Poetry venues, and poetic gems revisited: Anthony Costello


I keep meaning to write about small poetry venues…like the one I do the compereing for. I sort of found myself as an organiser of the Puzzle Hall Poets Live after being a happy customer for some time. In doing so, me and Bob Horne, who does all the bookings, more or less inherited a happy situation…a long established poetry club with well established regular guests and open-mic.ers like the lovely Genevieve Walsh (who also runs her own Spoken Weird club in Halifax). We inherited traditions like the Puzzle banner which has been signed by scores of guests…Andy MacMillan, Kim Moore, Helen Mort, Steve Ely among them. A banner made by the mum of Gaia Holmes who used to organise everything with Sean Bamfoth, and Freda Davies (who is still its presiding genius),before me and Bob took it on.

We didn’t have to do any ground work. It was all there for us. Neither of us knows what it takes to actually start a poetry club/venue from scratch. Here’s a promise; I’ll actually research a post that sets out to record the experience of a number of folk who did just that. Tell you what; I’ll do another about the business of starting a small poetry press from scratch. There. I can’t back out now. Hold me to it, won’t you.


Which brings me neatly to today’s returning guest poet, Anthony Costello, who has not only set up his own poetry event and kept it going for three years, but also launched an on-line poetry journal, The High Window now looking to its fourth issue. What has always struck me about both these ventures is their ambition. The Kultura evenings at the Kava (best coffee for leagues) include a Poetry Lecture. Anthony has each lecture transcribed and printed in a small pamphlet format…and he sells the pamphlet at the reading. I have to say (as the first guest lecturer) that I thought it wouldn’t work.  But it does. It might even end up as a book, which would be wonderful. The thing is, Kultura has its own distinct identity. And so does  The High Window about which Anthony wrote when the third issue appeared this year:

“We have been delighted with what appears to be a positive response to our quarterly journal. Judging by the reach of our occasional posts and the ‘likes’ on our webpage our readership is wide and growing fast. This issue contains part 2 of our feature on Italian poetry in translation, a specially commissioned feature on troubadour poetry, an essay celebrating the poetic impact made by the work of Ken Smith, six book reviews that shed light on six poets including Vona Groarke and Victoria Kennefick, and a feature exploring the work of the American poet, Philip Fried. Philip is one of four poets featuring in the High Window Press’s autumn publication, an anthology called Four American Poets. See the Press page for more details and a review of this book by the esteemed American poet, Thomas Lux.”

the link, if you’re interested, is    https://thehighwindowpress.com/ 

“We have been impressed with the quality of work submitted.  We have been unable to publish good poems because of the constraints of space, but we found in the (often) cultured poems appearing here great poetic awareness, erudition and subject matter ranging from Gustave Mahler, elephants and salt. The natural world features in many poems but often nature in the form of spirit or animism. Undoubtedly there are searching and questioning poems in this issue, but the collective mood is one of earnestness, resolve and, perhaps, resolution…summed up in these lines:

to build some better notion of this life
of what it means and aims towards… [Maitreyabandhu]”

See what I mean about ambition? It’s a handsome journal, and you could do a lot worsse than check it out.

When Anthony was last a guest on the cobweb, in January 2015, I realised I needed to sort out my headlines for some of my posts. I wrote this:

It’s a roundabout way I’ve come to introduce tonight’s guest poet, Anthony Costello, and to introduce the cobweb’s new category of ‘the polished gem’. I’ve been caught out by calling some of my poets ‘undiscovered gems’ only to find out they are pretty well known. From now on, I’ll be more careful. The polished gem will be a cobweb category for poets who are reasonably well-known around my neck of the woods, but not necessarily in other parts of the country. They will be recent discoveries for me that I want to share.

Anthony was my first ‘Polished gem’ who had recently had his collection, The Mask, published. He’s added another title to it since: Angles and visions.


I wrote this about him at the time:

I met Anthony at the world-famous Puzzle Hall Poets when he signed up on the open mic., whose book launch I read a jazz poem at, and who invited me to guest at his own poetry venture at the Kava in Todmorden.

Three things struck me on that first meeting. The first was the silence that followed his poem ‘Feeling blue nr. Russell Square’). The second was that Anthony didn’t read the poem. He didn’t recite it. He said it, almost as if it was extempore, improvised, an entirely natural way of speaking. I’ve seen/heard him do this several times since. It never fails to set me back on my heels; it’s impressive, without any intention of seeming so. The third was the conversation we had afterwards. But here’s the poem first. Anthony apologised in advance in case we would find it sentimental, and explained it was for someone he loved who had died.

Feeling blue nr. Russell Square

for an Essex girl

A good place to feel blue, Bloomsbury

all those bookshops, all those cafes,

I imagine a life

of the could have been a writer kind

with coffee breaks to be a kind soul

talking with a tourist about jazz

transporting America’s luggage

along a charming London Road,

the trail of blue plaques – Lenin,

Roger Fry, Jerome K Jerome,


I’d travelled by Tube to the weald

to sprinkle ‘Country Meadow’ on the grave

I sat under pines and sweet chestnuts,

the trees friends and the morning sun

the dappled seeds’ friend.

