George Szirtes reading

Strictly speaking, this event wasn’t part of my exhibition, as it was organised by The Poetry Business and Sheffield University. But it was held at Bank Street, in the heart of the exhibition, which we ran on until the reading began, and so most of the audience had the chance to wander round and comment on what they found.

The readings themselves were good – a huge range of different material, though. George Szirtes himself offered several different kinds of text, almost all of which were driven by some appealing formal or structural consideration (such as responding to a blacked-out postcard, or interpreting a partly obscured text) as well as being interesting as poems in their own right.

I really like Ann Atkinson’s work: her first pamphlet, “Drawing Water” (itself a lovely ambiguity) is a delicate collection, very nicely judged, with generally quite simple language yet each word very carefully placed: they remind me a little of lace or embroidery in their working, but that is to suggest a rather out of touch or hobbyist poetry which Ann’s poems most certainly are not. The resonance in her work often comes after the reading, as it were, often sharp and contemporary, or revealingly personal, when the import works through. And her phrasing can be exquisite. She also has a knack for choosing unusual subjects where you think: “why on earth has no-one every written about that before?”

Recommended reading, I’d say.

[George Szirtes and Ann Atkinson in heated debate]

The other two poets were new to me. At least, I had heard Nathan Hamilton once before, in an open mike session, but am not familiar with his work generally. And Agnes Lehockzy was unknown to me. Both are worth watching for.

Nathan’s highlight was probably the reading of most of his pieces from an Ipad – in discussion later he said he used it almost exclusively for composition now, as it was so convenient (but obviously not that convenient for getting the work onto paper – this would permanently worry me if the only version of my work was in e-form). His “Malcolm” poems are disturbing, quirky, amusing and sharp by turn.

[The four poets, discussing either e-books, Eliot or pizza, I’m not sure which. You can just see my poem on the wall above George Szirtes’s head. Possibly the closest I’ll come to sharing the stage with such a poet.]

Agnes (Aggie) on the other hand, offered us long, descriptive semi-narrative pieces, quite unusual to hear in a reading which, though perhaps a little difficult to keep focused on, were full of observed detail which she then suddenly or subtly takes in odd directions.

The evening ended with a discussion of poetry, publication and, in its most lively moments, the place of electronic media and its impact on the poetry industry. George said he had absolutely no fears for poetry, as it would last whilst humanity did, as a fundamental need. This prompted huge murmurs of assent from the audience, which is about the closest poets ever get to a rousing cheer.

[I think inspiration is just off-camera]

Ann suggested, she thought subversively (but actually not) that poetry was not about publication, but about satisfying one’s own needs in practising a difficult art; and that books would not disappear, because of their satisfaction as objects.

She’s absolutely right on both counts. All this blogging is a great way to get information out, and maybe to get known. However, we could live without computers. How could we live without books?

[Apologies for the photo quality – taken in low light on my Nokia]

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