The Barlow Theatre, otherwise known as Oldbury Rep, sits gently in a cul-de-sac close to a couple of excellent pubs and a variegated row of shops and food purveyors.
It is a charming little theatre with an almost continuous run of plays and musicals and it sports a fine bar with a cosy atmosphere, where poetry events can and have taken place for many years. Spouting Forth used it some years ago with a membership that included several who were later Birmingham Poets Laureate and Geoff Stevens who resurrected the venue’s poetic content with his Purple Patch magazine events and a National Small Press Publishers’ Convention stretching to three days.
Unfortunately, Geoff died in February, but a group of us decided to continue to promote his legacy as well as his Barlow meetings. Purple Penumbra is the first, supported, as ever, by the good offices of JohnUpton who opened the theatre bar for us poets in his usual generous tradition.
Attendees included a Wolverhampton University Course Leader in Creative and Professional Writing (himself a published poet and novelist), the Secretary of Bilston Community Association, Walsall’s current Poet Laureate, some old friends and some new young poets, all eager to read or perform their own or Geoff’s work.
With the Queen’s Jubilee celebration still in our short-term memory, Eileen Ward-Birch started us off with a timely, humorous poem about when the Queen was ‘coronated’, as if she was but a child.
Someone I’ve only ‘met’ on Facebook as Photo Giraffe, who hadn’t intended to read, gave us a very moving and beautiful picture, from memory, of Jeff Buckley, the US singer-songwriter. Strange connection here – Jeff Buckley posthumously had a hit record with ‘Hallelujah’, a song played at the funeral of Geoff Stevens.
Shabz Ahmed gave us an intelligent piece which for me served to highlight cultural connections as well as differences of mankind. Ian Henery regaled us with his Olympic poem and, particularly for Eileen, one called “We Are Wolverhampton”. Greg Stokes read from his book a couple of hilarious passages – a local spy story and one that confused me as to whether it was a casino or a brothel… someone was cashing in on the former but were they on the latter?
For me, the highlight of the evening was Dr Paul McDonald who had a couple of superb semi-autobiographical poems and one about Walt Whitman, also a favourite of his good friend, Geoff Stevens, and a tale of Geoff’s pre-eminent knowledge of sausages and housebricks. Sue Hulse told us a tale of two grandfathers, incredible stories, too surrounding the poetry.
For most of us who knew Geoff, I believe that this was a little cathartic. We read his poems remembering him, and I’m sure he would be pleased to find in his shadow a burgeoning purple penumbra.