Patricia Oxley receiving her MBE at the Palace
Patricia Oxley receiving her MBE at the Palace

Enfield Poets seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment, with this evening’s event breaking the attendance record set last month by a considerable margin. Consequently, the event got off to a mildly chaotic start with the organisers having to raid adjacent rooms for more chairs to accommodate all of the people who kept on coming and coming, and coming. For along with all our loyal and talented regulars, there were many new faces this evening, some of them local, some from further afield in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, but all of them anxious to experience the buzz currently being generated by Enfield Poets and the Dugdale Centre.

But in addition to all these new arrivals, this evening saw the welcome return of Valerie Darville, following a rare but well-deserved break last month, who introduced the floor readers with her usual relaxed blend of encouraging remarks and laconic, dry humour. It would be unfair to single out individual poets from among the many great contributors we had this evening, but it would be equally unjust to fail to mention those who were reading at Enfield Poets for the first time, such as Annmarie Nicholson, Terry Jones, Simon Bowden, and Lily Bhattacharya, two of whom are members of the recently formed Enfield Poets stanza group, and all of whom gave very good accounts of themselves. We certainly hope to hear more of their work at future events.

After a brief introduction by Alan Murray, Acumen’s editor, Patricia Oxley, took the reins for the second half of the evening, maintaining the relaxed atmosphere created by Valerie in the first half, and impressing everyone with the kind of modesty that is unexpected in someone who has accomplished so much and who was recently awarded an MBE for services to poetry.

Patricia had brought four great poets with her this evening, three of them with poems in the current edition of Acumen. The first was Judi Benson who opened her hugely entertaining set with ‘Burying the Ancestors’, a poem that is astonishing for its epic sweep and scintillating language, and which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best individual poem. Judging by the audience’s reaction, it seemed that everyone at Enfield Poets thought it should have won.

Wynn Wheldon had the unenviable task of following Judi’s bravura performance, but managed to capture and sustain the audience’s attention with poems from his Acumen pamphlet, Tiny Disturbances, which were clever, funny, and moving by turns. A highlight was a poem about the death of his mother, called ‘Last Words’.

The inimitable Dinah Livingstone was also on top form this evening, ending her set, as Judi had begun hers, with a long poem, this one called ‘Epic’, and written in the alliterative style of Langland’s Piers Plowman – a real tour-de-force which had us all enthralled.

The final reader of the evening, William Oxley, was introduced by his publisher, David Perman. With a mixture of admiration and great affection, David reminded us that, in the course of his long and distinguished literary career, William had either met or corresponded with almost everyone of any significance in the poetry world. And this range of poetic knowledge and experience was certainly reflected in the very accomplished poems he read for us from his recently published Collected and New Poems, from the brilliant little epigram with which he opened his set, to the beautiful and moving ‘Horses in Winter’, all delivered with the self-effacing charm that has won him so many friends and admirers over the years.

It was a wonderful evening and I’m ashamed to say the unfortunate staff of the Dugdale Theatre had some difficulty getting us to vacate the room, as everyone present wanted to stay and talk about all the great poets they had heard, or get their copies of the poet’s books autographed. But it was good to finish the season on such a high, and we are all looking forward to returning in September.


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