Sunday, 2 December 2007
HappenStance Border raid
From left: Myself, James Wood, Eleanor Livingstone, Trish Ace, Rob Mackenzie, Helena Nelson.
On Friday, I hot-footed it north to Carlisle for a reading, alongside five other HappenStance poets, as part of the Border Poets series.
I usually like to see a bit of the countryside on such jaunts, but it rained all the way up to Scotch Corner, and across the Stainmore Pass to Penrith, putting paid to my plan to do a bit of birding and stop off at the spot where semi-legendary Viking king of York Eric Bloodaxe (see the poetry connection?) was finally brought to bay.
We had one or two problems finding each other once we got there (and two or three excellent pints of Black Sheep), but were at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in good time to appreciate what really is a lovely venue. And what followed was without doubt the best reading I’ve been involved with.
There was a good-sized audience, who were appreciative, knowledgeable and gratifyingly willing to part with their money for chapbooks (we were pretty much sold out by the end of the night). The variety of poets on show seemed to work particularly well, offering plenty of light and shade and both obvious and more subtle similarities (three of us, quite unintentionally, read poems with Robinson Crusoe connections).
Eleanor Livingstone, who launched her chapbook at the same event as me two years ago, read well from her excellent The Last King Of Fife. The title poem, in particular, is a favourite of mine, but she’s a very sure-footed poet, in an understated way, so there was plenty else to enjoy.
I’d only just met James Wood, but have been enjoying his The Theory Of Everything since it came out. He reads very well, with an engagingly animated manner, and his technical mastery and breadth of knowledge are worn lightly, both drawing the reader in and allowing him to surprise them when things take a darker turn.
Trish Ace was also a new face to me, but again I’ve been enjoying her book, First Blood, for months. We talked a little beforehand about attitudes to putting the domestic and everyday into poems, and Trish mentioned that perhaps the prevailing climate is against this, but her reading rather reinforced my view, that when it’s done well, as here, what is there to complain about? She makes connections between the personal and the wider world without signposting them or straining for significance, she distils emotion well, and she's another excellent reader.
Rob Mackenzie is another who manages to be animated without ever getting theatrical. It’s a style that suits his poems down to the ground, too, because he constantly springs surprises on you (in both style and subject matter) without ever reaching for easy, look-at-me effects. He read Concentration, one of my favourites from his chapbook The Clown Of Natural Sorrow, and his genuinely creepy At The Harry Potter Launch drew audible gasps from the audience.
For my part, I read five from Making The Most Of The Light, plus one from Winter Gifts, and a new-ish poem. The full set-list was:
2. Man Overboard
6. At Home
In between times, HappenStance’s founder and all-round creative dynamo Helena Nelson read poems and talked about the experience of starting a chapbook press from scratch. I think every one of us would say we owe a great debt to her, not only for taking a punt on putting out our books, but also for her hugely supportive and instructive editing of said pamphlets.
We all told the audience a bit about our current activities and plans (more on mine tomorrow), and afterwards chatted with them while books were bought, drinks seen off, etc. If any of them are reading this, thank you too for making it an enjoyable and inspiring night.
I meandered back, via a secondhand bookshop in Penrith (£7 for two books, on 14th century poetry and medieval history), and RSPB Leighton Moss, where the wind was keeping the Bitterns and Bearded Tits deep in the reedbeds, but a very showy Great White Egret gave great views.