I’m in this anthology, the distilled essence of Coventry’s legendary Fire and Dust poetry nights.
I wouldn’t claim to have been the most regular attendee at their monthly events. Working full-time as a lecturer tends to get in the way of a rich and fulfilling social life, especially during marking time!
But I always felt welcome there, as indeed does everyone who has read their work at Fire and Dust. Unlike some poetry groups, F+D always fostered a very open, supportive and warm environment. It is the opposite of elitist, in other words.
However, that doesn’t equate to lower standards. Every event they ever ran had an excellent contemporary poet headlining, and the open mic sessions were astonishing in the range of different voices, bewilderingly eclectic at times as this anthology indicates, but always engaging, intriguing, thought-provoking and passionate.
I never saw anyone bored at Fire and Dust, and it remains one of the things I miss about England. And it’s proven to be a real incubator of talent too, with some pretty big names cutting their teeth there over the past near-decade.
So if you ever wondered how good the quality of contemporary poetry in the English West Midlands is, you should simply pop along, virtually or in person (they do both online and meatspace events now). Failing that, buying this anthology is the next best thing!
I carry Neanderthal DNA in my body. I am one of the modern humans, homo sapiens sapiens, who are descended from hybrid cross-hominid fertilisation that likely occurred somewhen during the overlap of populations in paelolithic Europe.
Of course, that side of the family died out a long time ago, leaving my sapiens ancestors to colonise Europe and indeed everywhere else on the planet.
I often wonder what we lost when we lost our hominid relatives – the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, the hobbit-like Homo Floriensis and so on. What might a world of multiple hominid species be like? How might we have accommodated our stronger, carnivorous and less gracile Neanderthal population? What might our tiny cousin with grapefruit-sized heads, the Floriensis hobbits, have contributed to our world?
Anyhow, the more I ponder the roads not taken, the less impressed I have become with our own boastful claims and achievements. Not simply because human achievement increasingly has come at the expense of all other species (initially the large mammals, then our fellow hominids, and now basically everything else). But also because even those achievements, it seems to me, may not really be ours to claim.
Air flight, modern medicine, computers? For sure. We made those. But let’s go back upstream to the origins of civilisation to see whose civilisation is it really?
Neanderthals used fire. Indeed, probably homo erectus, the ur-granddaddy of hominids used fire. Fire is a major issue. No other animal uses it. Most run terrified from it. But hominids tamed it, and found ways to use it for cooking and heat. If there’s one development which most explains why hairless apes like us and not, say, the gorillas or big cats rule this world, it is probably the taming of fire.
Neanderthals also buried their dead. This is a sobering thought really. In some senses so do elephants, and other species also demonstrate evidence of mourning, loss and grief. We may feel that grief is one of the things which makes us human, but it’s not an exclusively human sentiment. Even taking it to the point of ritual behaviour – burial – is not exclusive to us.
But what of the other foundational components of human culture and society? What about clothing, art, science, religion?
Well, Neanderthals made jewellery from seashells and animal teeth. Neanderthals created artwork on cave walls. Neanderthals invented musical instruments, specifically bone flutes. We can presume they knew how to beat on drums or rocks rhythmically too. After all, they also had hand axes, which would have been made and used with such rhythmical hitting. Neanderthals built stone shrines, and where there are shrines, it is highly likely that ritualistic behaviour took place.
Neanderthals used lissoirs, and hence invented hide preparation, and hence clothing. They invented glue and string and throwing spears which they used to hunt large game. These hunts required collective action and collaboration. Recent evidence suggests that Neanderthals may even have learnt to count and actually recorded their counting by notching scratches on bones.
So perhaps this isn’t OUR civilisation at all, when you think about it. Perhaps we are thieves living in someone else’s house, whom we murdered, looking at their achievements and claiming them as our own.