Tuesday 14th March £5 entry
Lily Redwood (Abergavenny) is a poet, birth worker, facilitator, film maker and mother of two.
Lily studied Creative Writing at Leeds University. In 2001 she directed and produced
the first community production of The Vagina Monologues in the UK. Since then, she
has had a passion for creating spaces for women’s voices to be heard – from performance
through to the birth room. In 2016 she co-wrote, produced and directed award-winning
ecological documentary “wetheuncivilised: A Life Story”. Lily writes about the everyday
extraordinary, from the political to the poetical. Her current work explores themes such
as birth, death and parenting.
clare e. potter (Church Village) bilingual poet, radio presenter, participatory artist, second poetry
collection is under offer. She had a Literature Wales bursary and a grant from the
Society of Authors to complete the book. She is working on projects to facilitate
well-being and writing through nature and is learning poetry therapy practice thanks
to Arts Council funding. She directed BBC Wales documentary about her village barber
and will be presenting poetry programmes for BBC radio this year.
Dr. Rhiannon Hooson (Presteigne) is a Welsh poet and author.
She has won major awards for her work, including an Eric Gregory award from the Society
of Authors, and performed at literature festivals and venues across Europe and the UK,
including London, Milan and the Hay festival. Her first full length collection, The Other
City, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award, and was described by the
judges as “Stunning.” She lives in Welsh Marches after time spent living in Ulaanbaatar,
Tuesday 18th April £5 entry
Ann Gray’s (Cornwall) collections include At The Gate (Headland, 2008), The Man I Was Promised
(Headland, 2004), and most recently, a pamphlet, I wish I had more mothers a winner in
the Smith/Doorstop pamphlet competition 2018. She was Poet in residence at Cambridge
University Botanic Gardens as part of the Thresholds University Museums Project, curated
by the Poet Laureate in 2013. Winner of the Ballymaloe poetry prize in 2014, “My Blue Hen”
was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the best single poem in 2015. With David she was
co -director of the Bodmin Moor Poetry festival.
David Woolley (Cornwall) has published one pamphlet and three full collections, the latest being
Pursued by a Bear (Headland, 2010). A long poem, City of Water , celebrating his home city
of Plymouth is due in autumn 2022 from Kiss & Bite Letterpress. He has also co-edited
anthologies of poems in celebration of both Bob Dylan and The Beatles, both published by Seren.
David was in charge of events and festivals at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea for fifteen years.
He has more recently been co-director, with Ann, of the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival in Cornwall.
Together Ann and David live and work in Cornwall where Ann has run a care home for people
with dementia for more than thirty years. David has worked with Ann at the home for the last ten
years. They will read from their joint collection DearLife.
Hilary Llewellyn-Williams (Abergavenny) is the author of six poetry collections from Seren, the latest of
which (The Little Hours – New and Selected Poems) waspublished in July 2022. She had a long
career as a poet and teacher of creative writing before qualifying as a psychotherapist in 2009.
Her poems are rich in imagery and rooted in the natural world and in the mysteries of relationship.
She has been called “a metaphysical poet for our times”. She now lives in Abergavenny.
Tuesday 16th May £5 entry
Kelvin Corcoran (Brussels) lives in Brussels. He is the author of numerous books of
poetry, including New and Selected Poems, For The Greek Spring, Facing West, Not Much
To Say Really, Article 50, Below This Level, and The Republic of Song, and Orpheus Asymmetric.
2023 will see the publication of his Collected Poems and Transparent Blue of Everything,
a collaboration with the artist David Rees.
Kelvin Corcoran has also edited an account of the poetry of Lee Harwood in Not the Full Story:
Six Interviews with Lee Harwood, 2008. He’s the co-editor with Robert Sheppard of The New
Collected Poems of Lee Harwood forthcoming 2022.
Xavier Panadès (Catalonia) has produced a striking bilingual collection of poetry that
explores the world of a Catalan exile, where the themes of the environment and belonging
mix with intensely personal experiences and wider political reflections. Catalan born Xavier
Panadès I Blas was brought up in a peasant family and educated to the revolutionary values
of solidarity, justice, and freedom. Xavier has been instrumental in the internationalisation
the culture of the Catalan Lands. He has been stunning audiences for the last 20 years with
his explosive performances in Catalan. He is the author of The Ear of Eternity.
