Brighton Festival: Volunteering Day 2 – Damian Barr, Richard Cupidi & The Poetry Army

Who knew happily exhausted could be an actual state of being – yesterday was fantastic!


Damian Barr was our first event, wittifully regaling us with his memoir, Maggie & Me, of growing up in Thatcher’s Britain. Do not make assumptions based on the title, this book has been in the works for years and took two to pen – this is no Thatcher meal ticket, merely happenstance.


“It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive.

Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club.

Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.”Synopsis from Amazon

Maggie & Me has been on my to-read list for a while, and after hearing Damian talk I cannot wait to get my hands on it. The audience was brilliant too – the queue for signing reaching right back into the auditorium; an utterly successful and entertaining event.


After Damian, I hopped it over to the Founder’s room in the Dome (location of Saturday’s Poetry in Translation), where Richard Cupidi gave a talk on the Public House Bookshop, a left-wing bookstore he ran from 1973 to 1999. I could not help but lament at its closing – I would have been thirteen at the time, far too young to have been able to appreciate its significance. As the presentation went on, you could see they were making history, they subverted mainstream dictation of what should and was sold as literature. The rise of the internet has killed this localised phenomenon; while I felt inspired by Cupidi’s Public House, I felt the loss of being significant in a similar way myself. Public House Bookshop regularly had its windows smashed, was targeted by NeoNazis and was fire bombed twice – this was a place for everyone and everything ‘different’ to gather in a place of safety and acceptance – if I could go back in time, I would go back there.


The last event of the day was a spoken word performance of Heathcote Williams’, The Poetry Army – “a manifestation of subversive poetry.”Brainfruit listing. Roy Hutchins narrated the abridged performance and was joined by poets Shobu Kapoor, Amy Neilson Smith, Charlie Wilson and Selina Nwulu reading extracts of poetry. It was a fantastic performance quoting poetry I knew, and a lot I did not; a perfect event to encourage my own poetry journey. Of course, once Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ was quoted I choked up and had to swallow down some tears – it gets me every time.

Interesting – it might not be interesting – fact, while I was researching this event I came across some of Selena Nwulu’s own poetry and will be featuring one in this week’s poetry post – it is a goodun’.

3 thoughts on “Brighton Festival: Volunteering Day 2 – Damian Barr, Richard Cupidi & The Poetry Army

  1. Glad it’s continuing well. A queue all the way to the back is brilliant, no matter that he’d talked and gained interest beforehand. Happily exhausted is an awesome state 😀


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