Not just one new post. A whole fenceful of new posts are fine and upstanding in the garden which yesterday was even graced by sunshine.
- The fence - garden side
What a strange time of year this is -- lovely but odd. The crocuses and spring bulbs are perking up like they've never been away and at the same time all the debris of autumn and last summer sprawls all over the place. And the earth is so compacted after the snow, so flattened! The men putting up the fence have flattened it even more. However, it is a fine fence. It is upstanding fence. It is a fence of magnificence.
Meanwhile, this is StAnza week, and I managed two things on Friday after work. I can report back on a fabulous reading from Tiffany Atkinson and Kei Miller. I had heard neither of them before and will forget neither of them again. A great combination: two excellent performers doing something very distinctive and often very beautiful too.
Later there was Moniza Alvi and Dennis O'Driscoll. These are two people whose work I've read here and and there for a terribly long time. They were nothing like I expected. Better -- much better. The Alvi poems about souls, for instance, have always irked me somehow, like a mannerism you feel you ought to not mind but do mind. However, she had great charm in introducing these poems and especially her comment at the start -- that she had noticed the word 'soul' had become taboo in modern verse so she decided to use it as much as she could -- that somehow made it all right. Her links were extremely interesting: many of her poems were pretty short and often when it's like this, you tune into the links more (poets please note). I've just looked her up, and there's an instant proof (I think) of the unreliability of Wikipedia, which has her down as born in 1968. Other sources (including York University, of which she is an alumnus) have it as 1954. She is looking pretty good for 56 but remarkably good for 42. . . .
Meanwhile, Dennis O'Driscoll, born (how interesting) the same year - 1954 - probably looked a bit older than he must be. He did remark that he had been looking as though he was nearly dead for most of his life, but actually that wasn't true. You can see the twinkle in his eye from 100 yards away. He is a very slight man though: slight-man-in-suit, and he stood at the lectern with one leg crossed in a slightly apologetic way, though his manner of speech was not apologetic. His manner of speech was extremely funny and of course he is Irish -- what a birthright for the voice! He is an arch entertainer, had his audience rapt, knew it, relished it and communicated the full range of emotions -- from frivolity and delight to that tragic fall, when the silence opens around the words. You couldn't not like Dennis O'D. Yet how often have I read him in Poetry Nation Review and thought he was yet another of their dry, utterly-male essayists? I must not have read him properly. Perhaps his paper words were overwhelmed by their context in that so literary journal (free copies of which were given away in the Grevel Lindop StAnza lecture, which was on myth.
Lindop spoke about "a recovery of a sacred vision of the world through a poetry that draws on the language of myth" and much of what he said was very interesting: some of the old stories he replayed for us, the anecdote about Oliver Sacks and his 'dead' leg. . . He got a lot of questions at the end, too. I wasn't sure whether I was convinced about the big spiritual role for poetry: the recovery of a 'sacred vision'. I'm not always sure what poetry is in this regard, even though I admire several poets (Ruth Pitter is one) who espouse what can only be described as "a sacred vision". All the same I get 'antsy' about the whole terminology, start to shift in my seat.
Yep. Just lately the word 'spiritual' has started to be a problem for me. At a poetry festival, you remember (how did you forget?) that there's no shared understanding of the meaning of the word 'poetry' (let alone 'spiritual'). This in itself is reassuring: it means the centuries of definitions, the multiple attempts to pin it down, haven't worked. But when you sense a far-reaching manifesto for the power of the Po, I don't know.. . Some prickle of resistance stirs the hairs on the back of my neck and not for the reasons that interrupted A E Housman shaving.
At lunchtime yesterday I went to a reading at Perth Writers Day (Scotland is somewhat overfull of literary festery this weekend - not just StAnza -- unmissable for poets -- but Perth Writers and even the interestingly named Clackswrite Writers' festival in Alloa.) Back to Perth.
The Perth event was a launch reading for three 'new' poets: Andy Jackson (not to be confused with A B Jackson, who is also a Scotland-based poet), Morgan Downie and Deborah Trayhurn. All three read well: very different poets, very different personalities but a nice event, organised by the remarkable novelist and Soutar Writer in Residence Ajay Close. Andy was funny. I already had a copy of his book, and I had flicked through with interest, but his reading deepened the interest: he has some magnificent endings. He has the art of building towards a climax that satisfies, carries off a poem with aural panache. Morgan Downie was very visual: he created intensely real pictures of the Western Isles, painted word pictures -- at times it was like opening a window and looking right through.
Deborah Trayhurn, of course, was the one I was keenest to hear because I published her pamphlet, Embracing Water, before Christmas, but had never met her in person. It's riveting to hear a person read poems you have yourself typed out word by word, moved from page to page, savoured letter by letter. Not quite like anything else. At the point of assembling the publication, you disappear inside the poems -- like going for a long walk in a rainstorm -- after a while you are so immersed in them, you can't even see them any more. Then the book is published and you come out, you come right out and you almost lose touch again with what is in it. Other readers comment on the work: some like it a lot, some less. You leave the publication to make its own way in the world. You start on the next one.
And then you hear the artist, like yesterday, make it come alive. She is a delicate and elegant person: she looked precise and beautiful and at the same time slightly period. She could have read at Harold Munro's Poetry Bookshop evening readings and not been out of place. Deborah is a visual artist as well as a word-worker and you sense that in her reading. The poems in this set all have first line titles which means, effectively, they have no titles -- and that is how she read them: brief introduction and then straight in. Full immersion. I particularly liked her introduction and reading of Whether I write, words like birds, its modesty and joy in writing, its impish bouncing from phrase to phrase, its tender reassurance to new writers. It countered the idea of the huge mission for Poetry, brought it back to the small joy, the personal pride, the delight.
Matt says I photographed the fence from 'the wrong side'. He says fences are meant to be looked at from the outside.
- The Right Side of the fence