Friday October 14th was a busy day for poet Brian Patten, who performed in two Literature Festival events. Brian, author of several children's books including the well known Gargling with Jelly, treated an enthusiastic audience to a jellied feast of hilarious jargon. The event was well attended by children from local schools who found the whole experience highly entertaining. Brian's grotesquely funny and eternal childishness means that his poetry appealed to young and old; the teachers enjoyed it just as much as their students!
At the evening event Brian began literally "Growing Up Before Your Very Eyes". Taking the audience through poems that signified his own life experiences, he spoke about his childhood in Liverpool, (Brian is one of the famed Liverpool Poets) his personal relationships and what it's like to be middle aged and wiser.
The opening verses, in traditional Patten style, caused much laughter. We all remembered fondly our uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins and even the odd inspirational school teacher as Brian told us of his own family through his comic reflections. However, it soon became apparent that there was a definite sense of the Chaplinesque clown about him. That he used humour to make the sadness of life more palatable was evident in his poem Cinders which he penned soon after the sad death of his mother.
A lonely figure, centre stage, evolved into a reflection of one of the characters in his earlier work Johnny Learns the Language. It describes the sense of how inadequate words are to describe feelings. You could see this poet's internal struggle, as he stood in front of another audience full of strangers. Often he tried to explain biographically important life events to us, just to stop inarticulately, mid-sentence and allow the poem to speak for him.
My breath was taken away when a dishevelled and somewhat unwell (he was sadly suffering from a cold!) poet closed his eyes and recited Angel Wings:
In the morning I opened the cupboardIn this poem he tenderly depicted the long held regret of a love carelessly destroyed through lack of trust and unrealistic expectations. This was a theme that seemed to epitomise the other poems read, (Burning Genius and Blade of Grass in particular), all seeming to suggest that this was what fired his creativity and reminding us that all is not lost.
and found inside it a pair of wings,
a pair of angel's wings.
I was not naive enough to believe them real.
"They are mine," you said;
You said that when we met
you'd left them there.
I thought you were crazy...
We were then given a taste of other poets' work. He fondly remembered the work of his friends and fellow "Liverpool Poets", Roger McGough and the late Adrian Henri. Treating us to readings of their work, he gave an added dynamic to the performance.
Mr Patten does not hold anything back, he allows you see past the "cheeky chappie" to the real man with a poet's soul. His mood flies from one extreme to another, poem by poem, before your very eyes. The whole experience became an amazing emotional roller-coaster ride for all in attendance.
Despite this though, Brian reminds us to remain philosophical. After all:
A giraffe is a giraffe,
An ape is an ape,
but a pig is a sausage
in a different shape.
Durham Literature Festival 2005
Gained in Translation