
John D Robinson  – Review and where to buy Hang in There and Poetry from John D. Robinson
Lucy Brennan-Shiel – and and Lucy Brennan does Joyce
Paul Green – paulgreenwriter and
Brian Docherty – Two Poems
Pete Donohue, poet and literature editor at Hastings Independent Press
New Poetry from HIPs Pete Donohue
Contact details: Facebook: Pete Donohue; Twitter: @petedonohuepoet; Instagram: petedonohuepoet; email:

This is a joint article from  Angela J Phillip (Hastings Online Times) and Merlin Betts (Hastings Independent Press). All photos copyright Paul Way-Rider.

For news and events, please see Bookchat – Reasons to feel cheerful and write (and events June 25 onwards)






Posted 18:45 Monday, Jun 24, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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