Friday, May 26, 2006

Readings in Bolton and Manchester

Two events this week of note. On Sunday 21st May, the monthly Write Out Loud versefest at The Howcroft in Bolton was again an excellent mix of everything that is good about poetry: with some key figures unable to attend but some new faces in their place, the evening was briskly compered by Dave Morgan.

From JMU Liverpool, Rachel Adamson and Elaine Wilson graced the event, promoting issue 4 of ‘In The Red’ and selling quite a few copies on the night. They read some of their fine work from the magazine. The regulars themselves were in fine form. This must be one of the most talented groups in the country, spanning maybe three generations and covering a vast range of poetry from rap to classically inspired verse.

On Thursday 25th , a substantial contingent of Writeoutlouders took the train from Bolton to the Urbis café in Manchester for a citizen 32 event. I felt there were some technical difficulties with this gig. Long narrow bars with the mic at one end don’t seem to work too well. However, the sound was fairly well controlled by DJs Neither-Nor. The organisation of the night was a bit awry.

My own view is that you should not put a headliner on as a compere: the two don’t work together. You need a compere who will keep things moving along briskly, who gets poets’ names right, and who keeps out the way for most of the evening. At first I was puzzled as to why Nathan Jones was reading so much when he was compering, but then I realised that he was billed on the front of the programme as one of the three featured poets. Whilst his poems are resounding, effective and dramatic, and he is a good poet of that type, he should leave compering to someone else with a less serendipitous approach to the job. Maybe it wasn’t his idea. It’s not rocket science to get people’s names right which he didn’t on too many occasions.

The other two billed stars were Segun Lee-French and Mike Garry. Unfortunately, more than half the audience (i.e. the Bolton bards) missed Mike Garry as we had to catch the last train. Segun Lee-French did a good job of singing, reciting and acting the roles in his work. A competent performer. The open-mic slots were equally well-filled, mostly by Writeoutlouders but with some excellent Manc talent too. Two other poets I had not heard before but hope to hear again were Felix and Aftab Ahmed, both of whom displayed exceptional skill. As we’d missed some of our slots because of the train, we had an impromptu reading on wheels on the way home with poetry from Dave, Julian and myself. Poets I haven’t mentioned here also did a good job though I had heard some do the same stuff before. Still, it beats the T.V. where there's been nothing on since 'The Impressionists'.

The magic of Magali Mauras

A French poet with a great website, Magali Mauras combines a love of the arts with an exceptional, exquisite gift of expression. Here is one of her poems in French and English and her self portrait.


Sur un labour vaste et désenchanté
- Vaste pour un seul homme –
Un vestige celtique tournait sa puissance
Et selon mon regard estampait ce cumulus

Croître en roi

L’arable consumée
Pouvait-elle côtoyer
Le rouge anglais

Opaque d’un voyage

Volubile, un été, elle nouait conte en riant
Aux prairies bouleversées de roches

Simple enfant
Le nuage se glissait
Dans les draps de la mer

© 2006 Magali Mauras


Over a vast ploughed field
- vast for one man alone -
that had lost its magic
an echo of the Celts surged
and as I watched moulded this cloud

You will grow into a king

Could this burnt umber
sit well with English scarlet?

After a voyage through fable and fog
one summer it wove its legend
laughing at the meadows
overturned by rock.

Just a child
The cloud slipped
Between the sheets of the sea.

© 2006 Magali Mauras. Translation by James Hartnell.

Magali Mauras: self portrait.

Magali Mauras vit en région parisienne, en France.
Elle suit son désir créatif et son plaisir des découvertes dans la passion du langage, des arts et de la littérature en explorant plusieurs chemins qui se croisent parfois.
Elle lit la poésie des poètes contemporains ou plus anciens, d’ici ou d’ailleurs, elle écrit ses poèmes, comme on entre en intimité avec le langage, le sien propre et celui des autres, intimité faite de richesses communes ou partagées, fortes ou apaisantes. Son premier recueil Memor amabor n’a pas encore trouvé d’éditeur. Un second recueil se construit. On peut consulter quelques poèmes anciens et récents sur Poemelilas .
Elle conte des histoires mêlées de poèmes chantés et de musiques. Ses histoires, elle les découvre dans les livres, elle les entend conter en chemin, ou elle les invente.
Elle contemple le monde où elle vit et voyage. Parfois, elle suspend un instant offert pour photographier.
Elle enseigne aux enfants des écoles primaires où l’on apprend à lire, à écrire, à compter pour soi, pour les autres. Un métier vivant et vivifiant.

