On 29th February 2020 I organised ‘A Leap in the Dark’, the last (as it turned out) in a series of fund-raising literary cabarets which included nights dedicated to Finnegans Wake and Moby-Dick.
That Leap Year night featured music (from Helen Ottaway and Melanie Pappenheim), poetry (Apollinaire’s Zone delivered in French and English by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo and Michael Hughes); ’24/7 Brexitland’ (a satirical broadside written and performed by the poet Amy McCauley), polemic (Tony White and Natalia Zagorska-Thomas), performance (a blazing monologue by Tim Etchells) and the world premiere of Amy’s extraordinary Propositions, now published by Monitor Press. There was plenty of grub, and whiskey. We all had a great time, and so did the audience.
A few weeks later the first lockdown started.
I wanted to keep the balls rolling so started running subsequent events online, although at that time I hadn’t yet heard of Zoom. I wrote about the idea here:
Our first Leap gathering was on Friday April 3rd after which the programme ran twice weekly on Fridays and Saturdays, featuring poets, authors, translators, musicians, singers, indie publishers, artists, film-makers and other creative types. We had opera, conceptual ceramics, book launches, indie press showcases, close reading masterclasses, film premieres, poetry in French, Greek, Spanish and Irish, quizzes, auctions and an ill-fated attempt at live bingo.
I pulled the plug after the fiftieth Leap and took a month off before launching a new weekly series called Carthorse Orchestra. These began in October 2020 and ran for 12 months, and another fifty shows.
In the course of these two series more than 300 talents have contributed from around the UK and all over the world: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the USA. Our loyal invitation-only audience is likewise global.
These gatherings are free to join, so donations to The Trussell Trust are welcome. (It’s a food bank charity that does a lot of good in these hard times.)
A Leap in the Dark and Carthorse Orchestra have together led to the development of a loose-knit company of regular contributors and a loyal core audience. After the fiftieth Carthorse, which was also the hundredth gathering, I threw in the towel as I had a book to complete and edit and submit and needed all my time and energy for that. But there are plans for other programmes in the future - a series of one-off events in December 2021 and after that, who knows?
My thanks are inadequate but heartfelt - to all the contributors (now more than 200 in number) who have donated their time and energy and talent free of charge; to the audience both loyal regulars and one-off visitors; to the indie publishers who have curated evenings: Bluemoose Press,
CB editions, Les Fugitives, Henningham Family Press, Galley Beggar Press, Nightjar Press, Sagging Meniscus Press and Tramp Press.
Below is a list of all fifty Carthorse Orchestra gatherings, held on Saturday nights between October 24th 2020 and October 2nd 2021, with thanks to all who took part.
1 Oct 24 The Night the Clops Turn Back
At the first in a new series of weekly gatherings to see us through the dark months ahead we’ll have three songs from the artist Georgia Boniface; Tim Etchells will talk us through Forced Entertainment’s acclaimed tabletop Shakespeare (currently online Thursdays to Sundays at 8pm); Oscar Mardell joins us from Auckland to read his latest prose piece ‘Rex tremendae’ and we’ll have contributions from Susanna Crossman (France), Paulette Jonguitud (Mexico), David Holzer (Hungary), and Kevin Boniface (Huddersfield).
2 Oct 31 Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
For Hallowe’en we’ll be exploring Mary Shelley’s durable creation, from its origins one stormy night on the shores of Lake Geneva to its many subsequent manifestations in popular culture. We’ll be joined by the poet and biographer Fiona Sampson who will consider Shelley’s life work and legacy, Gary Lachman on the movie versions, Marie-Elsa Bragg on the troubling theological implications of re-animation and author Owen Booth will read his wonderful story with a title far too long to include in this paragraph. We’ll have a celebration of the actor Ernest Thesiger and a few beneficial shocks along the way.
3 Nov 7 MERDRE! PSCHITT! On Alfred Jarry and Pere Ubu
Peter Chrisp, Lisa Wolfe, Rachel Genn, Frank Wynne, Kevin Davey, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas, David Holzer.
