It’s been a busy week at work, so I haven’t been able to get to as many of the events at the Cultural eXchange Festival at De Montfort University in Leicester as I’d have liked to.
Last night, though I did go to the Salt reading, featuring John James, Tom Raworth and Simon Perril. It was very well attended, and fully lived up to expectations.
John James read first, and although right at the outset he announced that he wouldn’t be reading The Conversation, a particular favourite of mine, he didn’t disappoint. He reads well, in a slow, measured voice which contains just a hint of his Cardiff origins. I particularly liked Romsey and Romsey, Take Two (it was reading the second of these in Tears In The Fence last summer that got me interested in him and made me go out and buy his Collected Poems), both of which will presumably appear in his next volume, but he’s a difficult poet to pin down. Associated, as he is, with the avant-garde, and especially the so-called Cambridge School, you might expect difficulty or obscurity, but you’d be wrong. He looks back to the New York School, for sure, but beyond that too to the Romantics, and there are times when popular song seems as strong an influence on him as poetry. Above all, his work has a positive and highly sensuous feel to it, something which gives him a highly individual flavour.
I’ve heard Tom Raworth read before, although a long time ago, and I’d forgotten just how much fun he is. Deadly serious, too (quite literally so, given the charged subject matter of some of the poems he read), but very, very entertaining. If I seem to be damning him with faint praise by writing so little about him here, it’s just that I’m not familiar enough with his work on the page to have many meaningful reference points, but I’ll have to put that right. The sheer energy of his poetry made me feel a little breathless - God only knows what it's like for him!
Finally, we had Simon Perril, who teaches at DMU. I’ll admit my heart sank a little when he gave a lengthy introduction to his reading from his new book, Nitrate (long introductions always put me off) but the poetry was well worth the wait. Presented alongside Simon’s own collages, perfectly paced and beautifully read, it worked very well. Again, he comes across as complex but never difficult, the sort of poet you can imagine building a real following. I liked the reading so much that I bought the book, which is written around the subject of early film, and enjoyed seeing some of the pieces on the page during a quick flick-through later.
So, hats off to DMU for putting together such a good line-up – hats off to DMU students for turning out in such good numbers.