A Part of the Scenery

Long time committee member and open-mic staple Trish Harewood writes about her life, how she came to poetry, and CB1’s history.

When I first found CB1 through the Cambridge Poetry Festival at The Boat House in the late 90s, I never imagined that I would become a part of the open mic poetry scene for the next 2 decades, going on for 3. Yes, I was shy in conversation, and still am – swamped in a group, in fact – but I found joy in reading poems that had been hidden in notebooks for years. Suddenly, they had an audience!
They were well-received for the most part. I began to take them and writing others, more seriously.
Hearing other people’s poems also opened up a wealth of appreciation in me for the broad umbrella which is poetry in the late 20th and now 21st Century.

I was first introduced to 20th Century poets, particularly Eliot & Auden, by my English O Level Teacher, Miss Pearce, at Latymer in Edmonton, North London. Writing poems in the language of today became entirely possible and meaningful. No doubt every age has added new vocabulary to the bank of language but to me, at the time, it was a revelation, mysterious in content, yes, but modern in vocabulary and musical in cadence, creating a frisson of anticipation from the first line to the last. I learned Prufrock by heart.

I didn’t get started until my early twenties. Married, working for a Christian Book publisher, I wrote a few that were given space in the house magazine. Otherwise, a long silence until a few more poems emerged after buying our first ramshackle house and changing jobs. Working in a wholefood warehouse had a different feel to working for a publisher but we were distributing food for body and soul, whereas I had been distributing books and records just for the soul. A Christian company, Community Foods originated in the famous Tolmers Square in the squat years. The continuation of a former wholefood business by a hippie returning from India after an experience of compassion which lead to his Christian conversion, a surprising turn of events in India. A very satisfying experience of publication in this period was a poem on the Christmas card to our customers.

We moved as a growing family to Godmanchester in the late 80s when I was part way through an Open University Humanities Degree, a multidisciplinary approach to literature and art, completed in 96 after an encounter with the poetry of Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet imprisoned in Mikuyu Jail without trial for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days. Amnesty had taken his case up and he had been recently released, having received only 1 postcard out of the hundreds, or possibly thousands, sent.
His poem, Skipping without ropes, read at the OU Summer School at York, triggered A Fat Word, a short poem which celebrated the choices involved in the prisoners’ act of defiance and later won 2nd place alongside a more famous poet than me, in the Bedford Open Poetry Comp of 2003. Jack Mapanje was amongst the poets invited by Linda Gamlin in her period curating the poetry events at the CB1 café in Mill Road.

Returning to full-time work in November 2005, I took a temporary post at the Environment Agency, de-regulating 5 sets of 900 water abstraction licence records. It was fascinating and seminal work, producing poems that gradually, with promotion by colleagues, resulted in an informal resident poet status. After almost 5 years in two different posts, temps were given the thumbs down and I moved on.

Meanwhile, at CB1, after Linda Gamlin moved to the West Country, some members of the Joy of Six, a Poetry Performance Group, plus one or two other regulars, volunteered to continue the open mic and guest poet nights at the Café. After a short period, as we grew out of the changing space in the café and held guest nights at Michaelhouse. I took the job of selling the books that our guest poets brought to the events. Several years later, I followed in Emily Dening’s well-trodden footsteps and took on the accounts and the annual application for local authority funding which I was all too glad had been efficiently initiated by Emily. Other group members, people I regarded as better connected than myself, identified and invited the interesting and excellent guest poets we brought to our open-mic audience.

A number of different venues followed Michaelhouse, costs and accessibility being important to us and our sponsors, while our hosts were keen on the increased customer base for their venues. My accounts experience gradually grew but sadly the Local Authority funding became less as first the County and then the City had to reduce its commitments and finally cut altogether as the criteria changed and we were no longer able to meet it. So our time at CB2 Bistro in Norfolk St followed, first upstairs and then in the basement, definitely not a plus for accessibility and eventually an opportunity at The Blue Moon arose, where we would be on the Ground floor again.

During this time, I took a mentoring course with Jim Bennet of Poetry Kit and later with David Underdown, a poet in the Cinnamon stable, in which I worked up a pamphlet which, with a number of changes and depending on target, I’m sending out hopefully to pamphlet competitions.
I’ve attended the Aldeborough and Torbay Poetry Festivals on a number of occasions and was even invited (and paid!) to read at a small Torbay event in 2007.

All in all, I’m very small fry in the poetry world but have enjoyed being part of the scenery so far and am happy to play a part in compering open mic nights at our new venue, the Town & Gown. Even less accounts input seems to be required as we have the theatre free so that our audience have some spare spondulas to pay for drinks. We do have some website overheads and hope to be able to invite guest poets from time to time, especially those simply wanting to promote their new collections. We will be welcoming contributions on those nights, passing a hat round, perhaps, to pass on to our visitor. We can also take card offerings now.

Oh, maybe I should leave you with a poem. A Fat Word, which I mentioned earlier and which was first published by Interpreter’s House in 2003 after it came second alongside a poem by Christopher North. The Judge was Mario Petrucci who has also trodden our boards since then. You can find a list of some of the poets who have read for us since 2006 in the Archive section of our website.

A Fat Word

(For Jack Mapanje – in celebration of his poem – Skipping without rope)

is a fat word
for the lean task
of skipping without a rope.
It is too rounded for
the thin opportunity
the width of
a rope
It is too juicy
for the hollow circle
that the rope inscribes.
It is full of life
in a cell
packed full of lives.
is the fattest word
for the lean task
of skipping
without a rope.