4 Nov 14 Edward Carey, M. John Harrison and friends
Edward Carey, M. John Harrison, Jen Hodgson, Linda Mannheim, Wendy Erskine, Emma Devlin and Helen Ottaway.
5 Nov 21 Is anybody there?
Two Songs by David Bremner, performed by Elizabeth Hilliard (soprano) with David on piano; Peter Chrisp and Lisa Wolfe produce some ectoplasm; Lisa Morton on Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances; James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover - Dan O’Brien in conversation, with readings by Stephanie Ellyne; Marie-Elsa Bragg shares some thoughts on the afterlife; David Collard recalls an encounter with the medium Doris Stokes.
6 Nov 28 Celebrating the Conchy
The Republic of Consciousness Prize, with contributions from Declan O’Driscoll, Kevin Duffy, Will Eaves, Neil Griffiths, Eloise Millar, Sam Mills, John Mitchinson, Alex Pheby, James Tookey, Laura Waddell and Frank Wynne.
7 Dec 5 Spring Journal launch
Lucy Caldwell, Susanna Crossman, Emma Devlin, Jonathan Gibbs, Michael Hughes, Helen Ottaway, Melanie Pappenheim, Ian Patterson and Guillermo Stitch
8 Dec 12 On Derrida: An Event, Probably
Peter Salmon, Vlatka Horvat, Tim Etchells, Drew Gummerson, Nicholas Royle, Lindas Mannheim, Wendy Erskine and Joanna Walsh.
9 Dec 19 A Christmas Carol with the Carthorse Players
Georgia Boniface, Kevin Boniface, Susanna Crossman, Kevin Davey, Emma Devlin, Rónán Hession, Laura Hopkins, Amy McCauley, J O Morgan, Helen Ottaway, Melanie Pappenheim, Samuel Skoog, Aea Varfis-van Warmelo and Andrew Zec
10 Dec 26 The Pale Usher’s Boxing Day Lock-in
A private function. What happens at The Pale Usher’s Boxing Day Lock-in stays at The Pale Usher’s Boxing Day Lock-in.
11 Jan 2 We’ll Never Have Paris
In 2019 Repeater Books published the acclaimed anthology We’ll Never Have Paris.
Edited by Andrew Gallix, this ambitious collection brought together eighty of the most talented and adventurous writers from the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia and New Zealand to explore the French capital through short stories, essays and poetry, creating a vivid portrait of Paris as viewed by English speakers today — A Moveable Feast for the twenty-first century.
With readings by Susanna Crossman, Sam Jordison, Wendy Erskine, Joanna Walsh and Nicholas Royle.
12 Jan 9 We’ll Never Have Paris (part deux)
With Laura Waddell, David Hayden, Heidi James, Gerard Feehily, C. D. Rose, Eley Williams, Alex Pheby, Jen Hodgson and Paul Ewen with Loren Ipsum, a short film by Julie Kamon based on a text by Andrew Gallix. We'll always have We'll Never Have Paris..
13 Jan 16 Trauma: Essays on Art and Mental Health
An event to mark the launch of Trauma: Essays on Art and Mental Health, a new anthology of essays that range from the personal to the political, from the raw to the reflective, exploring topics such as grief, insomnia, anxiety, schizophrenia, meditation, abusive relationships, work, and the connection between madness and creativity.
Trauma is edited by Thom Cuell and Sam Mills, co-founders of indie publishers Dodo Ink, who will curate the evening. With Monique Roffey, Susanna Crossman, Venetia Welby, Jude Cook, Azad Ashim Sharma, Marina Benjamin, David Lynch and Christiana Spens.
14 Jan 23 Sagging Meniscus Press
An evening curated by the New York publisher Jacob Smullyan, with M. J. Nicholls, Stephanie Ellyne, Stephen Moles, Guillermo Stitch, Seth Rogoff, Jesi Bender, Aaron Antsett, Thomas Walson and Elizabeth Cooperman.
15 Jan 30 QUEER anthology launch with Frank Wynne
An evening of poetry, prose, music and performance to celebrate the publication of this major new anthology.
