Inspired by Julia

2016-02-25 17.24.13 (2)

Last year (2015) a number of events were organised to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of poet, novelist and playwright, Julia Darling. These were organised by Ellen Phethean, who co-founded Diamond Twig press with Julia, and a range of events took place at Live Theatre in Newcastle. Much of the publicity featured a photograph of Julia at one of her favourite haunts, the Rendezvous Café in Whitley Bay. A colleague of mine pointed this out and asked if anything was planned for the Rendezvous. I was ashamed to say, nothing was.

I contacted Ellen and put the idea to her. She was immediately enthusiastic so I agreed to follow it up. Mentioning this possibility to Claire Malcolm at New Writing North I discovered that NWN were re-publishing Julia’s first novel, Crocodile Soup, and would be keen to support the event too.

Earlier in the year Ellen had put out a call for poets to submit pieces of work, inspired by Julia, to Diamond Twig for publication on the website. An event to have poets read this work was arranged for the 5th June at Live Theatre. I had submitted a poem, The Chair, but could not attend the event due to a prior work commitment. Ellen came up with the suggestion that those poets who were unable to attend in June could read their poems at the Rendezvous on 6th August, the date we finally agreed upon.

Julia’s partner, Bev Robinson, came on board as the final piece in the organisational jigsaw. With the Poetry Virgins (Ellen, Kay Hepplewhite and Fiona McPherson) lined up to read from Crocodile Soup and to showcase some poems from a collection of previously unpublished work by Julia, the evening was set.

At very little notice we managed to turnout close to 100 people who were provided with ice cream (thanks to Tiz Weepers and the café staff) and a postcard featuring Julia’s poem about the café and the painting by Emma Holiday (see above). Also, thanks to Clare for the PA, nearly missed her on the night!

A great night and a fitting commemoration.

You can read lots of great poems inspired by Julia at the Diamond Twig site if you follow this link

You can read my poem and memory of Julia below.

The Chair

The chair says nothing but speaks volumes,
Sitting there in its borrowed blue
History of a day, crying for a future.
No underwear adorns it,
No crumpled clothing dare cascade.
It stands upright, bright as a new recruit
Inviting new life, a new role, new companions.
Van Gogh painted such a chair in Arles,
Gwen John in Paris, unaccompanied,
Undecorated, alive with expectation.

This presence changes talk and dreams,
Focussing energies into a single purpose.
No distractions and no excuses,
Function shapes the perfect form.
A vibrant blue shimmer of impressions
Explode from the canvas
Like a visual manifesto, angry and alive.
Subtle blends of light, shadow and tone
Capture the quality of a moment
Reflected, in a room without mirrors.

Words fashion futures from a slender history,
Conjure tomorrow from the alchemist’s dream,
Transform into glitter, base metal and waste.
Silence hides a lonely cry to fill this vacant page
With an outpouring of rhythm and imagination,
Worlds populated by everyday philosophers
Gifted with insight and wisdom.
The chair remains mute but pleads for action.
Interpreting the world is one thing,
The point however, is to change it.

I bumped into Julia outside of the Tyneside Cinema one afternoon and amongst various chat, about this and that, she said she was going to devote her time to writing. Not that I was ever sure what Julia did for a day job. I knew her as an active member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and through my international work on Newcastle Trades Union Council. Julia was the first person I knew who decided to devote herself to writing full time. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of admiration and a deep jealousy! This poem is about having the courage to seize that moment, or not!

Steve Bishop



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