October 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
Well, half a bottle of Rioja and a hot bath and I was still wide awake at 3.30 yesterday morning, due to Sunday night’s reading of The Purging of Spence Broughton at Hill Top Chapel in Sheffield – a chilly, out-of-the-way place, but atmospheric, acoustic, perfect as a setting for the subject. People threaded through crumbling memorials and over gravestones to the rarely lit building in amongst the factories of the Don Valley, among their number descendants of Spence himself.
My thanks to great support from Ray Hearne (as Spence), Matt Black (Coleridge), Chris Jones (Bentham), Fay Musselwhite (Blake’s Nurse) and Jim Caruth (Shelley), and to the attentive and perceptive crowd, who together made an event that’s still ringing in my ears. What’s clear to me is that ‘folk’ histories are vibrant, resonant things that remain alive in the minds of communities. The caretaker at the Chapel was a mine of local information; Ray spoke about the Sheffield balladeer Joseph Mather as well as the contemporary arguments raging between Burke and Paine. Equally, there are ways into these stories for poetry which, with its focus on emotional truth and veracity, can produce the histories that, for political and social reasons, have been unvoiced.
Longbarrow Press has re-issued The Purging of Spence Broughton as a boxed edition with CD recording and in a plain envelope format – further information forthcoming.
October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
One of those nights last week, poets in the pub, books on the table. One of us reads (shouts, over the guy behind us) love poems (off his i-phone) by Glyn Maxwell and Derek Walcott. It’s only on the way home that I remember it’s National Poetry Day.
I’ve never been a fan, really, of these things. Okay, it’s not Hate Week; but to me it’s just a tiny bit like someone ringing you to offer the latest Great Deal. I like a deal – but I like to find it myself, when I want. As it happened, I was in a poetry mood on 4th October this year: but we also talked about Thatcher, and didn’t feel pressured to come up with anything more lyrical than Ding, dong, the witch is dead.
On the way home, however, a friend and I talked a bit about Ann Atkinson: a summer’s afternoon when the three of us sat in her garden going through the manuscript of my first collection. It was a big moment for me, and I needed two people as generous as Ann and Jim to help with the wood and the trees. I remember Jim and I favoured one poem to open the collection, Ann another. She was graciously outvoted – but probably, I think now, right. The slightness of the poem worried me; but Ann thought it tonally right as an introduction. I can’t do justice to the way she argued this: it was about voice, the breathed gesture. Unfortunately, I was too focused on subject and sense.
Four years down the track. Ann died earlier this year – a massive loss to many people, as has been said elsewhere. The other night, and in these last few bright, waning days since, I’ve gone back to that afternoon, to the best, wisest teacher, her gentle, utter conviction. Thank you.