Review of Coast to Coast to Coast, September 2019

Words: Lorraine Bacchus
Photos: Ron Davies

A recent event hosted by Open Eye Gallery was one of those special happenings, where several art forms coalesced to produce a feast for the senses: the spoken word, visual art and music formed the launch of the latest Coast to Coast to Coast, a limited edition, hand-stitched poetry journal.

Each cover of the journal is unique, handmade by Maria Isakova Bennett, a published, prize-winning poet and artist from Liverpool. In the two years since she began this ode to poetry itself, she has stitched over 750 covers, generously gifting one to each of the poets whose work is selected for the journals. The covers epitomise a labour of love but for Maria the time is well spent: “There have been moments when I thought I couldn’t keep up the pace! But it’s all about the poets, a thank you for contributing their work”.

Isabel Bermudez at Coast to Coast to Coast launch. image: Ron Davies

The evening of poetry readings from some of those featured in the latest edition was interspersed with music from saxophonist, Nick Branton. His playing ranged from the clear and mellow one associates with his instrument to the most extraordinary improvised sounds, as if the sax had taken up residence in his lungs. Somebody said it was like the pentameter of poetry, the uneven breaths and the stressing and unstressing of syllables. Behind him, as part of the Gallery’s LOOK Photo Biennial, were photographs taken on Crosby Beach by Yan Wang Preston and Nick’s playing seemed at times also to have the sound of the sea.

image: Ron Davies

As well as several readings from the latest journal, the event also featured poems from a collaborative project between Maria and poet, Maureen Boyle, The Nunwell Letter, based on letters from Ann Moore to her husband John Donne. Isabel Bermudez, who won the Individual Poet’s Journal competition, read from her winning collection, Madonna Moon, as well as other works. Excerpts were read on behalf of Lydia Harris, the second winner, whose work Painting the Stones Back, evokes the island of Westray where she lives. Another of Maria’s collaborative projects has been with Scottish poet, John Glenday about the Brazilian artist, Mira Schendel. His poem Mira-1 is the first in the latest journal:

oceans
and papery
deserts built from
nothing but song

always louder at night
like those ivory flowers
which open only in darkness
so that their voices

I mean their scent
might draw
down the
stars

The journals are pocket-sized, limited edition artworks, gems to be treasured in today’s throwaway society, the beautiful antithesis to an E-book.  A small number is available for sale through Maria, www.mariaisakova.com. She receives no funding for Coast to Coast to Coast, which started with a dream to create and to travel. It has indeed taken her all over the UK, including special events at the Belfast Book Festival and Poetry in Aldeburgh.

Writing poetry is a solitary experience but one that must surely come from being amongst people – observing and recording details, those fragments that become the poems. Later, when the magic has been worked, the poems need people again, to read them and to listen to them.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to have been one of those people.