Powerful poetry readings with Alyson Hallett and Pascale Petit

By Georgia Penrose

Eager to hear a poetry reading from well-known poets Alyson Hallett and Pascale Petit, scores of people filled the church on Saturday after lunch. The poets were placed high in the pulpit for everyone to see, made clearer by the large glass windows. Their voices bounced and echoed between the walls, creating an entirely new atmosphere from a usual poetry reading.

The poets encouraged the use of imagination as a reader. Alyson gave context to the audience but not enough to distract their imagination and own thoughts coming into use; Pascale Petit continued to urge our own thoughts, however told us how she would like us to use our imagination.

Alyson chose Charles Causley’s poem ‘the sheep on the blackened field’ to tribute him. She told her audience of her six months as Poet in Residence at Charles’ home and how one of her own poems was inspired by that experience, stating ‘I think walls capture what goes on inside them.’ Alyson was sure to give the full church an insight into each poem before she continued with the reading. Again speaking of another experience from being a ‘Poet of Residence’ at St. Endellion, she explained how this was the inspiration for her poem ‘Endelienta – rewilding a saint.’ This poem gave the saint surprising and contradictory attributes, for example; ‘muddy fingernails,’ ‘bloodshot eyes’ and ‘eyelids filled with tears’.

Alyson went on to read poem from one of her most famous books, ‘Toots,’ in which she explained that she had struggled greatly in thinking of ideas, until several years ago. She exclaimed to the already-fascinated listeners that she did ‘eventually’ think of ideas and when that happened, ‘I was exploding. Volcanic, that’s what it felt like, volcanic!’

Before her reading, Pascale said, ‘imagine you’re in the amazon rainforest. And now imagine you are also in a psychiatric ward.’ This immediately set the tone of the reading – powerful. The poet used the settings of rainforest and hospital wards and metaphors of animals and colourful imagery as a way of presenting the short stories that portrayed the experience of her mentally ill mother and the effects of abuse. When not using metaphors but instead giving context about her poems, Pascale mentioned varying intense topics such as rape, drug abuse and depression. The atmosphere in the church began to generate an emotional undertone as the background of the poems came to light. Pascale was quick to lift the tone by making humour out of her overuse of animals in her poems, telling the audience ‘I talk about jaguars in my poems…there are deer in my books, too. So, now for hummingbirds.’ The laughter in the church was a welcome relief.

By the end, there wasn’t one person that wasn’t completely engaged with the poets and the entire church erupted with applause when they had finished their readings. The audience was thanked and shown huge gratitude for coming to watch the poets perform, a gratitude that was certainly reciprocated.