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EVENT REVIEW: Dead [Women] Poets Society

14 October 2015

Saturday 10 October
Empty Shop

Review by Chloe Allan

I’m guilty of having been one of the modern many who consider the telling of poetry as an irrelevant, antiquated activity. However the silence in Empty Shop, as poetry past and present was performed, proved how wrong I had been up till now.

Four young poets – Jasmine Simms, Helen Bowell, Sarah Fletcher and Katie Byford – were given a platform to perform and enlighten people about the lives of several ‘Dead [Women] Poets’. The performers were little older then I – aged between 18 and 22 – yet had produced disciplined and artistic work. As I understand it, they had tasked themselves with producing poetry that replicated the styles of the female poets they were talking about – yet were careful not to mimic them only.

One section focused on Sappho, an ancient Greek poet and originator of the sonnet. I’d never heard of her before and neither, I’m sure, had many others. Her poetry, however, deserves to be acknowledged from a human perspective, not purely because she was a woman. In the context of many poets’ work, their genders are irrelevant. Sappho was the first known poet who penned homosexual prose yet her sexuality was for many years denied and concealed. How could a woman write eternal poetry, let alone poetry with a gay subject matter?

As the quartet continued the evening, reading from their original compositions, the beautifully worded and performed poems commanded an awe-inspiring silence. Under the dim of candlelight, talented poets and intelligent conversation set the tone for the entirety of Durham Book Festival. Empty Shops’ warm atmosphere and hidden-away quality smoothed the edges of what could have been a very daunting experience for me, personally.

This was my first ever experience of performance poetry and I was amazed by how people so young could produce work so professional and mature. Initially daunted and intimidated, my mind was put to rest by the welcoming vibes of the venue. Poetry is for the people and, if the people are to hear it, it’s appropriate that it has a fitting venue and gets its message across in an inventive, yet accessible way. Poetry is art, and deserves to be seen and heard – not simply just read.


Chloe Allan is a Reviewer in Residence at Durham Book Festival.

Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme ,which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.