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Why you should see Ophelia’s Sistas

9 May 2013

Last summer Valerie Laws and Char March came to Southwell Poetry Festival. They attracted an audience of around 40 people, but the laughter and applause that resounded around Southwell Library sounded as if it had come from at least twice that many people. I’ve talked to people who remember Val as ‘the woman with the horse skull’ and Char as ‘the woman who looks great in a Viking helmet’… all of whom are eager to see the show once more.

One of their fans is Sheelagh Gallagher, who has provided this review of their 2012 show.

Valerie Laws (and friend)

Valerie Laws (and friend)

The highlight of last year’s Southwell Library’s Poetry Festival for me was Ophelia’s Sistas, a performance by Valerie Laws and Char March.
An amazing experience, not at all like the mixed experience you get when you first hear your favourite poets reading live and are sometimes just a little bit disappointed and secretly want to tell them they’re not doing it right. (Or is that just me?)

I had heard about Valerie Laws and her Quantum Sheep Haikus and I knew about Char March as part of the successful Some Mothers tour: I had no idea how they would connect their work to each other’s or to the hapless Ophelia. There’s a clue in the titles of their most recent collections which both come from Hamlet – Valerie Laws’ All that Lives and Char March’s The Thousand Natural Shocks, but there’s nothing forced about the way they bring their work together.

Char March - allotment Viking?

Char March – allotment Viking?

Both poets are experienced teachers and holders of residencies around the country and reflect the voices of the people they’ve worked with as well as exploring the humour and sadness in their own lives. Together they shocked and delighted their audience, Char with her responses to clunky stereotypes of lesbian life and Val with her adventures on becoming newly single. Very different perspectives, but so in tune with each other as they read and chatted that the audience was riveted.

At the end of the performance and after enthusiastic applause there was a moment’s silence and people processed some of what they had heard. I saw people with tears in their eyes, some from laughing at Char’s outrageousness and some deeply moved by Valerie’s graphic images of malformed foetuses in pathology museums. After a short break they settled down to talk to the audience until the post–performance session looked likely to be longer than the reading. That’s something you don’t often see, an audience unwilling to leave the charged atmosphere of a great evening’s poetry.

Not for the faint-hearted, you might say. Well, yes, that’s the point of their rallying cry against Ophelia’s passivity. That and a challenge to poetry that is safe and cerebral. This poetry is tough and visceral and an unforgettable experience. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that they’ve agreed to come back to Nottinghamshire to our ever more popular Beeston Poets series. Don’t miss it!

Get your tickets (£7.50, £5.50 concessions) from Beeston Library or via our online shop. If there are tickets remaining, they will also be available on the door.

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