There's only one reason to go to Piccadilly Circus: to visit Waterstones' magnificent flagship store. Okay, the cocktails at The Criterion are good also. Plus the ICA is nearby. Oh, and it's not far from Cicchetti's either. But remember that this part of London recently replaced the Swiss Centre cinema with M&M's World. I don't really even know what that is. I know that the vicinity smells of sickly sweet chocolate and the edifice pummels the retina with primary colours but I tend to scurry on by.
Anyway, I went to Waterstones last night to see Kathryn Maris, Katha Pollitt and Carol Rumens read from their new and recent books published by Welsh publisher Seren (the editor in chief, Amy Wack, was in town to introduce the three).
It's an odd thing writing up a reading. You're tempted to switch to 'book review' mode but then you'd be kind of reviewing people, which, until Google Glass makes it the norm for us to give each other 'star-ratings' as we walk down the street, doesn't feel right to me.
Plus, compared to reading poems on the page, a live reading has so many additional variables. Like tone of voice, length of intros, particular words that are explained and over which the poet stumbles when they come around in the text; and perhaps one of the poets might knock over a glass of water just before reading a poem about a washer woman. I'm not saying these things happened last night, but they might have.
Anyway, the large and appreciative audience was treated to three readings of great style, wit, emotion and skill. I have all kinds of rules and pet peeves about poetry readings but two halves of ten minutes from each poet worked very well. Certain themes recurred, including ironic, not-entirely-ironic, and rather political takes on Bible stories and experiments with the linguistic style of the King James Bible.
There were poignant reflections on age and youth and the changing relations and attitudes between both, often within the same body. There was also a palpable, creative, tension between American and UK tendencies, especially regarding form. The three poets almost described a smooth spectrum from Rumens's frequent use of form, to Maris's increasing use of form, to Pollitt's occasional use of form.
Some discussion followed about these technical matters in the Q&A but no firm conclusions were drawn. Needless to say, I wrote down many choice lines and phrases in my notebook but I'm not sure they will work that well out of context (a bit like the way lines from poems posted as tweets often don't work) but I can recommend the poets' respective books:
God Loves You by Kathryn Maris
The Mind-Body Problem by Katha Pollitt
De Chirico's Threads by Carol Rumens
I also learned that 'Seren' means 'star' in Welsh. I should have known that, but it was pleasant to learn. I will leave you with one complete poem, from God Loves You. A domani.
This is a Confessional Poem
I am guilty of so much destruction it hardly matters
anymore. There are so many thank-you notes I never wrote
that sometimes I’m relieved by the deaths of would-be
recipients, so I can finally let go of the shame.
I was awful to someone who was attached to the phrase
‘social polish’, as though she’d acquire it through repetition.
I took an overdose at a child’s 6th birthday party.
I was born in a country which some have called
The Big Satan. I abandoned the country for one
that is called The Little Satan. I wished ill on a woman
who has known me for years and yet never remembers
who I am – and now she’s involved in a public scandal.
I have been at parties where I was boring.
I have been at parties where I was deadly boring.
I have worn the wrong clothes to sacraments, not
for lack of outfits, but for a temporary failure of taste.
I’m a terrible, terrible liar, and everything I say is full of
misrepresentation. I once knew a very sweet girl
who stabbed herself in the abdomen 7 times.
She believed she was evil and thought 7 was a holy number.
Besides that she was sane, and told me her tale
out of kindness – because guilt recognises guilt,
the way a mother can identify her own child.
I met her in a class called ‘Poetry Therapy’
in which the assignment was to complete this statement:
When one door closes, another opens.
I wrote: At the end of my suffering there was a door,
making me guilty of both plagiarism and lack of imagination.
I was the vortex of suffering: present, future and retroactive
suffering. The girl tried to absolve me.
‘Don’t be Jesus,’ she said. ‘There are enough around here.’
I know I should thank her if she’s alive,but I also know it’s unlikely I’ll rise to the task.