One early evening in September, the Rose of Hungerford left its moorings with a capacity crowd of poetry lovers who ranted, read softly, who were by turns raucous and demure, explanatory and casual. Head and shoulders above the open mic poets from the floor, both figuratively and literally, was poet and story teller Steve Wallis reading from his second publication Along the Way. The reading was organised by Emma Milne-White of The Hungerford Bookshop; the ‘way’ in question being the Kennet and Avon Canal. In the introductions to his poems Steve elaborated on the technical problems he had set himself and how he solved them. In this book, published by Tawny Owl Press of Newbury, there are poems ranging from sonnets to free verse and haiku to parodies demonstrating Steve’s technical expertise. But these poems are best read for their charm and wit
Here we are then,
the dog and I,
While the morning strives against the sky
Like a patient escapologist;
Let us go, along the waterway,
Before the day
Of restless weather turns to rain
That spits its drops upon the window-pane.
profundity and humour
The male river otter
Is a bit of a rotter
While the female raises the litter of cubs
that came from their brief affair
He does not care
from ‘Lutra lutra’
without bothering too much about the boring bits, the rules poets must learn before breaking them.
Six weeks later Steve Wallis was reading again, this time at West Berkshire Museum in Newbury to a select and appreciative audience, from his first collection Common Words. The common of the title is Greenham and it was highly appropriate that the reading took place in rooms displaying the Common through the ages. The basis of the book is its cover illustration, the magpie’s wing, and the children’s rhyme ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’ takes the reader on a journey. Here we find literary oddities: a fourteen word sonnet, two blank pages for ‘a secret never to be told’ and superb invented words such as ‘picarose.’ Is this pick a rose, pica, the magpie or picaresque? Probably all three, but take your pick. There is even a poem about a crow. Since Ted Hughes very few poets have dared to write about a crow.
Whereas the poems on the barge, propelled nonchalantly along a green canal, were comforting, those read against a backdrop of ‘Greenham Common – One Hundred Years of War and Peace’ were sometimes harsh and poignant informed by a social conscience.
We said “you can’t kill the spirit”
now that message marks our place
showing that there is no limit
holding back the human race
from Common Cause
There is a deliberate omission of a full stop at the end of this piece because there is no end.
Both of these books are worth reading for their robust but delicate feeling and their elegant craftsmanship. Common Words is to be found at West Berkshire Museum, Along the Way at the K & A Stone Building, Newbury Wharf and both are stocked at the Hungerford Bookshop. A copy may also be secured by email to [email protected].