Featuring Aea Varfis-van Warmelo, Roz Kaveney, Rónán Hession, Adriana Jacobs, Jeremy Tiang, Lawrence Schimel, Jeffrey Zuckerman, Max Lobe, Ros Schwarz, Andrew McMillan, Anna Halager, Cat Fitzpatrick and Keith Jarrett.
16 Feb 6 The Thirties revisited
“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme” said Mark Twain. In Britain the 1930s, that ‘low dishonest decade’, are often portrayed as a period that rhymes with our times, given the rise of far-right political movements, public demagoguery, widespread austerity, vast inequalities in wealth, mass unemployment, pervasive anxiety and a loss of faith in democracy. Is that really the case?
With Nick Hubble, Luke Seaber, Elinor Taylor, Peter Salmon and Kevin Davey.
17 Feb 13 A Veritable Smörgåsbord
All smörgåsbords are veritable of course, but some are more veritable than others. This week’s Carthorse brings together a brilliant new literary prize-winner, a neglected Edwardian author, a pocket opera, some spellbinding thoughts about how we think, wonderful lockdown art from the United States, feminist polemic, off-trail love poetry and reflections on proximity.
Featuring Jake Goldsmith, Riva Lehrer, Ray Davis, Susanna Crossman, Sam Mills, Edward Carey, Rachel Genn, Marina Benjamin, Aea Varfis-van Warmelo and (uncredited) J O Morgan.
18 Feb 20 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2020/2021
Curated by Sam Jordison and Eloise Millar of Galley Beggar Press and featuring: Marcus Cheetham, Gordon Collins, Emma Devlin, Edward Hogan, Rashad Hosein, Andrea Macleod, Lotte Mitchell Reford, Nora Thurkle and Lauren Van Schaik. Special guest Stephanie Ellyne.
19 Feb 27 Niven Govinden: Diary of a Film
Niven launches his latest novel Diary of a Film with guests Stephen Kelman, Alim Kheraj, Paul Mendez, Emma Patterson, Sunny Singh and Saskia Vogel.
20 March 6 Carthorse Birthdaystra
On 29th February 2020 the original Leap in the Dark took place in a derelict and freezing Conservative Club in Paddington, a few weeks before the first lockdown began. This show is the 70th in a continuing series that ran to 50 Leaps and (to date) 20 Carthorse Orchestras. This first anniversary show reunites four of the original performers with longstanding regulars, and two newcomers.
With Kevin Boniface, Susanna Crossman, Caroline Hett, Paulette Jonguitud, Oscar Mardell, Eimear McBride, Amy McCauley, Helen Ottaway, Melanie Pappenheim, Guillermo Stitch, Aea Varfis-van Waremelo and Frank Wynne.
21 March 13 The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: the opera
A unique opportunity to see and hear the celebrated 1987 opera in the company of the librettist Chris Rawlence. With contributions from Michael Hughes, Rachel Genn, Lawrence Weschler and others.
22 March 20 New Balkan fiction with Istros Press
Susan Curtis of indie publisher Istros Press curates a Balkan showcase featuring fiction, biography and film from Mitija Cander, Daša Drndić (read by Stephanie Ellyne), Feyza Howell, Dušan Šarotar and Faruk Sehic.
23 March 27 The Night the Clops Turn Forward
Carthorse Orchestra began on October 24th 2020 - the night the clocks turned back. Here we are, six months later, on the night the clocks go forward and British Summer Time begins. An eclectic first half features Wendy Erskine (recalling Derry band the Undertones), clothes designer Georgia Boniface (presenting her spring line from her Yorkshire atelier), Shelley Hastings (reading from her work in progress), poet Jacqueline Saphra (sharing some of her hundred lockdown sonnets) and our regular reader Stephanie Ellyne (remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti).
The second half, curated by Amy McCauley, has a theme of ‘touch’ and features Nick Powell, Aea Varfis van-Warmelo, Gav Clarke, Nia Davies and Nathan Walker.
