John Hegley talks about his poem ‘Love Cuts’, bus conducting, busking and other matters in this recommended podcast interview recorded at the Imagine festival:
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.
National Poetry Day Live, now in its 5th year, featured a full programme of poetry readings from 1pm through to 6pm.
Proceedings began with presentations to this year’s successful Foyle Young Poets:
- Magnus Dixon, 12, Aberdeenshire
- Lamorna Tregenza Reid, 13, Cornwall
- Laura Harray, 13, London
- Jennifer Burville-Riley, 14, Sevenoaks
- Caroline Harris, 16, California
- Esme Partridge, 16, Oxford
- Emma Lister, 16, Devon
- Phoebe Stuckes, 17, Somerset
- Imogen Cassels, 17, Imogen
- Grace Campbell, 17, Edinburgh
- Jessica Walker, 17, Cumbria
- Ila Colley, 17, Cumbria
- Catriona Bolt, 17, Bury St. Edmunds
- Dominic Hand, 18, Oxford
- Ian Burnette, 17, South Carolina
The Foyle Young Poets competition was judged by Hannah Lowe and David Morley (both of whom gave readings of their own work during the afternoon) and the winning poems will be published in Spring 2014 in the Winners Anthology – which is distributed to schools, libraries, poets and arts organisations right across the UK. Up until then you can read the poems on The Poetry Society website: http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/fyp/.
John Hegley was both compere and performer, with SLAMAmbassadors UK Artistic Director Joelle Taylor sharing some of the MC duties.
Soon after I arrived, and while there were parties of schoolchildren in the audience, beatboxer Tiana Oldroyd (aka Badabook Tee) demonstrated her skills and conducted a quick mass workshop in the basic techniques of beatboxing.
It was a varied and very enjoyable programme, with the audience receptive to the different styles of reading. A poignant moment came when a recording of Seamus Heaney reading his sonnet ‘The Shipping Forecast’ was played.
The most impressive live reading (I will want to read the poems on the page before I decide how truly impressive a poet this is) was by John Wedgwood Clarke. As a stage presence he has the handsome gravitas to support the slow, portentous enunciation of his poem’s lines. His performance and selection of readings was also the one that fitted most comfortably into this year’s theme of water. He read from his debut pamphlet ‘Sea Swim’, and also from his first full-length collection, ‘Ghost Pot’. I had not been aware of him before now, but will certainly want to read the new collection.
As an aside, I couldn’t help wondering whether the way the excess leather of his belt hung low was accidental or a suggestive affectation.
The photos below are not in order of performance, but are grouped by poet.
John Wedgwood Clarke
John Hegley was in good form yesterday at the South Bank, acting as Master of Ceremonies at the National Poetry Live event, and performing a few of his own poems. I enjoyed his cajoling of the crowd to move forward and fill empty chairs at the front. Photos of the performing poets will follow in a separate post.
Here Hegley, with assistance from The Poetry Library, which he plugged more than once yesterday (and quite right too), chooses a Top 10 children’s poetry books:
I’d like to think that these ten titles would make a good pile to give a youngster. There are few duplications in the compilations; there is cause for wonder, pondering, delight and bemusement and there are some very nice pictures…
My thanks to the staff at The Poetry Library on the South Bank, London, for their reading recommendations and hunting out from the shelving. All ‘top-tenners’ can be found in this library for reference and delving, if not for borrowing. It’s free and it’s easy to join.
A finely stitched mix of poetries; the right between the eyes sort, the more in-between-the-lines sort. And some sorts in between. I look forward to re-reading the hard ones with apples in, by Yeats and Kavanagh. Emily Gravett’s lightness of touch in the drawings contrastingly sits well with the weightier poems. ‘I like that stuff’ as Adrian Mitchell says. 3 of the 101 are by this man – plus works by Jackie Kay – HOORAY.
Instructive, inquisitive, mischievous word jiggling, which includes a celebration of the author’s Jewish family and the Jewish lingo. And the bagels. Often comical and colourful with good use of the grey tones in the drawings. Sometimes in the poems, ‘It’s the moment when the cheery stuff stops.’
3. Paint me a Poem by Grace Nichols
As a result of her residency in The Tate, as was, Grace Nichols throws some sharp shapes ‘on the dance floor of painting.’ There are sculptures too, in excellent reproduction and poems from children who work-shopped with her in the residency. They stand proudly alongside the spare, plain-speaking lines of their leader. Includes excellent workshop exercises.
A shrewd assemblage of the Greats, lesser known ones by the Greats and ones by lesser-known Greats (to this reader anyway.) John Agard’s Spell to Bring a Smile is a reminder that poetry is a tool for the creation of human well–being. These poems are FINE for boys.
5. The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts by Hilaire Belloc
As well as providing the beastly bits, Hilaire gives the bad children a Bellocing. Wry and dry, rather than Hilarious. A little gem.
Lovely palette and very lively balette of language. Stories for girls and boys and Moomins of all ages.
Bob quite agreed. ‘A mightful fress! Hite quorribly foncusing! Whoever’s glaying pames with us, they’re linning and we’re wusing.’
Cheery wash of watercolour and seaside splashing dog tale. A warming walk with the words, ‘Three other dogs think that our dog has done wrong to them. Sure that the Frisbee really belongs to them.’
The Caterpillar is a magazine of stories, poems and art for kids. The latest issue has poems, which include a Christina Rosetti riddle and Julie O’Callaghan’s mean sardine celebration. Caterpillar reminds me of Ann Thwaite’s magazine in book form, from way back ALLSORTS, which I would also recommend.
9. To Catch an Elephant by Gerard Benson, illustrated by Cathy Benson
A most well-made parade of poems with a mixture of moods. I much like the bike one and the meditation upon not being able to ‘guess an elephant’ from its bones.
10. Earthways, Earthwise: Poems on Conservation edited by Judith Nichols
A thriving diversity of poems concerning nature. Some of them concerned about nature. I have not this volume to hand but there is a stirring quote from a tribal Native American asserting that people belong to the Earth and not the other way wrong.