Sunday 2 July 2006

T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading

With me, it's not a case of having left undone the things I ought to have done, I've left undone the things I ought not to have done too. 
         Alan Bennett.  Untold Stories.  (Faber & Faber, 2005).  573.

Making my way to the T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading in the Strand I think of inviting a friend along as well.  The recital is starting at 7pm but he can only make it for about 7:30 so I buy 2 tickets anyway, thinking we can make our way in half an hour later.  I want the Jo Shapcott reading (one of my favourite poets) and nobody from the Royal Society of Literature seems sure who is going first out of the 2 poets reciting and it is only to last 40 - 45 minutes anyway.  So off I trot down to Charing Cross and wait for my friend at the bus stop opposite the station when he texts me saying I ought to go to the recital and meet him afterwards at 7:45.  So back to Somerset House and the lady pays me back for the extra ticket when I tell her my friend would be too late and that I'll attend the recital on my own, I have forgotten that there is to be a discussion afterwards.  Anyway I hear Jo and David Harsent (who I have never heard of before but who actually turns out to be a terrifically good poet) and make my way down the Strand to Charing Cross.  My friend is running in the direction away from me towards Trafalgar Square thinking I am coming down that way. But I phone to ask where he is and he comes running back! Ghalib says:
I make the distance of my destination more apparent at every step
The desert runs away from me at the pace at which I run towards it

I see Jo earlier when buying the tickets but dare not approach her - A lady I always see at these sessions and who attended the recitals I gave at Morley College in 2000 is there tonight too in the front row, as well as the librarian at the Poetry Library that I have mentioned in my book Seeking Betjeman Country [Chris McCabe, who is also a poet].  Jo begins by clarifying why she has been called 'The desperado of tender thought'.  It is because the professor who called her that had written a book called The Desperados and she once sent her lyrics to the Carpenters' song of the same title who (not recognising the cowboy connection) was very baffled by it.

She starts off with the first poem from her recent collection Her Book: Poems 1988 1998, which she called 'To Her Book' because poetry books are usually very small and vulnerable.

The second poem is 'My Life Asleep'.  Explaining that her life is split between urban and rural environment and that the planes flew above her to and from Heathrow and the tube line which ran under her house made a constant noise.  She finds herself wondering if she ever really slept and the poem ends "In a paranoiac fit of madness, asking 'Who am I anyway?" The description is so vivid she said that "Those of you who know London will work out where I live".

This is followed by 'Gwaithla Brook', 'Radnorshire', 'Gwaithla Road', 'Lefn Hir', 'Glascwm', 'Rilke Spotted Above Gilwern' (this is where Rilke steps in in the book), 'Road not available':
You know how a man speaking about his mother 
Suddenly looks like her,. Mid-sentence, right there?[1]

Then 'Wye Marches' (a poem about her grandfathers, both of whom were miners), 'Llan' and 4 new and unpublished poems: 'Piss Flower' - Which is in the line of "An extraordinary number of poems about peeing, mostly by men with references to things like Golden Arc and 'Marking out territory' - I don’t know".  She mentioned being able to pee with such force as if her body lifted off into space.  And when she finishes reciting the poem she remarks "True Too".

Next came 'Hairless' about her envy of baldness.  Then 'Of Mutability' from 2004.  She says we live in an era in which poets get commissioned and she was commissioned by some neurological institute or society and even got a neurologist to buffer her up with info.  The poem is about an ability of the mind known as Latent Inhibition - To be able to shut out much of what is sensed, a filtering system lest we all be experiencing too much and go madder than we already are.  Next, a poem called 'Composition'.  The final poem is 'A Letter to Dennis Potter'.  She wonders if he would've called her "Lass" like her father did (his father too and grandfathers, miners in Wales) - "Watch out for the singing penis".  Old Butt in the poem is miners' slang for old friend.

[1] Jo Shapcott.  Tender Taxes: Translations from Rainer Maria Rilke.  (Faber & Faber, 2002).