Poetry Reading

More on project 154


I received my copy of the Live Canon Project 154 book a day or so ago. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets, with a response by 154 contemporary poets including friends like Robin Houghton, Antony Mair, Sue Rose and many more.

As a rule this kind of intertextuality isn’t my bag. Nor do I need prompts for what to write about. But rubbing shoulders with the Bard wasn’t to be missed. I wrote my response to sonnet 19 very quickly, as I only had a week, and it was a busy one. I had a decent idea. I pictured the lover trapped between the lines of the Shakespeare sonnet, like a prisoner looking through bars. I wanted the language to the similar in tone to the sonnet, so I avoided contemporary language so not to seem anachronistic.


I went to the Victoria & Albert museum on 24th April to hear the first couple of dozen sonnets and responses read. Maybe I’m letting the side down as poet, but the phrase poetry marathon (glimpsed on the sign outside) always makes me shudder. I LOVE poetry, but the idea that it becomes some kind of an endurance test is not for me.

When it came to the moment when my own poem was read out, the poem was read by a single person in the same voice so was unintelligible. I found this very embarrassing, and it left me a bit miffed that a theatre company devoted to reading poems hadn’t sussed that this could be read in two voices. But it’s my own fault. It was however a gorgeous setting for a reading, and I heard lots of other good poems (plus the Willie the Shake stuff of course).


In the book are some genuinely interesting responses to the sonnets. Many braved a sonnet reply, such as my pal Robin Houghton with her Suggestion from The Rival Poet, or Abigail Parry whose Shakespeare in Space replied to No.18, possibly the most famous sonnet of all, with ‘Shall I compare thee to the Milky Way?’ and uses the language of astronomy. while leoemercer’s extraordinary poem called this depict the sad moment when you realise your beatuiful relation hip clearly hasnt workt out (an anagram of shaxespeares 107st sonnet) really has to be encountered for yourself.

In reply to sonnet 70, Mo Jones’s poem is easily the most stark of all, so stark it can be quoted in full:


My fuck up + my shiftiness = your fuck up + your deceit

We’re quits.

All in all, a collection that is thought provoking and well-worth checking out.


Poetry Reading Telltale Press

Telltale poets with Tamar Yoseloff and Sue Rose

Robin Houghton, Peter Kenny, Sarah Barnsley, Tamar Yoseloff and Sue Rose

So another cheery Telltale night. First our special guests… Sue Rose, who I have had a bit of a poetic crush on after hearing her read from The Cost of Keys earlier this year was warm and fantastic. Tamar Yoseloff read from two books, both collaborations with artists. The excellent Formerly made with photographer Vici MacDonald, Her latest book Nowheres is a collaboration with artist David Harker whose fine exhibition Drawing the Line was, handily enough, running at the Poetry Cafe. David’s fine pencil drawings are gorgeous.

Carriageway by David Harker

Telltale’s newest recruit is Sarah Barnsley, who gave an excellently assured reading of excerpts from her pamphlet, The Fire Station, forthcoming this year. Sarah has a particular affinity for US modernist poetry, but there is something absolutely English about her robust and deft writing.

Having been lucky enough to hear Robin Houghton read lots lately, I have watched her transform into an exceptional reader. A sequence of poems about working in a male-dominated corporation was wonderful.  I am increasingly aware of  ‘fit subjects for poetry’ writing about subjects that are already somehow ‘poetic’. These poems of Robin’s drag poetry from corporate glass offices and where attractions, put-downs and the gamut of human emotions occur in the corporate canteen or the business hotel rather than against some picturesque sunset.

Laura Donnelly was over from New York, although from the mid-west, kindly read a couple of outstanding poems from her phone.

As for myself… I did some poems from memory, which I am finding increasingly freeing. But annoyingly I am making the same mistakes again. The last couple of readings I risked untried material before I’m convinced of its quality. I do this because I think the reading should have a little edge to it, but in fact what happens in reality is that while I’m reading it, I can feel my confidence seeping away. The next reading I do is going to be bullet proof.

Performance Poetry Reading

A quick humblebrag – reading tonight 18th June

A quick humblebrag… I’m on tonight at the Poetry Cafe at 7.00pm as a part of a Telltale Press and Friends reading, with new Telltale recruit Sarah Barnsley, plus the brilliant Tamar Yoseloff who I’ve not read with since the 90s, Sue Rose whose new book I love plus multiple award-winning Robin Houghton. The Poetry Cafe is here.

Please come along if you can.


Poetry Reading Telltale Press

18th June Poetry Cafe

I’m really happy to be reading with Tamar Yoseloff, whose collaboration with artist David Harker, Nowheres has just been launched. Sue Rose‘s book The Cost of Keys is one I’ve come to admire, especially her poem A Guided Tour that I wrote about recently. Sarah Barnsley is Telltale’s newest recruit and her pamphlet The Fire Station is going to be a major event. Add Robin Houghton whose readings have become increasingly dramatic and assured and it’s going to be a cracker.



