Although things have been ‘a bit quiet’ since the New Year, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been stirrings of activity within Art Plumstead. The online Improshrews sessions have continued and recently the annual poetry competition took place via Zoom. Obviously it wasn’t the same as being in the Old Mill, but speaking as a spectator, it worked. Everyone could have the drink of their choice to hand during the proceedings and the muting (and unmuting to allow applause) was centrally controlled by John who appeared as usual in a tuxedo and managed the whole evening.There were over thirty entries which were whittled down to three sets of four which were performed by a selection of readers. From these the most popular in each cohort went forward to be judged in the final round. This time, instead of collecting pieces of paper it was simply a case of each audience member privately messaging John with the letter assigned to their favourite poem to be totted up. In theory, if there had been hordes of listeners, it might have been a problem but as there was a similar number of people who would have been at the live event (34 or so) it worked like clockwork. As is often the case in the previous competitions there were a couple of very close rounds, which added to the sense of excitement. It helped that by now the format is familiar.
There were a few issues with the technology – Sparky’s Magic Piano came to mind a few times – but it was still possible to listen and react to each poem. The results were as follows
Plumstead Poet Laureate 2020 – Sarah Myers – There’s No Art
Runner-up – Graham Buchan – Noise
Third place – Jane Lawson – Christmas Day at the Foodbank
Sadly, the laurel wreath couldn’t be presented by the previous poet laureate, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, each winner was able to see the medal they had been awarded with the assurance that it would soon be winging its way to their address for gloating or modest pride depending on their temperament.
No Plumstravaganza would be complete without the Finals Night of the poetry competition at The Old Mill. The audience gathered in small groups around each table to hear a selection of poems which were being heard in public for the first time. One of the supporters had traveled from Forest Hill and two of the poets had even traveled across the water from Canning Town and Camden Town respectively. The lurid green spot light added drama to the announcement by John that as the previous two winners hadn’t entered this year, it would be a new person winning first place.
The initial stage of the competition had already run behind closed doors whereby all submissions had been scrutinised and a selection of poems earmarked for performance on the night, either by the poet or by one of the actors who had formed the judging panel. However, for the Finals Night the poems – like the pickles in December – are peer judged, with poems being heard in three groups of four in each heat. The winner of each heat goes through to be judged against the other winning poems, before the overall winning poem is selected and the author crowned Poet Laureate of Plumstead. John kept the audience entertained with snippets of information while the votes were counted, such as that William Wordsworth lived in Nightingale Vale in 1835, and Albert Craig made a tidy sum selling his poems in the first Arsenal programmes.
The team of vote counters were kept particularly busy during the last stage. There was only one vote between third and second, and second and first place. As last years winner wasn’t available, the presentation of the artisanal laurel chaplet – made from locally foraged organic bay leaves – was made by Her Most Gracious Majesty The Badge Queen of Plumstead. Third and Second place went to James Miller from Canning Town, but this year, the Laurel Wreath was won by Caroline Barnett who was born and bred in Plumstead. It had come home.
The Old Mill was well-attended for the judging of the Poetry Competition to crown the Plumstead Poet Laureate 2016. Submissions had been invited on the theme of ‘A Memory of 2016’, whether sad, reflective, amusing or anything in between. From these a panel of judges had selected a short list to be read out in The Old Mill on the night. Entrants had the option of reading their own poem or having it performed by one of several local actors.
Unlike a regular poetry evening, the audience were involved in judging the submissions which were presented in three sets of four, from which the audience voted for their favourite. The winning poem in each group was then read once more so that the favourite poem, as judged by those present, could be chosen as the overall best poem of the evening. This meant everyone was encouraged to listen carefully and appraise each work while it was being read to compare it with the others in the group round, rather than simply listening passively.
There was a moment of consternation when there was a tie in round three, but that was resolved by having four poems read out in the final round. That wasn’t the only surprise though; the recently crowned Queen of Plumstead took time out of her hectic schedule to grace us with her presence. After the third and second medallions had been awarded it meant that there were two poems left – which one would claim first prize? In the event it was Dee’s poem ‘Shut that Yat. A memory of June 23rd’ which was voted the best. After receiving her gold medallion, Dee had the added thrill of being seated in the Throne of Glory to be crowned in time-honoured fashion with her laurel chaplet, freshly contrived that very afternoon from a local public tree. She was quite overcome.
If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I might not have believed it – an open air promenade performance with 40 attendees, all organised and resourced by members of Art Plumstead. Luckily the weather was on our side, mild and dry with very little breeze to play havoc with the lanterns.
Halloween – a chance to get creative with a gourd and a lino cutter
At the appointed time and place a veritable throng, some of them in suitable attire and carrying lanterns, gathered to hear about the origins of Halloween traditions in Europe and America, before being offered Soul Cakes, part of a late mediaeval custom that persisted in parts of England into the 20th Century. Then the audience was led on a mysterious route past a dazzling light to an area beside the pond where they were greeted with smoke, incense and the sound of drums to hear excerpts from Beowulf.
Erik holds the audience in thrall
As soon as the acting area was plunged into darkness at the end of the performance, the audience was led to a different spot to enjoy mulled wine and savoury scones, while Alison performed her poem, ‘Beware the Banshee’. Then after a short interval, it was time to visit the final setting, where Erik read an adaptation of ‘The Sexton’s Adventure’, by Sheridan le Fanu. Meanwhile, let us not forget the vital input of Karen, John, Rose and Andrew who beavered away to make all the effects appear and disappear as if by magic, and everyone who entered into the spirit of the event by loaning equipment and bringing treats to share.