It was also the launch of my new Nine Arches collection, The Elephant Tests, and it was great to be able to give the poems their first airing (well, sort of - many of them have been read at the Shindig open mic over the last three years) in the company of so many fine poets, not least the other featured readers, David Morley (pictured below), Zeandrick Oliver and Kate Fox.
I've talked before about David's forthcoming Carcanet collection, The Gypsy and the Poet, and the poems from it are outstanding (especially The Invisible Gift). But the final poem he read, just finished earlier in the day, was as good as anything else we heard in a superb reading.
Zeandrick's chapbook Secretions, from New Fire Tree Press, is a thing of beauty, a work of art before you even get started on the writing, and he read from it confidently and well. I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend - he managed to pull off the difficult trick of a Frank O'Hara homage that sounded both natural and original.
Kate Fox is a familiar voice from radio, and had just spent time as poet in residence at the Glastonbury Festival, but after assuring us that she's had a shower since, she delivered a great set that had the audience demanding she return for encores. There's a great deal of humour in her work, but there's a great deal more too - her poem about her father was touchingly honest, while her piece on call centres added anger to the mix. I think that's because it, and many of her other poems, use northern vernacular and speech patterns not simply to sound somehow 'authentic', but to question how they're heard and seen by the rest of society. I bought her book, the splendidly titled Fox Populi, to read more.
It always feels unfair picking out particular open mic readers. Jayne Stanton never fails to leave an impression, and Roy Marshall and Rebecca Fox were two more personal favourites in what was a uniformly strong showing. Steve Carroll's closing poem was great, especially if you remember some of Leicester's now-vanished watering holes, while Gary Carr's poem was a little masterpiece of allusion and the use of sound, being constructed wholly of initials. Shindig goes from strength to strength - it was a privilege to be part of it.