Art Jericho, The Back Room Poets, And Me

Poet Rose Solari, and writer James J. Patterson, recently went to a poetry reading in the Jericho neighborhood of Oxford, England, and an art exhibit broke out! This is why we love this town! Cheers…

Art Jericho is a groovy little gallery nestled in among some old buildings just off trendy Walton Street in the Jericho section of Oxford, England. The current show by a young painter named William Cotterill is a captivating step through a dimensional seam where the ancient landscape shows the brief scratches and misty remnants of human passage. Each one of these two dozen or so pieces wants to tell you that something happened here – not something necessarily bad or good, or even pleasant, but something. Railway ties in the dusky damp, a cluster of trees too sturdy to succumb, buildings obscured by the very atmosphere of place. Maybe it was the wintery night itself, but something about these paintings made me glad to be wearing a cozy sweater, a woolen overcoat, a hat.

But it wasn’t William Cotterill’s show, aptly titled, “A Tangle Of Matter & Ghost” that brought Rose Solari and I to the Art Jericho Gallery recently. It was a gathering of talented writers who call themselves The Back Room Poets who were celebrating the publication of several new chapbooks by some of their members that had us crunching through the Oxford snow, temporarily bypassing the many fabulous pubs that dot the neighborhood of Jericho, to hear these voices, mirthful, intrepid, and real.

You can’t swing a dead cat in this burgh without hitting a poet or writer of some sorts,” I laughed with a small band of renegade geniuses from the reading who had adjourned to the Harcourt Arms Pub after the reading.

A couple of weeks earlier we had attended a different kind of poetry event at the Kellogg College of Oxford University, where former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion had gently and elegantly put two students through their paces, critiquing their work publicly before a very discerning gathering of heavy hitters, that included, among others, Clare Morgan, Phillip Pullman, Jane Draycott, and Jon Stallworthy. Yikes! I was glad it wasn’t me up there, but it was sure fun watching someone else running the gauntlet!

But at the Art Jericho gallery, the Backroom Poets were displaying their wares, as lovely and thought-provoking as Cotterill’s paintings on the white brick walls. Mark Leech read from his new work called Chang’ an Poems, all of a sequence. These reminded me somewhat of Henry Miller’s concept of “Walking Up And Down In China,” where the artist creates an imaginary landscape wherein to house his or her very real impressions and illuminations felt and imprinted on his or her tender and oh so vulnerable soul.

David Olson, a local maven for the poetically inclined, read from his New World Elegies, still able to find a sublime humor in his loving lamentations.

At the Harcourt Arms we were joined by Andrew Smardon, another poet who had been lurking about at the reading and proved an amiable pint-sipping addition to our little gaggle of poetry enthusiasts. I like hanging out with poets. They have the capacity for slipping between the worlds of the sublime and the ridiculous mid-sentence, and, of course, tipping back the pints and wine in shameless celebration of it all!