Jonathan Richards (Merthyr Tydfil) is a former general practitioner and Health Board
Clinical Director. He has been writing poems for twenty five years. He participated in the
Masters in Writing course at the University of South Wales in 2015-2017. He was commended
by the Hippocrates Poetry Competition in 2019 for his poem ‘Rapids’. His poems have appeared
in anthologies including Red Poets, These Are The Hands, The Saccharin Poetry collection Vol 1
His collections include River Days, and Fall, Falling, Fallen.
The posters go up. They look good. The pub’s large windows display the words, POETRY UPSTAIRS …
The Flannel Street pedestrian traffic shuffles past.
In this buy one get one free age; in this on-line world; in this reality TV-glued society, who’s looking for a poetry reading?
The answer, truthfully and most often, is a poet.
Audience-wise there’s a good mix dropping in: the rhyme-dabbler; the creative writing course enrolee; the scarred survivor of a love-crashed relationship (thank you, never stop) but few, oh so few of those who should have their ears close to the literary ground. I’m citing anybody locally who works in a bookshop; anybody who works in a library; anybody involved in associated arts and the promotion of arts; anybody who teaches literacy – at any level.
The mainstay patrons at any reading at the Hen & Chicks have always been writers and poets, supporting and challenging the guest reader, urging the very best for their £5.00 entry. No, you didn’t mishear. That £5 entry fee, held for a decade (for 13 years it was £3) has bought readings from: Carol Anne Duffy, Lee Harwood, Tom Pickard, Menna Elfyn, Chris Torrance, Peter Finch, Barry MacSweeney, Val Bloom, Ian McMillan…the list goes on.
Poets from USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, India and closer to home, Scotland, Ireland, England & Wales have guested at Poetry Upstairs. You can see much of this history by clicking here.
It would be a mistake to consider that the events operate in a division three or four poetry league table. The audience expects and gets the best.
Things started in 1992 when The Collective was formed by John Jones
‘to provide an opportunity for poets and writers to publish their work. Funding for each publication to be raised through a series of poetry events held in Abergavenny.’
It would be careless to exclude the force that Jeff Nuttall brought to the early readings. (For those who don’t know, Jeff Nuttall was, and remains, a highly regarded, polemical author and poet who came through on the British Poetry Revival wave and made his name with the ground-breaking publication, Bomb Culture in 1968). He was chairman of The Collective Writers Group (a branch of the already mentioned Collective) which met each fortnight at the Hill College, Abergavenny. This group of poets ploughed a deep furrow of expression. It was a challenging table at which to sit. Labi Siffre, Anne Cluysenaar, Graham Hartill, Jane Blank etc. tore into each other’s work like winter wolves. Jeff Nuttall demanded comment around the table was not enough and that the writing should be brought into the public domain. This resulted in the readings at the Castle Museum, Abergavenny.
At Andy’s house, by the canal at Gilwern, a dozen of us would meet, compile and staple the pamphlets ready for the next launch and reading.
After a year at Abergavenny Museum (by the way, Frank Olding was Curator there at the time and ‘procured’ that facility) a more permanent home was found: the Hen & Chicks.
I hope I’m creating the correct impression: poets are outsiders; activists, outlaws, revolutionaries unimpressed by a sanitized world – that said, one notable poet did actually work for a bank! Little wonder he wrote The Waste Land.
I deliberately avoid terms: ‘local poet’ & ‘local poetry’: they are misleading.
From the beginning (and to this day) the Abergavenny scene attracts poets from far and wide. The locus is Abergavenny, but the expression is far from parochial.
William Carlos Williams later pounced on it, “The local is the only universal – upon which all art builds.”
During the early years of the Abergavenny Poetry Scene audience numbers were constantly huge, with Robert Minhinnick and Canadian poet, John Clarke enjoying a peak turnout of eighty-six. Heady days, and although numbers are now variable, the spirit of poetry continues and the doors remain ever-open. Yes, the readings could have plummeted to the circus level of poetry slam or the weariness of poems ‘n’ pints in order to lure the public, but those never were, and are not options.
The readings have been likened to an Askesian Society of literary experimenters. There is no house style.
Thirty years on and the readings continue, open to all who wish to pass through or remain with one of the longest regularly running poetry reading series in Wales.
It’s been a joyous time, a love affair of sorts. The buzz of anticipation held in that upstairs room prior to every occasion is testament to the regard in which the oral tradition of poetry is held.
If you’ve never been… make a belated New Year’s resolution and do come along and be part of the The Abergavenny Poetry Scene at The Melville Centre for Arts..
Ric Hool for the Melville Theatre, Abergavenny