Monday, October 30, 2006

Fully Booked!

I spent a chunk of today preparing for the New Voices event in Glasgow on Thursday. It's shaping up to be an interesting event from both sides of the podium, I think.
I see from the Scottish Poetry Library's events pages that it's fully booked! Not that I can remember quite how many people that means--it is a workshop so it won't be an enormous number--but it's kindae exciting/scary/flattering.

The Lithgae Gig

Friday's reading went really well. It was held in the lounge of Bryerton House, aka St John's Christian Centre, in Linlithgow High Street. The lounge set-up lent a cosy, intimate atmosphere to the evening, but it was bittie cramped for some of the 20 or so folk who came!
Guitarist Phil Melstrom kicked us off with three tunes, including those that are probably my favourites from Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue and Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage--"All Blues" and "Dolphin Dance". He's a fine musician, as at home with bluesy and funky, spiky playing as with the smoother, more fluid side of jazz. Phil also played between each of the poetry sets and at the end. In fact, he even improvised an accompaniment to one of Douglas Briton's pieces. Unfortunately, the poem finished just as Phil (and, I suspect, the audience) was getting into it.
Rob A Mackenzie braved the opening spot with a set of new poems, a couple of older poems and pieces from his HappenStance pamphlet, The Clown of Natural Sorrow. I particularly enjoyed the new work he read, including his opening poem, a strong piece bit of surrealism-at-home, in which the Apocalypse comes the Barnton roundabout. Rob is a good reader, and I'm very pleased to see he's on the bill for StAnza 2007. You can read his report of the gig here.
Douglas Briton went second. His is a very different approach to either Rob's or mine, much more performance poetry or light verse in the way that Wendy Cope writes light verse: sometimes witty and amusing, sometimes addressing difficult subjects head on, but always employing a disarmingly straightforward style. I was really impressed with how smoothly Douglas read, as it was the first time he'd performed anything more than individual pieces in public.
I was the last poet on, with a mixture of new work and poems from Tonguefire. It was a good audience to read to. I knew most of the people there to varying degrees, but there were a couple of unfamiliar faces in the gathering. Rumour is that the experiment might be repeated again in future, possibly on the Linlithgow Folk Festival.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Pure Fire in the Hands"

There was a rare opportunity to hear American poet Sharon Olds read for the Poetry Association of Scotland on Wednseday night at the Scottish Poetry Library, so I took it. In the first half of the evening, she read mostly from her Selected Poems. After the interval, the usual PAS order was reversed, with questions and discussion preceeding Olds reading entirely from unpublished work.
In person, Sharon Olds has a quietly forceful presence, not at odds with but in counterpoint to the rawness and viscerality that characterises her work. The strengths of that work lie in her usually straightforward, almost prosaic language, offset by some striking images and the structural subtleties and repetitions within the open form she uses. The weakness of her style is that it can end up sounding or reading flat and prosaic but, in her best work, she cuts a thrilling figure skating on the line between poetry and prose. And it was a bold move to write in such a plain style with poets such as John Ashberry in the ascendency.
The themes of Sharon Olds's poetry are sex, the body, childbirth and the family, leading her to be classified by some as a confessional poet. She rejects the term, preferring instead to describe herself as "an apparently personal poet", and was eloquent on the tension between loyalty (or silence) and betrayal (or song) that anyone who writes "apparently personal poetry" must necessarily work in. For all the difficult experiences and emotions explored in many of her poems, she came across as having a profound respect for the subjects of such poems.
I must confess I hadn't really read her before Wednesday, although I'd come across some of her work. I bought the Selected and am making my way through it on the train to and from the day job. She's a powerful writer, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to hear her read.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wilfred Owen Week

Although it irritates me somewhat that the BBC uses the entertainment section of its news website to trail some of its programmes, pretending that the reports are real news, I was interested to see this report of Radio 3's plans for a Wilfred Owen week following rememberance day. I vividly remember reading some of his war poetry at school--"Dulce Et Decorum Est" most vividly--and hearing Britten's War Requiem, which uses some of Owen's work, in Edinburgh's Usher Hall when I was a first year student at university. Should be worth while tuning in to.

Next Reading on Friday!

My next reading is the Celebrate Linlithgow! one on Friday this week (27 October). There has been a slight change to the programme, as the line-up will now consist of me, Douglas Briton and my fellow HappenStance* poet Rob A Mackenzie, all bookended by jazz from Phil Melstrom.
The event kicks off at 8pm in Bryerton House on Linlithgow High Street. There will be soft drinks and what are generally known as "nibbles". Tickets are free and can be reserved by calling the St John's church office on 01506 517031.
*Does that make us both Chancers?

Apologies for Silence

Apologies for the length of time it has been since I added anything to the blog. I blame the cumulative tiredness I was suffering from before our week near Criccieth on the Lleyn peninusula in North Wales. It's RS Thomas country that is, but my main reading matter for the week was The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry, a fantastic anthology of translations from 20th century Welsh-language poets. I can recommend it highly.

What's New on Tonguefire