Mai 2006.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mark Doty in Manchester

Last night I went to an event organised by Commonword at St Ann’s Church in the middle of Manchester to hear the noted American poet Mark Doty, author of several collections of poetry including the immensely successful ‘My Alexandria’ and ‘Atlantis’. His work deals above all with love, loss, beauty, and the devastation of AIDS. I was fortunate enough to talk to him briefly before and after he read. When pressed, he described himself as a ‘lyrical narrativist’ and this fits his writing, or most of it.

He read seven poems in all, a mix of old and new work. He started with ‘Esta Noche’ (from ‘My Alexandria’) a major poem about performance set in a Latin drag bar in the Mission area of San Francisco in which ‘Lola stands unassailable, the dress / in which she is in the largest sense / fabulous: a lesson, a criticism and colossus / of gender, all fire and irony.’ Here, ‘perfection and beauty are so alien / they almost never touch.’ I was a little surprised when this and the other poems were received in polite silence and applause was reserved for the end of the reading. Ah well.

Next was ‘House Of Beauty’, a new poem about a beauty parlour on fire, ‘a charred rainbow.’ Here the exploration of what exactly beauty is gave much food for thought. In the third poem ‘Brilliance’, Maggie is a ‘buddy’ or visitor to an AIDS sufferer. This is a beautifully written, moving poem: ‘let me go, if I have to, / in brilliance.’

The next ‘Lost in the Stars’ – the title refers to a Kurt Weill musical – deals with Billy, a drag queen at a benefit night. How despite his incompetence this character was so bad as to be good. Then ‘At The Gym’ looked at weight training poetically and ‘Magic Mouse’, a recent work, dealt with a news vendor selling a toy for a dollar and shouting it out, so that ‘even halfway down the block / he’s altered the air.’ The final poem was one of my favourites, ‘A Display of Mackerel’. Unlike most of the other narrative poems, this is more of a lyrical meditation where nothing happens, no time passes, but the poet ponders the sameness of these mackerel ‘each a perfect fulfilment / of heaven’s template,’ then goes on to wonder whether this uniformity is where happiness is. The ‘fabulation’ of each mackerel recalls the fabulous nature of drag queens in many of his other poems.

There followed a brief question and answer session covering Mark’s life in Provincetown, some fairly standard gay issues, and some interesting comments about the difference between, on the one hand, Olson and the Black Mountain writers with their legacy of open-ended, mind-tracking, atomised sentences where the reader can veer off on one or more paths, and, on the other hand, the clarity of say Elizabeth Bishop. Doty expressed his predilection for the well scaffolded sentence on whose framework he could hang the exquisite observations, elegaic reflections and elegant lyricism that make up his narrative style.

Mark Doty reads his poems deliberately, weighing his syllables without being ponderous, in a rich, warm voice. There is nothing to beat not only hearing major poets reading their poems but also seeing them in the flesh. I’m glad I was there.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Feeling The Bounce

I recently bought two small poetry collections. The first was Rod Riesco’s ‘Familiar Machines’ (pub Wilderswood 2002) which comprises some thirteen poems by Rod, many of which were previously published in magazines. I’m catching up with various anthologies by local poets. Rod is the secretary of my local Bank Street Writers in Bolton and an accomplished poet. Not one bad poem here. An anthology which will get plenty of re-reads from me.
I wish I could say the same about the other anthology I picked up ‘X Verse and Other Poems’ by Brian Appleton. (I’m pretty sure this is not the Birmingham Brian Appleton, rock historian and musicologist.) A poorly produced, photocopied A4 chapbook of 19 poems, none of which have anything to do with the anthology’s title, ‘X Verse’ is a collection of formal, rhyming poems. Some are appealing in a gently witty way but most suffer from forced rhymes, excessive end-stopping and that grating odd line where the metre goes out the window in an otherwise formal poem. If you’re going to write this kind of poetry, you really need to get to grips with rhythm, scansion and metre. Too many lines don’t work here. Just a couple of forced examples:

from ‘Memory’

Misadventures left behind
Mock the peripheral mind

or from ‘The Fairy Bridge’

The time, the place are right; here do I stay
But my sweet, if only you had said the day.

This sort of writing gives me toothache. It’s not just Brian Appleton, who at least gets it right most of the time: too many performance poets wreck their rhyming verse with lines that don’t scan (and I don’t mean when it’s deliberate for some humorous or ironic effect.) All it needs is for the writer to feel the bounce. Maybe these writers can’t dance or ride a bike or swim? There may be some sort of coordination or balance problem with those who ain’t got rhythm. Who knows?