24 April 3 Carthorse OrchEaster
Dan O’Brien reads from A Story That Happens: on playwriting, childhood & other traumas
‘Dog’s Best Friend’ by Dan O’Brien performed by Terry Kinney
Galley Beggar Press short story prize winner Edward Hogan reads ’Single Sit’
Charles Boyle on the latest CB editions publication Strange Annals by Roy Watkins
Reading by Roy Watkins
Remembering Leema (part 1) performed by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo
Natalia Zagorska-Thomas on the British vice of self-effacement
25 April 10 Weatherglass Books launch/Two debut novels
Music from David Bremner and Elizabeth Hilliard
Neil Griffiths (Weatherglass Books) and debut author Isobel Wohl discuss Cold New Climate
Magic with Oliver Catford (1)
Alim Kheraj/Tim Boddy Queer London
Line by Niall Bourke (Tramp Press, published April 8th)
Linda Mannheim and Wendy Erskine undertake a close reading of a short story by Ruby Cowling
26 April 17 Wrestling, with French literature
Music from Helen Ottaway
A song from Alice and Liliane Crossman
Introducing Les Fugitives with publisher Cecile Menon
Poetics of Work by Noémi Lefebvre, translated by Sophie Lewis
The Fool and other Moral Tales by Anne Ernaud
Magic with Oliver Catford (2)
Sarah Elizabeth Cox on Victorian wrestling
Toby Litt on Wrestliana
Roland Barthes on the grunt ’n’ grapple game
1970s telly wrestlers revisited
27 April 24 Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun, Foulness, Remembering
Leema and 100 Lockdown sonnets
Jacob Smullyan on The Exacting Clam
Jeff Chon’s Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun
Charles Holdefer reads from Magic Even You Can Do, by Blast and Bring Me the Head of Mr. Boots.
Corina Bardoff reads her short story ‘The Quellers of the Flood’
David Henningham on Foulness and Henningham Family Press
Remembering Leema (part 2) performed by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo
Magic with Oliver Catford (3) recorded?
Jacqueline Saphra reads from 100 Lockdown Sonnets
28 May 1 Mayday! Mayday!
Music by Helen Ottaway
Remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) with Kevin Davey,
Annie Janowitz, David Holzer and Stephanie Ellyne
Close-up magic with Oliver Catford
Ben Pester reads from his debut collection Am I in the Right Place? (Boilerhouse Press)
Four chapbooks from Nightjar Press:
Tower Block Ghost Story by T.S.J. Harling
Two Degrees of Freedom by Simon Okotie
The Elevator by Imogen Reid
The Keeper by David Rudkin
Readings by T.S.J. Harling and Simon Okotie
Georgia Boniface: Yorkshire couture
DC on Jono Trench (1939-2021)
29 May 8 Prose, poetry, religion, werewolves, zombies, wrestling
DC on Michael Jackson’s Thriller
Jonathan Gibbs long listed Times Audible Short Story Prize read by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo
Rufo Quintavalle reads from ’Shelf’
Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey
Wes Brown on wrestling narratives
Sarah Elizabeth Cox on lucha libre masks
30 May 15 cartgorse orchestra
Curated by Susan Tomaselli
with music by David Bremner and Elizabeth Hilliard
June Caldwell on Nuala O’Faolain
Alice Lyons on Russell Hoban
Nathan O’Donnell on Oliver Goldsmith
Eimear McBride on collaborating with Beckett (pre-recorded)
Niamh Campbell on John McGahern
Ronan Hession and Phillip Hancock in conversation
31 May 22 Significant others
Julian Evans on the EBRD Literature Prize 2021
The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from the Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (Peirene Press). Shortlisted for this year’s EBRD Prize
Cas Stockford on Turkish poetry in translation
Dancing on Ropes: Translators and the Balance of History by Anna Aslanyan
Insignificance by James Clammer
Charles Boyle on Leila Berg’s Flickerbook with readings by Natasha Lehrer
