Visiting William …

daffodilsThe Astronaut poets performed at Keats’ House in the summer, and now they’re off to Wordsworth’s house. Well, if not quite Dove Cottage itself, then as guests of the Wordsworth Trust at the Wordsworth Hotel, as part of the local Arts & Books Festival.

Karen, Liane, Richard and John will be performing on 25th January, the details are here.

Photos from Norwich

The Norwich Astronauts performed first in the Castle and then in the Forum, leading the audience through the city like a troupe of Pied Pipers, if that’s not to mangle our metaphors too much. Pictured: poets John, Liane, Karen and Tom; producer Julia and trainee director Harry.

Poets coming to Norwich #4, Tom Warner

… although Tom already lives in Norwich, so he will miss out on the train ticket / Travelodge fun that is part of the Astronaut touring experience. Someone on the train with us on the way to the Nottingham show listened in to our chat, googled our details and emailed a fan message to one of our number the next day. If anything like that happens again on our way to Norwich, we’ll be sure to let Tom know too.

Tom came to our attention when he was part of the Faber New Poets scheme a couple of years ago. we were the sort of girls who had violin lessons so we were immediately drawn to the characters in this poem …

Under Natural History

every mushroom-picking pocket book I find
contains some kind of disclaimer.

Collecting mushrooms to eat is dangerous.
No field guide is ever comprehensive.

So I bought two, and slung them in a rattan basket.
The kind of basket some of the girls at school

would nurse from Home Ec. in the crook of their elbows.
The kind of girls, like Suzanne Galloway, with thick tights

who sometimes carried violins in rigid cases
for lunchtime sessions in the music block.

All welcome.
Open. Optional. Twelve o’clock.

Once, Brett Coupe pulled the heavy doors open wide enough
for us to peer in at girls standing without their blazers,

violins trapped beneath their chins like telephones or windy babies,
and at their feet were cases filled with satin and crushed velvet.

I kick my boots clean outside and leave them at the door.
On the kitchen table I drop a basket full of mushrooms,

some red as blood, some purple and crinkly-edged
some squishy cups like orange water lilies.

I’m pretty sure this one’s an Amethyst Deceiver.
You ask me why I’d take that risk, but I can’t really answer.

More poems here.

Poets coming to Norwich #3, Karen McCarthy Woolf

Have a look at Karen McCarthy Woolf’s Open Notebook project here … within a couple of clicks you can get to a pantoum written by customer service robots, a sonnet written with one eye closed, and a picture of a plastic Pluto dog in a swimming pool included because it looks like the sun in the sky. Karen’s mind runs around like a busy terrier in a wood, and her poems rattle with the widest range of thoughts and allusions, we like them very much.

The poems which make up her Astronaut show are from a particular sequence about loss, they are an object lesson in how poetry can transform the hardest parts of our lives into something like a treatment, something like a memorial.

Poets Coming to Norwich #2, John McCullough

Our favourite poem by John McCullough is ‘Sleeping Hermaphrodite’ from his book The Frost Fairs (Salt Publishing).

We’re suckers for the power of a good line break, look at everything that happens between ‘toes’ and [pause] ‘honey’. That’s why we picked John to be an Astronaut poet!

Sleeping Hermaphrodite

Asleep? I’m watching you through my lids.
This isn’t easy, tracking your nebulous shape
while you assess my neck’s turn, slide
down to smooth cleavage, tummy, waist

then encounter what’s stashed below my thigh.
Here I am, unveiled as arguable,
a mishmash of harbour and ship—the stay
in thought when all ideas are possible.

I’m everything yet deeply ill-equipped
for solitude. What I need to know
is whether you ache to prise free

the ankle I’ve left loosely wrapped
in a sheet. Singlespeak is boring. Let’s talk toes
and honey. Come on, nosey boy. Surprise me.

(Here’s the Louvre’s version of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite … sweet dreams!)

Poets coming to Norwich #1, Liane Strauss

This is Liane rehearsing for her performance at Keats House – the cafetière is not yet filled with the double strength coffee we use so the audience can get a hint of the full caffeine jolt of her poems. Her show is set at the breakfast bar: that point in the day when all is potential, be it for delight or disaster.

Jaybird first came across Liane’s work writing a review of her pamphlet for Poetry London magazine …

‘Liane Strauss’ Frankie, Alfredo, reads like an invitation list for a fantasy dinner party. Salome, Byron, Catullus, Archimedes and Lady Macbeth are among the VIPs present in the poems; but their lives or work  are serious subjects for the host’s inquisitive and original table-talk. None of these guests are here just to make up the numbers. Reasons to read Strauss are also to be found in her chin-up tone, her fantastic syntactical control and her de luxe subject matter. The next move or the next act of love may be difficult to make, but there’s always something to aim for: ‘the sky is turning / and dark descending dawn dawns and it’s morning’ are the book’s last words. In ‘Boy’ her images – cliffs, birds, pomegranates, lava – progress though an accretion of phrases and parentheses which defer their import to a resolution as satisfying as a thunderous major chord. And when better to consider than in these cash-strapped times her spree of gold couches, champagne, beautiful babies and ‘a fox / dangling from a chair-back / like a provocative suggestion’?’

… and we’ve read her poems with pleasure since. You can read some here  and here, on Clive James’ site. He’s a fan, and the poem he’s chosen, It’s Never Too Early For A Clean Slate, is the one which opens Liane’s show.


Coming Soon …

Here’s a short film we made at Keats House. Norwich and Grasmere, the Astronaut poets are landing soon with you, this is what you can expect …

The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

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A return visit to the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter for Jaybird – we were there last year with our show What Are They Whispering? and were delighted to come back. Collette and Julia string the bunting, ready for performances by Sarah, Liz, Kayo and Billy.

Thank you for having us, Mr Keats

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Two pretty nearly full houses for the afternoon and evening performances at Keats House in Hampstead … and almost a full collection of Astronauts too. Nine of the ten featured poets read – we missed Richard, but he’s working on a radio show in France at the moment, so we’ll catch up with him later in the tour.

In the afternoon, the sun streamed into the Chester room illuminating the writers in their own poetic worlds, and as night fell during the outside evening performance, the tea lights set out under the trees twinkled like galaxies.

These are some rehearsal shots of Amy, Billy, John, Karen, Kayo, Liane, Liz, Sarah and Tom; Phoebe the director and Harry, one of our trainee directors.

Next stop, a return visit for Jaybird to the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter …

At The Beacon, Hastings

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We chatted to the audience during the afternoon of our day long residency at The Beacon in Hastings. The Astronauts were booked for a full length evening dinner poetry show, but in the afternoon they performed tiny extracts for visitors to the house as part of the Coast Currents festival open studio scheme. One particular audience member had been wary of booking the dinner show ticket, she said, because she didn’t know very much about poetry, and didn’t know if she would enjoy a whole evening of it. But the two or three poems each from Sarah, Tom, Amy and Billy performed in a gallery and garden setting  with a few theatrical tricks to point up the meaning of the poems delighted her. This was a way, she said, to welcome her in to poetry’s world, and she felt much more confident in it as a result.

That’s everything that we ever wanted to achieve with our poetry shows, in one in-the-moment, off-the-cuff review.

A beautiful early Autumn day by the sea, with the poets, Phoebe the director, Collette our trainee director and Julia the producer.

Next stop, Keats’ House Museum in London, where the poets will read under the mulberry tree in which his actual nightingale sang …