Imogen’s Big Night In

01 Mar 2021

By Loretta Mulholland

Imogen's Big Night In, hosted by Paisley Book Festival’s wonderfully enigmatic Writer-in-Residence, Imogen Stirling, was a delightful evening with its warm atmosphere, wise words and dazzling performances. Joined by fellow poets, Iona Lee and Dean Atta, the couthie soirée was rounded off perfectly by the soothing tones of the highly talented Emme Woods, leaving me feeling rested and chilled.

Imogen welcomed her virtual audience with a wide smile, bursting with enthusiasm for the evening to come, as though she had secrets to share. She then led us straight into disparate memories of gatherings with friends:

Do you remember those nights …

Friends crammed into the corner of that bar …

You drank like it was the last supper …

Her line repetition and familiar scenes, reminiscing on the freedoms of former times when we could have comfortable social nights in small pubs or at home set the tone beautifully, pampering her listeners with imagery and sensory vibes:

Do you remember those nights in the flat …

Cigarette smoke and incense …

Oh, those nights …

Next up came the excellent Scottish spoken word poet Iona Lee, who again reminded us of our longing for conviviality and intimacy in Viva La Evening and Making Love. Her next reading, from her poetic journal Know Your Space reminded us that women need not only to speak up but also to be heard while in Remembering Past Lives there is yet more yearning for what has past and an ambitious mantra of hope for what’s to come. However it was her poem, Thin Place, composed in her namesake island of Iona that moved me most. I could see that sacred isle in her words, feel the grit of the sand beneath my fingernails and taste the ‘postcard blue sea’ that she so eloquently evoked in the opening lines:

I go down to the beach to notice things …

It feels like the Earth’s very shore …

You don’t have to be a religious pilgrim to appreciate the space between Earth and the ethereal world that Iona felt on this island:

If you had a God to call your own

You would have such conversation with the sky.

You can have ‘the thing’ because the island allows you to:

They call this island a Thin Place

The seam between where

Two dimensions meet …

It does the thing to me too.

Dean Atta, who lives in Glasgow, is a British poet of Greek Cypriot and Caribbean descent. He changed the mood with his readings of Monday Magic and Strawberry Thief, leaving us comforted with Shepherd’s Pie imagery and hungry for more poetry about identity and social justice. We were served both in the delicious readings from his verse novel, The Black Flamingo:

This book is a fairy tale

in which I am cursed

and blessed by others.

But, finally, I am the fairy

finding my own magic.

Dean went on to talk about the protagonist’s Uncle B being pulled up by police because he had a snazzy BMW. His uncle advises Michael not to get too comfortable:

This is what it’s like to be black.

Food again was used as a metaphor for identity in I Come From:

I come from Shepherd’s Pie and Sunday Roast

Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves

I come from a British passport and an ever-ready suitcase.

Our final treat came from the smoky voice of Ms Woods, whose blend of rock’n’roll rhythms with soft 60’s electric guitar, performed in what looked like a basement night club at home, was a fitting finale to this relaxing evening of verse and song. Like other performers that night, Emme took us through the desire to socialise and the need to look forward to everyday normality in the months ahead, with her short song, Dreaming. This was followed by the more playful and gravelly At Night I Think of You. But it was the next song that really struck me, reminiscent of vintage Hank Marvin with amp modified chords and single strokes matching the simple yet striking lyrics:

Cancel the party

We’re out of play

Smile for a while - be kind

Smile for a while when

You’re losing your mind.

Emme’s last song, written with a close friend, was about missing good company, and called Missing the Pub. It said it all.

If these performers are our future, then poetry and music is in radically good hands for many years to come.

If you missed Imogen's Big Night In you can watch again with this link until 26th March.