LITERATURE LIVE: Salena Godden And Friends At Crowley’s Bar
This was a poetry night unlike many. Organised by Printed Matter and compèred by talented local poet David Francis, the theme was ostensibly epic poetry and electric guitars, but went on to capture more of a spirit of rebellion, protest, and plain honesty in the face of an often dishonest world.
As you might expect from a place called Crowley’s Bar, the sense of epic poetic and electric power play somehow managed not to alienate other themes, even if there were some surface differences in the corrupt romanticism of one and the grounded optimism of the other. Crowley’s has a good space for poetry, both downstairs in the large and wheelchair-accessible central zone, and upstairs by its vaguely gothic stage space. David Francis had his book launch at Crowley’s for Dangerous Dogs. Then and now, performers’ words and works blended to create a powerful magick overall.
The evening kicked off with Francis introducing published writer Aviva Treger giving her first live reading. Treger takes her inspiration from historical Hastings events and adds her own unique take. We heard three short stories from her including the surreal ‘What Came Out Of The Box’, about true events in the 1920s featuring real people and locations like Fairlight Glen, the Dripping Well and Queen’s Arcade. The audience were appreciative of a worthy debut performance.
Next up was HIP’s own charismatic poet, Pete Donohue, no stranger to performance both locally and further afield. As well as reading from his chapbooks Poems For Tommy Two-Guns and Scream Before They Kill Your Poetry, Donohue aired some brand new work. The personal, the political and his trademark themes of mental health, marginalisation, love and death were all in there. As usual he involved the audience in repeating choruses and sometimes dodging paper as he ripped up his poetry or fired it into the audience as a crumpled up ball or paper plane.
Fantastic upbeat sets from Treger and Donohue perhaps left the audience unprepared for Black Arches (Gareth Rees and Matt Frost), who seemed an unusual (but brilliant) addition to the set list. I thoroughly enjoyed their doom-laden vocals verging on melodrama, and the sometimes apocalyptic soundscape they built as backing. Maybe it doesn’t do them justice but for ease of reference (or for reference at all) they embody everything I like about sound in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. However, they didn’t go down so well for a few of those who turned up with a focus on Salena Godden’s set. Understandably perhaps. Godden’s way of dealing with the mad and bad of our society is bold in a different way, trying to press forward with clearly spoken statements of life lived and life that can be made better.
Godden is an inspiring presence and a capable performer, controlling the audience naturally and leading us to salient points or comic breaks. The title of her book Pessimism is for Lightweights: 13 Pieces of Courage and Resistance summarises her attitude well. The book includes poems written for, during and after attending protests and rallies, and more generally Godden isn’t afraid of writing on-the-hoof. Her poem Gentle Reminderwas written on her phone in a doctor’s waiting room. In fact, this seems to typify her attitude to life and her work: get out, engage, be a part of the world, make it better. She certainly didn’t struggle to rally the audience at Crowley’s. Although there might have been more female voices calling out in appreciation for cervical checks and taking pride in their blood, everyone appreciated the honesty, and perhaps even righteousness of Godden’s poetry, and her drive for just expression.
• Find some of Salena’s work on her website, www.salenagodden.co.uk or buy her book from Hastings’ own Printed Matter, on Queens Road. Lee at Printed Matter can also help you hunt down copies of Aviva, Pete, and David’s works.
ALL PICTURES: Anna Arnone
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