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«Read Regional 2020

Keith Hutson: Baldwin’s Catholic Geese

Baldwin’s Catholic Geese looks at life and death through the lens of both legendary and obscure music hall and variety performers from the 1800s to today. My poems feature not only well-known artistes like Hylda Baker, Frankie Howerd, Jimmy James, but also far more bizarre acts – forgotten now – like Willy Netta’s Singing Jockeys, The Bryn Pugh Sponge Dancers, Macauley’s Leaping Infants and, of course, Baldwin’s Catholic Geese.

Many artistes lived short, hard lives, barely scratching a living in the Hippodromes, Playhouses and Empires throughout the country. But they were part of the nation’s vitality and they need to be remembered and celebrated.

Performers like Georgie Doonan, who built a career out of kicking his own backside in time to a drumbeat, Professor Cheer aka The Man With The Xylophone Skull, Joan Rhodes, the stick-thin strongwoman, and Lottie Collins who literally danced herself to death might not be household names now but, in their day, they became hugely popular with people who, like them, were making the best of their luck in a harsh and hazardous world.

A lot of my troupers’ lives were both tragic and funny in equal measure and I have tried to portray this in my poems, to get to the essence of what made them tick, kept them going. I also wanted to show the extraordinary nature of their performances which were hugely original, often risky and sometimes just plain awful!

When I was a child, my uncle would take me to see all the big comedy stars and some variety performers in the twilight of their careers. I was too young to appreciate many of these ‘turns’ but something of their aura, their talent, the way they engaged with an audience, deeply affected me. Without understanding why, I was in awe of them, and perhaps this inspired me to become a comedy writer in later life. So this book has been a labour of love; my tribute to the best – and the worst – of light entertainment.

Questions for Readers

Poetry is sometimes regarded as a ‘minority sport’. How can poetry engage with a wider audience?

What do you think is the legacy of some music hall performers? Is there an unbroken line, or link, between performers of the past and contemporary artistes?

The poet uses strict form, regular meter and a lot of rhyme in his poems – what are your views on less formal styles, and who are your favourite poets?

Recommended Reading

Britain Had Talent by Oliver Double
Turned Out Nice Again by Louis Barfe
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
Grace, Beauty and Banjos by Michael Kilgarriff
My Old Man by John Major
Greasepaint and Cordite by Andy Merriman

Keith Hutson has written for Coronation Street and for many well-known comedians. His poems have appeared extensively in journals, in The Guardian, and have been broadcast on The Verb (BBC Radio 3). Keith has won or been placed in many competitions, including the Poetry Business Yorkshire Prize, the Troubadour Prize, and longlisted twice in the National Poetry Competition. His pamphlet Troupers was a 2018 Laureate’s Choice, chosen by Carol Ann Duffy who Keith regularly tours and reads with. His debut full collection, Baldwin’s Catholic Geese was published by Bloodaxe in 2019. Keith is a member of the Poetry Salzburg editorial board and has an MA (Poetry) from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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