Yesterday I spent a superlative afternoon at Rickaro Books, Horbury, to celebrate three events: the launch of Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times, by A Firm Of Poets (some of whom are now also Firm Friends of this blog!) on the first day of this year’s Books Are My Bag festivities; the birthday of one of Rickaro Books’ regular customers; and last, but by no means least, the thirteenth birthday of Rickaro Books itself. Toasts were drunk in sparkling wine while it rained outside: a wonderfully cosy and pleasantly decadent way of spending a Saturday afternoon!
The four poets who performed yesterday were Ralph Dartford, a founding member of A Firm Of Poets, accounts of whose at once tongue-in-cheek and poignant performances (‘Now then! / In November 1950 / Pablo Picasso / visited Sheffield / for a hair cut, / Peace, / and some toast.’) have graced this blog before (he has a lovely wife who always supports his performances);
Matt Abbott, a born performance poet, whose rendering of a pathetic yet comic drunk was particularly hilarious (‘I’ll have a bottle of Beck’s from the fridge / ‘cause you all might have stopped drinking / but I’m from Horbury Bridge / and I’m – yeah, I’ll have some gravy, love …’);
and, new to me but very impressive indeed, the goth poet Geneviève Walsh (‘So many love songs which compare desire to sunshine, / a practice as futile as comparing art to dust. / This is England, see, and the sunshine’s more akin / to a tax rebate / or a lottery win’).
The work of all these poets, as well as that of John Darwin and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (whom I’ve also met and been wowed by at an event at Rickaro Books, so I was disappointed that he couldn’t be there yesterday) appears in the beautifully-produced, chapbook-style Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times.
If you happen to be in West Yorkshire, you could do no better than to buy it from Rickaro Books and have a look round the shop at the same time – it is a very distinctive shop which sells both new and antiquarian books.
But I mentioned four poets and I’ve only described three. There was, in fact, a fourth poet present, who also performed, joining A Firm Of Poets as he regularly does; his poems (which he read from his mobile phone, having forgotten to bring the text with him!) don’t feature in Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times. His name is William Thirsk-Gaskill.
Perhaps because he now has a double-barrelled name, my husband and I didn’t recognise the former plain William Gaskill at first – though my husband says that he knew the voice as soon as he heard William speak. When we first met, he was a very talented schoolboy and we were also young, though not as young as he was (William obligingly informed us that my husband was twenty-nine at the time, so I will have been twenty-eight!). To see him again gave the day an extra special bonus. William was also selling a book: Escape Kit, a novella, which we have bought but have yet to read. I’ll review it here when I’ve finished it.
Events at Rickaro Books are always distinctive, memorable and successful. It was a great privilege to be able to attend its Books Are My Bag launch and celebrate with A Firm of Poets. I am therefore extraordinarily proud to be able to tell my readers that Richard of Rickaro Books will be supplying the stock at ‘Tea at Sausage Hall’, Wakefield One’s wonderful way of celebrating the publication of the third of my DI Yates series, on November 19th. And I’m thrilled that some of A Firm of Poets have said that they will be supporting me by attending. Riches indeed! Thank you all so much. I’m looking forward to it already. Meantime, I wish you every success with your books.
Rickaro Books, of Horbury, is one of our most distinguished independent bookshops and, like all distinguished independent booksellers, Richard Knowles knows that events don’t just happen: you have to work at them. Therefore, although World Book Day – and, by extension, World Book Week – is getting a huge amount of support from the Booksellers Association and individual publishers, with lots of media coverage, whether or not a bookseller succeeds in making it work is down in the end to himself or herself.
Richard has arranged events for almost every day of this week, leading up to World Book Day itself, which is tomorrow, Thursday March 6th. (If you’re interested in finding out more, please click here.) Tomorrow, he is entertaining a group of schoolchildren in the shop, all wearing fancy dress, and is even going to dress up himself! (I find this amusing: Richard has obviously mellowed since I worked with him all those years ago, when, if not exactly child-unfriendly, he was certainly selective about the children that he liked!)
However, when I read about Richard’s celebrations for World Book Week, the Rickaro Books event that most intrigued me was the one that took place yesterday. I made plans to attend it immediately. It was a live poetry evening, with Ralph Dartford and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (who refers to himself on Twitter as ‘the poor man’s Benedict Cumberbatch’, a soubriquet that immediately endeared him to me). The shop has an excellent track record at organising poetry readings (I’ve written about them on this blog before) and I knew that yesterday’s would not disappoint.
The two poets recited alternately with the fluency and skill which comes from complete command of the material. Both were consummate performance artists, but what really impressed me was the quality of the poetry itself. It is my experience that many live poets are performers first, poets second, but both Ralph and Matthew are exceptional poets as well as being brilliant at engaging with a bookshop audience. The latter was pretty special, too, and included a small boy named George who was dressed as Peter Pan.
If you are not familiar with Ralph’s and Matthew’s work and you like poetry, I recommend that you invest in the two books (AND Matthew’s lovely green vinyl record!) that I bought last night. Cigarettes, Beer and Love, by Ralph, takes the form of a chapbook that has been beautifully produced by the Ossett Observer on hand-made paper. Matthew’s A Family Behind Glass, published by Valley Press, has all the elegance of a classic ‘slim volume’. Which poems did I enjoy most last night?
Well, the Co-op store in Ossett will never be quite the same to me again, now that Ralph has given me ‘Co-op Live Art Fiasco’, which describes his effort to show the individuals in the checkout queue that their investment in the Lottery pays for art (and his wages)… by stripping stark naked and doing some ‘live art’ with a Lucozade bottle. The constable summoned to the event says: “I once saw something like this in Berlin. A scratch card paid for the trip. I quite liked it.” (Ralph was led away at 08.46.) As readers of this blog know well, I’m game for a laugh, but there’s serious stuff behind Ralph’s humour.
Ralph describes Matthew as the ‘cerebral’ one of the pair (but all their poems last night were ‘thinky’, even the most superficially frivolous of them!). In fact, one poem of Matthew’s touched me a lot and spoke to me very clearly from my own past in our first rented marital flat in Leeds.
He set the context of a rented house in Rothwell, his and his wife’s first home, at a time when, he said, they weren’t really ready to be adults, yet. I’ll give you the first stanza, so that you may be touched as well:
Now that the streetlamps have stolen the stars
From the afternoon sky, sleep, content
And lovely as custard, pours over us. We sit
With winter on the settee, arm in arm –
Our legs interlaced like denim snakes,
Bedlam pressed between our palms. [From ‘The Wendy House’]
Matthew is about to take up a post with Leeds City Libraries: I’d like to wish him well with this. Ralph works for the Arts Council, and knows Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing. He observed, unsurprisingly, that they are both ‘lovely people’. He kindly bought In the Family before he left the shop, which gave what had already been a very enjoyable evening a considerable extra fillip for me!
I wish Richard every success with World Book Day. (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he receives the schoolchildren tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to travel to London instead.) And I hope very much indeed that I shall meet Matthew and Ralph again. In the meantime, I shall enjoy reading their poetry for myself. Thanks to them for introducing me so beautifully to it.
Precious poetry pack
How to get a book signed by two priceless poets