Monday 26 September 2011

Indian summer

The end of summer (I, of course, consider that this coincides exactly with the end of the cricket season) is supposed to be a time of quiet melancholy. Leaves turning brown, evenings drawing in, a chill in the air. You know the routine.

So why did the weekend just gone feel like the diametric opposite (we'll ignore an England batting display of such breathtaking incompetence I had to double-check that our previously all-conquering heroes hadn't been replaced by a troupe of circus clowns. Or Australians)?

The first reason, on Friday night, was the launch of Salt's The Best British Poetry 2011 at the Betsey Trotwood, in London. Quite apart from anything else, it all ran like clockwork (due mainly to compere Roddy Lumsden), despite there being 30-odd readers to cram in. On top of that, it's a great book (I know, I know, I would say that, but you'll just have to believe me), and it's always good to get another perspective on a poem by hearing it read aloud. 

Favourites included Mike Bannister reading Satin Moth, Mark Burnhope (Twelve Steps Towards Better Despair), Oli Hazzard (Sonnet), Katherine Kilalea (Hennecker's Ditch), Chris MacCabe (Kingfisher), Kate Potts (Three Wishes), Jon Stone (Mustard), Chrissy Williams (Sheep) and Michael Zand (on a persian cairn), but there was much else to admire.

It was good to catch up with Mark Burnhope for a chat, too, having previously only 'met' him online, and nice to meet Giles Goodland again. Thinking about it, Giles didn't read his poem from the book, Waves. A shame, because it's one of my favourite two or three pieces in there. 

I can only admire the sheer energy and enthusiasm of Salt supremo Chris Hamilton-Emery, who was also present despite having just registered as a student at UEA. I bought a copy of another anthology, The Salt Book Of Younger Poets, and very good it is too. I'll be returning to it on here soon, with a detailed overview.

The second reason for feeling suddenly buoyant came the following morning, just around the corner at Exmouth Market, at the CB Editions Free Verse poetry book fair. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but the sheer volume of people who came through the doors, and more importantly who bought books, was genuinely uplifting. 

Presses such as Arc, Shearsman, Enitharmon, Penned In The Margins, HappenStance, Donut, Carcanet, Reality Street and of course Nine Arches were all present (I think Jane Commane did pretty good business throughout), and as well as offering the opportunity to put faces to names, it was also a great chance to browse books that, however easy they might be to find on the internet, you'd never get a chance to try before you buy otherwise, unless you happened to go to a reading by the poet in question. 

I was reading along with fellow Nine Arches poet Ruth Larbey, who performed her work both very well, and entirely from memory, and managed to catch readings by Tom Jenks, and by HappenStance poets D A Prince, Clare Best, Jon Stone, Kirsten Irving, Peter Daniels and Lorna Dowell. Unfortunately I got next to no chance to talk to Helena Nelson, but that was a mark of how busy she was kept throughout the day, talking to customers and poets, so that can't be a bad thing.

And again, half the pleasure of such an event is meeting new people, seeing Facebook friends made real, and renewing old acquaintances. Step forward Simon Barraclough (I'd just bought his excellent limited edition Penned In The Margins pamphlet Bonjour Tetris, funnily enough), Katy Evans-Bush, Tim Love and Tom Chivers, among others. Other books I bought were Steve Spence's Limits Of Control, and Ross Sutherland's Twelve Nudes, both from Penned In the Margins, and both of which I've had my eye on for a while, plus Peter Riley's The Derbyshire Poems, and David Sergeant's Talk Like Galileo, both from Shearsman.

Perhaps it helped that it was a beautiful, balmy afternoon - my moods seem to be absurdly dependent on the weather - but as I made my way back to St Pancras, I felt more optimistic about the British poetry scene than I have for ages, this summer just gone having been a thoroughly difficult one. With poets, publishers and, most importantly, readers brought face to face, you were reminded of what's actually important (getting good poetry out there to be read), and of how much time and energy gets wasted drawing up binary or even balkanised models of the poetry world. Here's hoping CB Editions will take their fair around the UK.

NB. Coming soon on Polyolbion, I'll have interviews and poems from Mark Burnhope, Simon Barraclough and Isobel Dixon.

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