Remembering Leema (part 3) performed by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo POSTPONED
32 May 29 Panenka (You may wish to note the above)
Panenka launch event with author Ronan Hession and publisher Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books
Tim Etchells and Joanna Walsh on Seed
Tony White on Piece of Paper Press
Lynn Buckle What Willow Says
Brutal Arithmetic with Laura Hopkins
33 June 5 Pantomime Carthorse
The front end
Remembering Leema (part 3/4)
Trauma anthology with Lily Dunn and Zoe plus two readers
Amy McCauley curates the rear end with
Sam Skoog and Seren Oroszvary (Aphos Prologue)
34 June 12 Doing time in the Balkans
Translator John Hodgson reads Fatos Lubanja’s untitled/unpublished Prison Stories (Istros Books)
readings by Michael Hughes
Fatos Lubania in conversation with publisher Susan Curtis
Single-cell Organism - a one-act play by Bruce Sherfield with Rufo Quintavalle
Adam Mars-Jones reads from Batlava Lake (Fitzcarraldo editions)
CD Rose The Blind Accordionist (
35 June 19 The Dinner Party Revisited with Susanna Crossman
and her guests Chiara Ambrosio, Clare Archibald, Dr Pragya Agarwal, Marina Benjamin, Saudamini Deo
Rachel Genn, Shelley Hastings, Paulette Jonguitud, Julie Lagarrigue, Sam Mills, Jessica Sequeira
Isabella Streffen and Venetia Welby
36 June 26 A History of Women’s Poetry in Ireland
With co-editors David Wheatley (Aberdeen University) and Ailbhe Darcy (Cardiff University) and guests.
Music by Elizabeth Hilliard and David Bremner performing Siobhán Cleary's Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoire setting part of the 18th Century poem by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonail. A previous performance is at ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7pwoZJKi4U ) (7m)
37 July 3 Things Are Against Us
Things Are Against Us: Lucy Ellmann/Galley Beggar Press launch event plus
Stephanie Ellyne readings
Close reading of a Lucy Ellmann essay by Wendy Erskine
Fiona Erskine Phosphate Rocks
Oscar Mardell readings
Remembering Leema part 5
David Henningham on Foulness
Launch of J O Morgan’s debut novel Pupa
38 July 10 Cahors Orchestra: Under the Influence
DC on Cahors, Hemingway and Connolly, and that Rouen honeymoon lunch
Melissa McCarthy on blueness
Oscar Mardell reads from Great Works
Wes Brown on wrestling and kayfabe
Charles Boyle The Other Jack
Julian Stannard reads ‘Better Now Or Better Now Or Better Never?’
Joanna Walsh/Susan Tomaselli launch Under the Influence with guests
Dimitra Xidous, Fernando Sdrigotti, Rachel Genn and Owen Booth
39 July 17 Clambake Orchestra
Exacting Clam launch curated by editor Guillermo Stitch and publisher Jacob Smullyan with Kevin Boniface, Steven Breyak, Elizabeth Cooperman, Jack Foley, Jake Goldsmith, Kurt Luchs, Paolo Pergola, Dawn Raffel, Alina Stefanescu, Kevin Sirois, Thomas Walton and others
40 July 24 Specs & drugs & paperbacks
Alba Arikha on Bohemianism
Through the Looking Glasses: Travis Elsborough on his new history of spectacles
Two poems by Julian Stannard
White Spines by Nicholas Royle
David Holzer on strong medication
Curated by the American indie KERNPUNKT PRESS with
Jesi Bender, ’N/A’ Operah, Aimee Parkison, Jason Teal
41 July 31 Writing on Film
Joanna Walsh (curates)
Lauren Elkin on Agnes Varda
Maria Fusco on Donald Sutherland
Matt Longabucco on La Maman et la Putain (Jean Eustache, 1973)
Carol Mavor on dance and choreography
42 Aug 7 Grub first, then ethics
On The Trussell Trust
Tom Jones: lusty dining
DC on the Rouen honeymoon lunch
Lucy Ellmann’s sandwiches (read by Stephanie Elleyne)
Guillermo Stitch reads the sexy feast episode from Lake of Urine
W. H. Auden’s ‘Grub First, Then Ethics’ read by DC
Interval: Will Grove-White/Toby Litt Dancing in the Kitchen.
