Frances Lincoln Poetry Evening, October 2013
Four poets, each published by Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln (the publisher only began publishing poetry in 2011) gave an hour-long reading last night at Swiss Cottage Public Library.
More than 100 people had booked tickets in advance, but several dozen extra people arrived so that rows of additional chairs had to be put up outside the main reading space.
After an introduction from Sam Eastop of Camden libraries and from the poetry books’ editor Janetta, Wes Magee was the first poet to read, getting the event off to an entertaining start with his short set that included The Boneyard Rap.
Magee is a seasoned performer and Kathy Henderson who has written many rhyming picture books before but whose The Dragon With A Big Nose is her debut collection, acknowledged that she is a less experienced performance poet.
Towards the end of her 10 minute slot, she improvised some audience clickety–clack participation when she read her poem Look At The Train! that I am sure will become a regular part of her live repertoire.
I could listen to Grace Nichols all day. Once you hear her read a poem aloud the intonation stays in your mind next time you come to read the poem from the page. Wouldn’t it be good if all poetry collections came with an audio attachment of the poet reading the poems aloud? Just a thought.
No surprise that John Hegley was saved till last. He is a performance poet par excellence, in the sense that it is only really in performance that the poems truly live the life they were meant to live. Anyone who has been to a Hegley reading will know what I mean. In my own case, after seeing Hegley perform for the fist time at an Apple Festival in Sussex a couple of years ago, I found that I could not exactly emulate – because Hegley is a one-off – but at least make a half-cocked attempt to copy the Hegley delivery when reading the poems to children in a way that would not have been possible had I never heard one of his live readings. It certainly made the poems go down well with my young audience, in a way in which they might not have done had I been reading them ‘blind’ from the page.
So, go and see Hegley in performance if you get the chance, or hunt out some clips on YouTube. Part of what makes him such an effective performer is his alert and fine-tuned sense of audience behaviour coupled with a cross-generational sense of humour. His final poem about an orange parrot who looks like a fluffy carrot had every single one of us – old, young, seasoned, less seasoned – in stitches.
As you can see, Vivian of the Newham Bookshop was extremely busy after the readings selling copies of the books for the poets to sign.
At the end of the readings, Tulip Siddiq, a Camden councillor, announced a poetry competition for Under12’s. Children made up some 25% of the audience, which included several other poets and notables: John Agard was there, as was Alan Brownjohn. Adrian Mitchell’s widow, Celia, was there. I spotted Kaye Umansky in the audience. James Carter (Hey Little Bug, Poems for Little Creatures) and Cheryl Mokowitz (Can It Be About Me?) , two other poets published in the same series of FL collections, were there too, as was illustrator Ros Asquith.