Time travelling with Sue Rose

Recently I heard Sue Rose reading, and had a sense of recognition and that I shared some of her preoccupations. I love the way poetry gives you access to most interesting parts of people’s minds. For me, reading poetry is a way of feeling less alone in the world.

One particular poem Sue read was called Guided Tour. I gave it particular attention, because it resonated with a poem of my own, An Adumbration of the Light Age in that it looked back at the present from a point in the distant future. Sue said her poem “arose out of a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum, marvelling at how much of the furniture and other household paraphernalia had survived such a disaster. Made me wonder what human beings (or other beings!) might think on excavating the remains of my house at some long-distant point in the future after some cataclysm.”

I find Sue’s poem exquisite. I love the inherent pathos of the poem’s idea, and the way that it transforms things like wires and pipework into ‘solidified rivers’ deftly allowing us to infer some catastrophe has occurred. Or marvelling at the ivory of a keyboard because it may have absorbed something of the people who lived there.

I also love the idea of playing with absence. The lives that are implied by the poem are for us to imagine. Are they just like our own? The poem is asking us to imagine the world without us, still existing, still being observed. Just as we as individuals will all one day be absent from the continuing world.

I love this poem.

Sue’s new book ‘From The Cost of Keys, published by Cinnamon Press, 2014’ and can be bought here.

Guided Tour by Sue Rose

This was probably the kitchen. Metal
was found here—solidified rivers of it, winding
round stone, brick and granite, a battery
of utensils, machines, heated to dissolution;
and these long lines glistening in the wall
and floor were, no doubt, pipes for water.
We found tiles too, earth colours and pigments
still bright in their reds and blues. Notice
the notches here, on the door jamb, carved
into the wood, rising in height at intervals,
whether for measurement or ritual, we can’t be sure.

This we call the music room: that slump of wood
in the corner was a primitive instrument, no power
or synths, just wood, ivory and wire, the percussion
of human fingers. If you want to know more,
there are image screens in the site museum.
Most of the keys were lost in the fire storms
or crushed, but a few ivories survive; this material,
now extinct, absorbs sweat and oil, so it’s strange
to think that traces of the inhabitants might have fused
with the keys as they yellowed in the falling heat.

On the left, you can see the remains
of what was the living room, known as the lounge
or front room in some sections of society.
The buckled struts against the wall
are from contraptions we now know were used
for relaxation or sleeping. Note the hearth—
it seems they made fires, although quite advanced.
The site museum has one tile patterned with flowers,
and, interestingly, still intact, pressed beneath
collapsed firebricks, pages of charred paper,
a fibrous material they used for storing information,
odd words still legible—love, bike, harpsichord.

This poem reminds me of images from Pripyat, a town abandoned after the Chernobyl meltdown. Here is one of those.

Nursery abandoned after Chernobyl Meltdown
Poetry Reading

Travelling Through and a kind of homecoming

Last week I found myself hearing Rhona McAdam and Tamar Yoseloff reading their work in the basement of a new bookshop and cultural hub behind Waterloo Station called Travelling Through. The event was so well attended that people sat on stairs to hear. Rhona and Tamar were joined by Sue Rose, whose work I thought excellent on this first hearing.

But personally the evening was all about seeing Rhona and Tamar. Lately I have had a strange sense of a homecoming and I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and its potential, all over again.  Happily this has led to me seeing several old friends again too.

I’d not seen and heard Tammy read for 20 years or more. Tonight she reading from a book called Formerly, a collaboration with photographer Vici MacDonald, and together they captured disappearing scraps of London in words and black and white images. Many of the sites photographed in the collection have been demolished since it was written. It is a gorgeous little book from Hercules Editions, and comes heartily recommended from me as Tamar’s work is playful, engaged, and full of energy, and Vici’s images are haunting. Great stuff. Buy the book from here.

Rhona was reading from her new book Ex-ville, and after she gave me a copy of Cartography which is the only one of Rhona’s six full collections I did not already own.

Although Rhona lived in London for over ten years, and is often moved to write about it from abroad, for me her work remains resolutely Canadian. There is a sense of space in her work that it is full of unobtrusive but difficult truths. Here is the end of one of her poem ‘I raise a glass’, addressing her unborn children:

They are one more never
in the chain of nevers
crumpling in my throat. I am the keeper
of their names, and their untold fortunes,
guardian of the wrongs I will never do them.

Rhona’s style is not showy, but I have found the quiet dignity of her voice to be compelling ever since I first read her work in 1988. In that well-worn phrase, she has her own voice, and it rings true.

Tamar Yoseloff Sue Rose & Rhona McAdam
Tamar Yoseloff, Sue Rose and Rhona McAdam
Rhona McAdam
Rhona McAdam