The rowans outside my study window are greening in front of my eyes. One day there's no blossom in the town; the next there are trees drenched in pink. The tulips in the front garden are standing proud with little red lines crinkling where they plan to open this week if the sun persists (it's gone cloudy again this morning). This is the best time of year. Everything full of promise and eagerness. Nothing yet lost . . .
The Brilliant Poetry event in Montrose on Friday was lovely. I have never been to Montrose before -- what a confession! I have never seen that great extraordinary sandy basin of the South Esk estuary. I drove up right after a Higher English class on Friday afternoon. It always strikes me as odd to move from teaching people to pass exams in English to doing the thing -- doing the 'live poetry' when so much of it in the classroom seems so dead. Reassuring though. It reminds you -- when you need to remember it -- that poetry is a magical thing and can be magical for anybody in the right circumstances.
Rachel Fox organises these events in the Links Hotel -- an intensely friendly venue, set up cafe style with little tables and a bar and microphones at the front and a Dave-Allen-type stool for performers to use or not use. I sat on it. For a little person a high stool is a wonderful thing. There were Rachel-friends doing the raffle, Rachel-friends on the door, Rachel-friends in the audience -- a sense of fun and loyalty to her. She is a performer and poet herself, of course, and between each of the three guys on the menu, she read a poem of her own with verve and charm. The last of these would have done brilliantly at a slam event, though I know she doesn't think of herself as a slam poet. What is a 'slam poet' for goodness sake? I should know better than to use these silly categories. It was a great audience poem.
I was looking forward to hearing the singer-songwriter Andy Shanks and he was every bit as good as I expected. Terrific. Sheer pleasure. Only thing missing was a wooden floor so you could tap along to some of the rhythms. They have folk events at the Links too and it's a great place for that -- if I lived in Montrose, or near, I'd be there. Lots of Andy's songs have Fife references in them too; something lovely about that.
For me, it was a slightly breath-catching honour to read alongside Don Paterson. (Superb website, by the way, with all sorts of STUFF in it. Must read for those interested in metaphor). Never read with him before but of course I've been to many of his readings and he is also one of the few contemporary poets whose work I've followed closely, practically from the start -- at least from his first book publication. I don't like the word 'great' for poets but for me he is one of the few really special writers; as remarkable as his former friend Michael Donaghy, whose name was mentioned. There was a feeling of dead friends around, with Peter Porter having died that same day. I heard this on the news on the way in, didn't know he was also a friend of Don's. But all of poetry is a friend to the dead: it is permeated with those who have gone before. We are links in a chain: the chain goes on.
Just lately I keep writing funeral poems -- that is to say, poems to be read at my funeral. I must be on about the 8th. It's because people I care about keep dying. It's part of the natural process of life, I know, but I'm getting older. It's going to be me at one of these events sooner or later and I really want a good funeral. Years ago at a very sad funeral (early death, car accident) the grieving partner read aloud Auden's Stop all the clocks and I wasn't going to cry, but as he got to the end of that poem, of course I started. The thought going through my head was Auden, you bastard. Poets can and do exploit the emotive response, and the older you get, the more you cry, even at your own poems. I was going to read my 8th funeral poem at Montrose but decided, in the end, perhaps not.
It was good to hear DP reading in a friendly place. Heard him at the Byre recently -- but that is so much bigger -- a place the performer can't see the audience because of the stage lights. Here there was chat, slower pace, strong sense of a local person doing their thing, rather than Great Poet before Floodlights. How wonderful to be able not only to do poems but music too. Don's jazz version of Ae fond kiss (on guitar borrowed from Andy Shanks) was superb. I wanted to take it home with me, which (in a sense) I did. Here's Rachel's blog post of the same event.
I stayed in a B & B in Redfield Road. It was very good -- I recommend it. The landlady, Ishbel, does a perfect poached egg and is incredibly welcoming. Drove back on Saturday morning in rain and a haary sky, through more rain, through Dundee in rain, North Fife in drizzle, then clearing towards the middle and then hot sunshine. It was a lovely day here, made more lovely by seeing my son over from Geneva to celebrate his brother-in-law's thirtieth birthday. So planes are working again, for some people at least, and he's to jump back on one this evening, so I'll be back to pick him up and drive airport-wards.
I'm also tying up the ends of Jeremy Page's In and Out of the Dark Wood. Just about to phone him for the final chat. Looking good. David Ford's is still waiting but that's next -- both should be out by mid-May if not before, by which time we're getting awfully close to the HappenStance Birthday Party in June at the Scottish Poetry Library (June 12th, 3.00 pm). All sorts of excellent people are coming. You could be one of them!
- Front cover graphic for Jeremy Page's chapbook.