Sam Skoog: Bucket Men
DC/Stephanie on condemned prisoners’ last meals
Nigella’s eggs in purgatory
43 Aug 14 Golem Girl
DC on the Trussell Trust
David Hayden reads ’No Stories’
Fiona O’Connor on women in publishing
Remembering Leema (part 6) performed by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo confirmed
Riva Lehrer, Golem Girl
with her guests Helene Wecker and Michael Chemers,
44 Aug 21 For Rukshana
A special programme prompted by events in Afghanistan to raise funds for Rukshana Media, an organisation that supports women journalists and reports on women’s issues.
Natasha Lehrer reads a statement from Rukshana Media founder Zahra Joya
J O Morgan reads ‘The Splendour Falls’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
DC on Tennyson, Turner and ‘The Fighting Temeraire’
On the events of September 22nd 1934
Coal Face screening
Fatima: Afghanistan’s first female tourist guide
On phonoaesthetics and word aversion
Poet and author Patrick Mackie on Mozart in Motion
Cosi fan tutti from the New York Met (overture)
45 Aug 28 Spring Journal revisited
First anniversary of the complete reading of Spring Journal
Lucy Caldwell and Michael Hughes read Canto XV of Autumn Journal and Spring Journal
Jonathan Gibbs: Spring Sequel - a new canto read by Michael Hughes
DC reads the opening of Autumn Sequel
Spring Journal selected cantos
W H Auden reads ‘The Cave of Making (in memoriam Louis MacNeice)’
Wherever We Are When We Come To The End by Richard Barnett
Seesaw by Carmel Doohan
46 Sept 4 Horse, cart, some poets
Hosted by CB editions publisher Charles Boyle with
Dan O’Brien, Beverley Bie Brahic, Philip Hancock, Caroline Moore, Nuzhat Bukhari, Will Eaves, Patrick Mackie, Dai Vaughan(read by J O Morgan) and Andrew Elliott (read by Michael Hughes)
47 Sept 11 Cher’s hot arse carrot (anag. 9,9)
J O Morgan reads Roz Kaveney's 'Ballad of Death and the Maiden'
Helen Ottaway: Dedications (recorded, introduced by Helen with Melanie Pappenheim)
Kevin Boniface Letter from Huddersfield
Paulette Jonguitud Letter from Mexico City
Susana Crossman Letter from Dinan
Oscar Mardell Letter from Auckland
Venetia Welby Dreamtime (Salt)
Roz Kaveney on her Selected Poems
David Holzer on strong medication
Cher & David Bowie medley
48 Sept 18 Remembering Leema
Remembering Leema by Aea Varfis-van Warmelo performed in its entirety by the author and Samuel Skoog.
49 Sept 25 The Burgess Shale
Three Graves by Sean Gregory, the author in conversation with Wes Brown
Andrew Biswell (International Burgess Foundation)
No End to Enderby film introduced by Graham Eatough and Stephen Sutcliffe
DC on Burgess
50 Oct 2 The Knackers Yard
A final canter around the paddock, and it's a three-part show
Part 1 For whom the bells toll
Ring Ring Bell (Helen Ottaway)- a film with music
Lauren Elkin on No. 91/92 notes on a Parisian commute
Paul Stanbridge on The Encyclopedia of St. Arbuc
Part 2 Plugs
Forthcoming books from Carthorse favourites Sara Baume, Ronan Hession, Michael
Hughes and Wendy Erskine and our favourite indie publishers
A cohort of leading indie publishers also announce their 2022 lists
Part 3: Another Leap in the Dark
The original company, last seen together on 29th February 2020, reunited for one night only.
Tim Etchells, Michael Hughes, Amy McCauley, Helen Ottaway, Melanie Pappenheim
Paul Stanbridge Aea Varfis-van Warmelo, Tony White and Natalia Zagorska-Thoma