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"Whistle" by Martin Figura at Cheltenham Poetry Festival

In April, my uncle and I went to see award-winning poet Martin Figura read from "Whistle", his second full-length collection of poetry.  His performance caused quite a stir at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2010, where he received a standing ovation, which by all accounts is not an easy thing to do at Ledbury.  Not only was this for the Shropshire poet's extremely poignant and unsentimental verse, but for his understated and - at times - humorous delivery of it.  Without having previously read any of Figura's work, I purchased Whistle before his performance as part of Cheltenham Poetry Festival.  Thumbing through its pages, first impressions of his poetry proved dark.  And relentlessly so.  I prepared myself, and warned my uncle.

'When Martin Figura was nine years old, his father killed his mother,' as begins the blurb of the Whistle tour.  I could see where Cheltenham Poetry Festival were coming from when they booked the rather severe and low-lit chapel within the grounds of St. Francis Close Hall.  It certainly didn't allay my first impressions of his collection; there's something confessional about the way Figura's audience were made to face one another.  But rather than burden the reader with his father's crime, Figura's sequence of poems told a very brave story of quite magnificient restraint.  And while the murder of his mother is central to this collection, Figura does not simplify or complicate the story with the blindness of grief.  The dispassion of time has played a part in the construction of Figura's collection, and yet there is nothing cold or distant about it.
Though a poem within Whistle is named "Chapel", the setting ultimately proved rather incongruous.  It was a very personal story told without agenda, other than Figura's desire to tell it.  With the occasional aid of a video projector to show family photos, Figura spoke for an hour without book or script.  He read all the poems from memory.  And in doing so, the memory of his mother and his father lives on. 

I thanked Figura afterwards for such an engaging evening.  I tell him that my favourite poem from his reading is "Glove", which reads as follows:


My mother and I pose in Sunday best
in front of a cottage with roses
around the door.  She dreams

it is our house, where white gloves
will not be smudged or snagged on a thorn
and be left with a pin-prick of blood.

I could print this photograph
so dark, there would only be
her hand on my shoulder.

In any other age, that may have been the end of my communication with Figura.  However, the ease at which you can communicate with your favourite poets nowadays is unprecedented.  Naturally, I added Figura (@thebutchery) on Twitter as soon as I got home from the reading.  Be warned, though: by searching "Martin Figura", Twitter comes back with a "top" suggestion of Ricky Martin.

One thing that came through during Figura's reading was his humour and likeability, and this is no more prevalent than in our recent interaction on Twitter.


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