A week past Tuesday, I went to the launch of Angela McSeveney's new Mariscat pamphlet Slaughtering Beetroot at the Scottish Poetry Library. I can safely say it's the only launch I've been to where beetroot cake was on offer. Angela had baked it herself, and it was, you may say, delicious. And the poetry was at least as good. I think this could be Angela's best collection yet. Her characteristic "clear-water shine" (Iain Crichton Smith) is, of course, in evidence, but it grows ever stronger mixed with a certain wry determination and a sense that she is perhaps more relaxed in herself and her writing than in previous work. Well worth parting with £5.00 for it.
Last Sunday was the final Poetry at the Great Grog before the summer break. Jim Carruth was the first reader. His is a distinctive voice, bringing the farming experience to us urban dwellers in unsentimental, inventive poems. No hint of the romanticising of the rural life here, although there is plenty of anger and regret, often below the surface. His love poem to silage (I kid you not) was a tour-de-force of rhyme. I'd quite like to get a hold of it and subject it to my usual "Reasoning Rhyme"-type analysis.
My memory of the order has gone a bit hazy at a week's remove, but I'm reasonably certain it was Mike Stocks next, before Eleanor Livingstone. Mike read very well from his collection of sonnets, Folly. However, I have to say, although there were some fine examples of what you can achieve within those confines, it left me feeling you can have too much of a good form, as do Alan Spence's all-haiku readings. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy such readings at all. Mike can write powerful* and funny sonnets, but sometimes I wanted him to make the form disappear.
Eleanor read well, mostly from new work, including memorable poems about her Fife childhood escapades and her daughter's reading habits.
Kapka Kassabova was the final reader. Kapka is from Bulgaria, via New Zealand, and writes about the experience of exile in a way that communicates strongly to us non-exiles. I say "us non-exiles", but there were other exiles in attendance and, besides, there's something in the Scottish psyche that could almost be described as exiled from itself or from its own history and culture. To me, Kapka's work speaks to that aspect of Scottishness, perhaps not directly, but powerfully.
I also met Julia Rampen, who will be reading at the Great Grog at some point next year. Julia was one of the Foyle Young Poets winners in 2005 and 2006, as well as a runner-up in the Tower Poetry competition in 2006 and one of the winners in The Rialto's fifth young poets competition. To judge by the poems I've linked to, she's obviously talented; I'm looking forward to hearing her read.
Poetry at the Great Grog will be back in September with Michael Schmidt, Helena Nelson, Dorothy Baird and another Foyle Young Poet, Charlotte Runcie.
*Perhaps none more so than the one here, which nearly made me cry when I read it. It wasn't in his set.