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> > > World Mental Health Poetry: Outside-In/ Dao at Pallant House Gallery

To celebrate National Poetry Day and World Mental Health Day on 8th October Outside In presented an evening of readings and performances at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester in association with Disability Arts Online. Simon Jenner reports.

photo of poet Vince Laws with a motorbike helmet above his head, with an image of the object, painted with words, projected behind him

Vince Laws performing his 'My Mental Helmet' poem at Pallant House Gallery

Outside-In at Pallant House, Chichester is emerging as a happily embedded institution, in a brightly-welcoming gallery environment. Before taking a lungful of poetry you gaze on the 20th century collection of paintings: two each by Bomberg, Fedden, Richards; examples by Sickert, Vaughan, Hodgkin, Caulfield and some discoveries by e.g. John Hubbard. 

This year the event fell on a Thursday, not Saturday, and Pallant House staff under Director Marc Steene who began the movement, must be thanked for opening three further hours especially for us. Jennifer Gilbert now cheerfully heads up Outside In and introduced Colin Hambrook. 

Colin read a stirring piece by prolific, well-known Dao blogger Dolly Sen. ‘You can’t take dignity for times a day’ graphically evokes the Largactyl shuffle affecting her mobility, sex-and-social life as well as dignity embedded here. It deserves status as a torch anthem. 

The artwork shifts: striking things went up. It was impossible to keep pace with those and catch words; immersion is best. 

Derek Collins’ poems arising from ‘the space between fantasy and indolence’ made that space a savage consolation: ones I’d have gladly seen. Dave St Clare has the requisite fury, ending memorably on ‘you’re not in my favour’ inverting royal patronage, though I’d like him to favour himself a bit more too. Some good things stifled, though he’d retort he’s been doing this forty years in ‘his well-lived life’.

Vicky Milner is attached to Outside In, having finished a Fine Art degree at Northbrook. Her imagistically lucid poems really promise something. ‘My Skin’ flinches at itself memorably imaging her four-chambered heart. ‘Rubble’ wrenches a dystopian personal landscape, ‘Roadkill’ was a striking ruminance. ‘My Knicker Draw’ scrawls a lariat sequence of images rendering it intimate, slightly sexy and spookily private, as if we’re rummaging it. 

Martin Myers’ poems are - as you’d expect from a sociologist exploring inequality in gypsy lives – lyrically detailed. For instance ‘Kebab Town’ with its nagging refrain, and the memorable rewrite of Hilaire Belloc’s Ha'nacker Mill from 1940 with its opening: ‘Ha'nacker’s down’ predicting defeat. Myers takes the final half line ‘we’re all done for’ as a fermata for a fantasia involving the crucifying of Belloc in exuberantly gruesome measure. 

Anthony Stevens produced Austerity Bites, prose fantasias, with this life in skinny latte making, and a fine coup where even fairies are sleeping twenty to a room. 

Julia Oak’s images beautifully expand her writing, which puns to a head where she writes of Oaks, entwines their fadings with her own and artfully doodle-meshed uses of green and brown in her projection. She pursues sharp-rhymed apothegms; I wish I could quote one. 

Gary Goodman is a sovereign performer travelling with his daughter as far as Japan, distantly recalling John Cooper Clark. ‘Everyone Sounds Like a Burlesque dancer’ with ‘tattoos like scars’ and movingly a ‘daughter-shaped hole’ when separated. 

Two featured artists followed the interval. Allan Sutherland’s work is consummately poised, lucid as Taurine. It opened with the rousing ‘Difficult People’ society would be rid of ‘Which gives us a lot in common, /we’d like to get rid of you.’ 

There were fine things too in ‘Memory:’ ‘Two years old/ Lying in the dark/ Legs bound/ Because I was the wrong shape’; ‘You Don’t Stop being Disabled’ which ends with ‘And now I open /
A letter from the past/ Written in my own blood/ And what it says is…’ Parodying Sinatra fuels ‘Song for a Recalcitrant Bus Driver’: ‘That’s why the lady needs a ramp.’ ‘Leaning on a Lamppost’ riffs a youth menacing him whilst fitting, varying George Formby’s refrain. 

‘You Don’t Stop Being Epileptic’ shivers brilliantly; ‘Mary Had a Wheelchair’ releases epigrammatic laughter. ‘The Big C’ savages those who told Angela not to write from cancer experience. ‘Disabled and Sexy’ preluded moving verbatim transcription poems framed from people’s lives. We ended on ‘Bite the Hand That Feeds You’ another torch philippic. 

Vince Laws balances excoriating wit: ‘I am a poem’ riffles an exilic litany of transformations squeezed out – like ‘badger-dog’. He’s self-savagingly brilliant on his mother Gladys killed driving: he’d survived swaddled, sharded with glass flukes: ‘No-one can blame you because you’re dead/ I’ll blame my new mother instead.’ 

Images of stolen items sold immediately for £750 flashed up; and his gay-marriage costume preluded legality on a bus. ‘Lily Livered’ trumps with his ‘inner drag queen’ we need a text for. 

Vince produced a bike-helmet emblazoning all words of ‘Mental Health Poem’, a sublime trouvé. Bar killing IDS there’s nothing he can’t manifest.

Richard Storey slotted in train-delayed with ‘Salvation’s Law’ ‘Dagger’ with ‘blood turning from red to green… the gold hound’. ‘Know the odds/ never to wind up at the table of the false gods.’ Some poems might be projected. We need an illustrated anthology of this moving, feisty, truly creative experience.