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?
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