Tag Archives: Sally Evans

Hygge Feature 33 # Against the Horror

When I started this feature my aim was to let poetry shine some light into the darkest time of year. 2016 was a very difficult year on the world stage. We are all aware of the results of two very important votes which rocked the fabric of society as we know it. The sense of hopelessness has been hard to cope with. Protests and anger have their place become exhausting. Like many people I personally am affected by cold, dark days both physically and mentally. I would like to thank the many poets who submitted poems for the feature, whether I used them or not. I was amazed and very grateful for the interest in this feature which some people have shown. It has been a lot of work to put it together but when people tell me it has helped them, that makes it all worthwhile.

I have been saving this poem by Sally Evans for the last day, because it expresses exactly what I was hoping to do. Sally was attending a Very Peculiar Burns Supper. organised by Ian Maxtone. Surrounded by friends, sharing poems, in difficult times – that is the notion of hygge I have been working with.

My own poem  shared below, is a fairly recent one, which was first published on I am not a Silent Poet. I too was sharing a meal with poetry friends, but it was a different kind of anniversary, one of war and death. It reflects on Brexit and Trump, and has no answers. Art provokes questions. And sometimes all we can do is hunker down with our tribe and practise a little kindness.


Photo of Sally Evans by Sweet Pea photography


“I don’t want to read a poem”

I don’t want to read a poem
for the simple reason I don’t want to write one.
I want to sit quietly watching
this part of the world go by
because it is hygge and simpatico,
complex words I have collected
for a warm presence of people
in a room that does its best
against the winter, against the horror
we have mostly experienced
in the past weeks,
the political maelstrom
that all deplore except those
who run with it,
crying Amen to decisions
we cannot countenance.

I want to sit among cheerful friends
looking across the tables
at broken crackers and candles,
tumblers with orange juice,
and the rich coffee we have ordered
but has not yet come –
writing away in a notebook
someone has actually given me –
they are these sorts of friends –
writers and those who understand them,
protesters and analysts,
recorders and accepters,
while windows onto the darkened winter trees
are ranged round the room between paintings,
bold coloured, abstract posters,
brightening this troubled time,
consoling the old, encouraging the young
and holding its own, this room
in a world of fascism and illiberalism
out of tune with our writing,
a world neither the old nor young
expected or deserved.

I have written so many poems
and this is where it brought us
so I do not want to read a poem
but to sit here and be content.


Sally Evans



Remembrance Day 2016

The train manager requests two minutes silence
as benevolent morning sun touches
middle England’s fields with gilt
while across the Channel, the Somme’s
sweet rolling hills are healing over
despite zig-zag trenches and craters
where paper poppies decay and fall
like blood-stained confetti.

Leonard Cohen has sung his last gravelly elegy,
so long Marianne and all the rest of us.
Obama leaves the White House,
Britain turns its back on the EU.
What vultures are hovering we do not know.
Over Mexican food three poets
talk passionately of politics, uneasy isms.
The papers continue to report things we cannot stomach.


Angela Topping



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StAnza 2014: My highlights

I went to StAnza this year for the first time, invited up with the poetry and art exhibition, ‘The Lightfoot Letters’, in which I had collaborated with the wonderful Maria Walker. I went with no idea what to expect, except from what poet friends had told me about it: that it was friendly and celebratory. I’d have loved to have gone to the full day workshops with Jacob Polley and Vickie Feaver, which were leading up to it, but with other commitments and the need to mount the exhibition on our first day, it wasn’t possible. So my first event was the launch in the Byre. It was great to immediately find the redoubtable Sally Evans, who was with Colin Will and someone I didn’t know. She showed me where to hang my coat up and where the free wine was (she knows me so well). The launch was excellent: Eleanor Livingstone made a welcome speech which did its job perfectly, and we listened to some short performances. The soprano Angharad Rowlands, who sang exquisitely in Welsh, and the gentle-voiced Louis de Bernieres read us some of his poems. I hadn’t known poems were his first love. Afterwards I persuaded my husband to come to see Rime with me, which turned out to be incredbible, as young people performed heart-stopping acrobatics to portray the tale of the Ancient Mariner in a new way. I particularly liked the folk singing within this show. I think it is touring now so catch it if you can.


On Thursday 6th March, I attended a workshop with Brian Turner, American war poet, which I had booked in advance, as workshops are limited places and do tend to be sold out quickly. Brian was excellent, sharing the techniques used to write about war in a range of ways, and inviting us to try them out on a topic of our choice, after looking at poems which deployed them well. I really wish I’d been able to attend his reading in the evening, when he was sharing a stage with David Constantine (whose work I have liked for a very long time), but we were both exhausted and took a night off.

The next day I went to the Poetry Scotland showcase, with four terrific readers, two of which I had heard before and wanted more, and two new discoveries: Giuseppe Bartoli and Nikki Magennis. It was great to bump into Red Squirrel poet and friend, Elizabeth Rimmer, and indeed StAnza is a glorious meeting place of poets, greetings and hellos filled every venue. Katrina Naomi and Tim Ridley’s artist talk was interesting – I loved the way Tim had become more serious in his responses to his partner’s work, while Katrina’s poems became more playful, and I particularly liked her crocodile poem alongside Tim’s superbly sinister drawing. I read a poem at The Quiet Open Mic at Zest juicing bar, which was very ably run by Jim Carruth. The standard was high but it managed to be a relaxed event. It was great later on to hear John Burnside but such a pity I missed Tishani Doshi, who was reportedly brilliant. I’d hoped to read at the late night open mic but once again I was all out of stamina.


