Monday, February 20, 2006


I've had a busy weekend. I went to two readings, and finally saw the film, The Constant Gardener, which was a good thriller with a pretty decent message, though at times I wondered if it overdid the preachiness. Ralph Fiennes was very good as the diffident English diplomat, and Rachel Weisz as his wife, the campaining woman whose meaning for life seemed to depend on making the world a better place.

But it's the readings I really want to talk about. Firstly, there was Anjum Malik, who is really a performance poet, who also happens to write for the radio. She may well be very good at that; she's got a serial on Woman's Hour and one on the Asian Network. Her poetry - well, lots of coy sexual references in poems about fish and chips, and the occassional serious poem with a message. A good performance, technically; but I didn't appreciate being jollied along and told to say "wa wa" if I liked something. It may be popular in Asian poetry circles; but the material wasn't really strong enough or challenging enough for me. It was OK as far as it goes; but that's not very far.

Then a reading in the Whitworth, with Grevel Lindop as the star guest. Now, he is a good poet; I liked the one about the six lemons, for instance. They were very well-constructed, basically School of Quietude but done with craft and a certain amount of depth of thought. I liked his reading. There were three other poets, who I won't embarass by naming. The first was the kind of woman one imagines drinking tea in a tea-shop in Buckhamshire while solving a murder in the vicarage. Very Home Counties, and she used the word "beau" in a poem. Now there is a word that really ought to have been taken out and shot in 1914, along with the perpetrators of that dreadful war. Poems about art, the kind of art that people in Cheshire like that doesn't frighten the horses.

Then there was a young woman on the MA course at MMU, who was very shy and not very loud but from what I could gather, very interesting and promising. She needs to practice using a microphone, and maybe be given some training in standing before an audience, but otherwise she might go far. Her poems had long, interesting sounding titles and actually seemed to go somewhere.

The third woman poet was a middle-aged woman who read something from memory that was in the voice of a woman who was possibly in love with someone, and there was one good line: "so what if there's no moon, let's make one." She hummed between each section, which made her seem even more soporific, and the whole seem rather sentimental.

So: two out of four ain't bad really. None of them, though, really challenged any boundaries. It was a very polite do with some mildly diverting folk at the beginning and the end, just the kind of thing you'd expect in a very respectable gallery setting. It would have been fun to see what a Geraldine Monk or a Bob Cobbing would have made of the place.



Hi Steven. If my comments at the other place read to daft or insulting please accept my apologies, but I'm the type who blunders in and have no real malice. The excuse for this deposit is Fiennes. He's here in Dublin playing at the gate theatre and last Tuesday I went there and left him a note and three poems, asking if I could record him on my MP3 player. I then went to the sweet shop, and plugged in my player, which doubles as a memory stick, and forgot to take it out when I left, then when I returned 20 minutes later, it had been swiped. 200 quids worth. I then proceeded to get pissed and lost my 100 quid all weather coat I bought half price a few months back with the allowance I got for starting a web authoring course, and inside that was a small diary I had been distilling my last three poems onto. Needless to say Fiennes hasn't got back to me.

Good Luck

Jane Holland said...

Readings in galleries. I did one last night with five other 'women poets' and know exactly what you mean. Rather stilted, otherwise jolly in places and plenty of good vocal modulation.

Pascale Petit shocked me with the relentlessly visceral nature of her poems, especially the one about wanting to be a barbed fish swimming up her father's urethra. But she delivered them all with the soft-spoken, gently practical air of a woman explaining how to crochet cushions.

I usually find myself falling into the trap of 'poet voice' on such occasions; it's easy to be swayed by peer pressure in a group of young, mainly Bloodaxe women poets. Luckily, I read second, after Kim Trusty, a bouncy black performance poet, and had no chance to be cowed into 'quietude' as you put it. So my extracts from Boudicca remained unpolluted, though never quite falling within the school of noisy dudes.

Why is it considered so important to use THAT voice when reading poetry in hushed settings? It's the poetic equivalent of the BBC accent. Surely we should be past that ridiculous snobbery now?