I spoke to the grave in the present tense.

I put a name to love.

What caught me when I heard it was the voice. What catches me now when I read it is the memory of the quietness that settled around that poem when Anthony said it, and the deceptiveness of what looks simple. You don’t notice the repetition of ‘kind’ in the time it takes to say the poem, nor the shift of meaning that happens. You don’t notice the odd syntax that disturbs the even surface like barely suppressed grief. Anthony quotes Fiona Sampson’s editorial in Poem where she writes about the way mediocre poems may be improved by being read aloud. Now, I think some accents, some voices, can make anything sound good, but I don’t think this poem is mediocre, and I think it grows with being seen on the page. He thinks this poem is sentimental. I don’t.

I also wrote in that post about the eclecticism and intellectual range of Anthony’s writing. It’s very ambitious. I like that. I like the risks it involves, in much the same way as the idea of a poetry lecture on a Thursday night in Todmorden is risky. So let me share something of that range and its risks, with clips from Angles and Visions. I’ll let Anthony introduce them:

“It was a chance meeting with the poet Carola Luther that prompted my second collection Angles & Visions. Carola pointed out that some of the poems she had heard me read at poetry venues in the Calder Valley were about the cinema or used film references. I looked at my earlier poems contained inside three dusty memory sticks and noted that I had thirty poems that referenced films or inhabited personae relating to actors or were related to the movies in one way or another. In this sense, the poems in A&V were collated from the cutting room floor of previous attempts at formulating poetry pamphlets and collections. I then set about writing ten more poems with cinema as a theme, including The Battle of the Sexes and The Age Gap. There is no tour de force of a cinema poem in A&V that you can see in, say, a poem like Sean O’ Brien’s ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ (November), and the style of writing in A&V isn’t cinematic in the way Jorie Graham’s poems are said to be cinematic (i.e., constructed and framed like a director might present a film). My poems are portmanteau pieces, more Pret a Porter than My Darling Clementine (which is a classic film I love, by the way). Perhaps The Age Gap is a very short film? What do poetry and cinema have in common? A not inexhaustible list could include: images, the Unconscious, narrative, symbol, light that sometimes fails, language, sound, four edges to the frame…”

The age gap

Dressed in flannel & holding a boater
to his chest – a leading man entreating
a leading lady – he kisses her gloved hand
& cuts to the chase in a white convertible,
follows the script to a fork in the road
and a location scouted earlier, scene:
a picnic in meadowgrass, a crane shot,
the ‘moral code’ broken by a nineteen-
fifty something making hay.

The battle of the sexes

A strange treatment on love, with echoes
of Sirk and Rosselini: anachronistic sex
in a cable car above some alpine state,
a pencil-skirted, platinum blonde … American?
A dark-haired man in suit and tie … Italian?
She considers their fleeting romance ‘platonic’
but, empathetic to his character and need,
hands the gentleman a handkerchief.
She turns her back and he turns his,
as- cut to mise en scène – he masturbates.

As an act of kindness, it seems
enlightened, unlike the attempted rape
of Athena, the shot load of Hephaestus,
her foster-son, on her virgin’s thigh.
Wiped off and dropped to earth
on a scrap of wool, a boy germinates,
who is reared by Gaia and placed,
on Athena’s orders, into the box where
he grows to the length of a serpent:
frightening to death the women who lift
the lid and look inside, the kind of half-man
half-snake that curls around your neck.

Carola Luther wrote a review of Angles and visions which youll find on the Press page of The High Window website (link above). It’s accurate and generous, and I don’t really need to add to it…so there you are: homework. Now, what since then, apart from The High Window ?  Anthony reminds me that he’s a co-translator of Alain-Fournier:Poems due to be published by Carcanet in December, and also since the first polished gem article he’s written six book reviews for Sabotage Reviews, written essays, and lectured at the Bradford Literature Festival. He’s recently commmissioned and edited an anthology of contemporary American poetry – Four American Poets – which is receiving good reviews. He also posts a monthly blog on his website:luddpoet.blogspot.co.uk

When he sent me the update on the last 20 months he added:

I haven’t written any new poems for nearly two years,  except ‘Election’ which I wrote a couple of weeks ago and which I am not sure about.

Well, I’m surprised he’s had time to write any poems at all. But I’m sure enough about this to say, thank you, Anthony. And then let it speak for itself.


May — and dandelion clocks
gather on the streets
like an ageing population,
celandine yield to buttercups
and a woodpecker appears
as if on cue, and pokes its beak
in the birdbox hole — fear grips
the household, the chicks
are circumscribed, will they heed
the routine song outside,
that blue call to fly?

What now? Well, I’m off to the Isle of Skye next Sunday. I’ve not been for two years, and it’s hard to describe how much I miss it. There’s no wifi where I’m going. No phone signal. unless you drive some distance up a big hill. So, no cobweb posts for two weeks. I shall miss you all when I remember. Otherwise, I’ll be looking at wind and weather and water and mountains, and I shall be inordinately happy. See you again in November xx

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