Saturday was a very full on day, and each day that passed I was more and more at home. The day began with a great workshop with John Greening (whom I had wanted to meet for ages as we have both written books for Greenwich Exchange). Again I got the start of several potentially good poems. I do think it’s important to go away from a poetry festival with some new work started. After soup in The Byre (where yummy food was served all week), I had a great time at the Poets Market, bumping into lots of friends including Pat Borthwick, Sheila Wakefield, Colin Will, and finally getting to meet Gerry Cambridge. Had a great natter with him about Norman MacCaig, swapping memories, and I bought a back copy of The Dark Horse with Gerry’s article on MacCaig, the old charmer. I bought lots of books – couldn’t help myself – to add to the three I got from JG Innes on the first day.

There were several great events on in the afternoon, but I had to go and deliver my artist talk at the exhibition, which was great fun. I have a couple of videos from that which I will post at a later date. I’d decided not to try to get into the Carol Ann Duffy reading because I had it had sold out, but there was live streaming in the Byre, had I but realised. I have heard our poet laureate read many times over the years, so I thought I’d let others have the chance. I did go to the Slam though, later on, but was so tired I only stayed for the first round. Great to see Sally owning the stage and the other performers were terrific too – the judges had a very tough time. I’d never been to a slam before.

Sunday was in many ways my best day because I was so relaxed after the artist talk  and had met lots more friends by then, and felt I’d been going to StAnza for years. Paul Muldoon’s masterclass was brilliant. It was interesting to discuss the poems chosen, and he asked probing questions of the audience, but the best part was at the start when he spoke about poetry, saying many things which I deeply feel and agree with. There was no soup left in The Byre, so we had lunch at the Chinese before I dashed off to read a poem about Scotland in the Poetry Tour of Scotland event in the studio theatre. This was hosted by Colin Will (who gave me a warm introduction, and Andy Jackson (of Split Screen fame), and featured an interactive map of Scotland and some really excellent poems by a range of Scotland’s best. I missed Stephen Raw’s events but had several looks at his inspiring exhibition and a chat with him about his process.

Later on Sunday night I went to support friend David Costello who was reading a poem at the launch of Poetry in Protest. I sat next to Paul Muldoon and had a private word with him about his excellent masterclass. Menna Elfyn was the first reader on the main stage for the closing night and she was nothing short of magical. I could have listened to her all night, in both Welsh and English, and her voice is so melodious, her words so right. Paul Muldoon took things slowly and I honestly felt like I was sitting at his kitchen table in Ireland, just soaking up his words and gorgeous accent. He even read some early stuff which I had been familar with for years – ‘Why Brownlee Left’ with one of the best line breaks ever, and ‘Anseo’, before moving on to newer poems. His chat between was both assured and modest. The festival closing party after that was just great, chatting, dancing (I didn’t but liked watching), getting a private look at some of Jean Johnstone’s artist books, meeting even more poets, and the sorrow that it was all over.

It’s just one of the best poetry experiences I ever had. It was buzzing. Poetry was on everyone’s lips. Image

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Split Screen at Manchester Lit Fest

Brian and I reading our Dr Who poems.
Photo courtesy of Chris Keller-Jackson

Featuring: Brian Johnstone, Andrew Philip, Sally Evans, Jo Bell, Julie Boden, Carolyn Richardson, Charlie Jordan, Andrew McMillan and Angela Topping.

Having taken part in two Split Screen readings so far, one at Norwich with George Szirtes, Helen Ivory, Martin Figura and Andy Jackson, the editor, and one at Callander Poetry Festival with Andrew Philip, Carolyn  Richardson, Sheila Templeton, Sally Evans, who performed Yoda with props, in a never-to-be forgotten paper hat, and others, I was greatly looking forward to the Manchester event. Each one has been special in its own way, as different contributors have attended each time, and Andy gives us the chance to choose poems we enjoy reading in addition to our own, to make for a varied show.

The poems in the anthology, from Red Squirrel Press, are placed in juxtaposition, with, for example, Marilyn Monroe opposite Doris Day; Max Miller V Ken Dodd; Pete and Dud, Kirk and Picard. The Manchester launch was special to me because it was the first time my Dr Who poem on Jon Pertwee had been performed back to back with Brian Johnstone’s Tom Baker one. It’s been rare at performances that both of the poets are there.

Each event is chaired by Andy Jackson, the editor, who came up with the quirky idea in the first place and who puts together a workable running order and a slideshow of the relevant characters and shows. All this helps the show to be slick. Andy creates the illusion of an evening’s TV watching at some point in the past, with adverts in the middle and a poem about closedown and the white dot at the end. These poems have been performed at every launch, but at both Callander and Manchester, we were lucky enough to have both their authors, Sally Evans and Andrew Philip, there to read them. Ian Parks’ ‘Flake’ poem and Adam  Horovitz’ ‘Orange poem’ have been chosen at most of the launches, to be read by others. After the ‘9pm watershed’ the poems are more hard hitting, less ‘family’ than the ones before the ads. And the show ends with The National Anthem, which we all stand for with great solemnity, only to be treated to a surprise which I wouldn’t want to reveal here: its delight lies in the unexpected.

The poems are wide ranging. Some are hilarious, some moving, some reflective. The standard of performance has been top notch at every event.  This anthology reaches a wide audience as the programmes and films included are ones that transcend age and generation, and have in many cases become cult viewing. The poets offer new slants on familiar things and a second book is in the offing. I’ve been delighted and humbled to be involved in this project and there are more events to look forward to in the series. Glasgow, Newcastle and Pitlochry are coming up fast. If you can’t get to the show then at least you can read the poems, if you buy the book.

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