Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Thesaurus of Readings?

Two readings in one week is a rare occurrence for me. The first, up in Cumbria, with the wonderful friendly and attentive Poem and a Pinters was a lively evening - with a great spread of poets - open mics included Mike Barlow (reading his 3rd prize winning 'Mack' fresh from Strokestown) and Jennifer Copley, whose pamphlet Living Daylights (Happenstance Press) is a eerily fascinating and oddly funny response to death. I was billed with Graham Austin, whose relentless humour kept his set upbeat and me wondering why I had to follow him.

The same was true for the second of the two readings - at University of Cumbria, with the very marvellous and dry Andrew McMillan (pictured left, looking the relaxed and engaging performer he is). Andrew is an interesting deliverer of his work, in that he punctuates his elastic, insightful and often tragic poems withan irrepressible and irreverent wit. The result is unsettling, demanding attention and rewarding in a crystal sharpness. And the rest of the audience clearly found it so since they'd laugh at what seemed to be a punchline of a poem before their cognitives caught up with the jaw muscles and they realised they were laughing at loss or pain. I'm working with Andrew on his second pamphlet, due out from Red Squirrel Press in the autumn, and it was great to hear him read some of its poems out alongside older ones - the leap in confidence of form and breadth is thrilling.

And, yes, talking of leaps. I used both readings to test out a few new poems from Hawthornden. Always a nerve wracking experience - such fresh poems, but they're from the sequence that is rooted in The Bay, so I thought the audience would be at least interested in a perspective of their locality. Made more jittery given one of the poems is a villanelle - needing to be because of its subject matter - lighthouses - but written, rewritten and read with Donnie P's disparagement of villanelle's loud in my memory. And a quiet fear he might be right. So, all the more gratifying was the positive response to these newer poems - the audience being the true gauge of your work - and encouraging the continuation of the rigorous rewriting I'm filling my spare time with. We shall see how they're received further afield...

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