I won't touch the poetry-blogging-is-dead meme again, I promise; maybe it was the churlishness and sourness in the comment boxes of AmPo blogs (not excluding this one) that made a change of pace so refreshing for me when I recently left the country for a while. A few weeks ago, skirting plumes of volcano ash, I was in the UK where among other things I gave a talk at Oxford, and participated in a reading in London that left a sweeter taste.
The London event was marvelously hosted by Roddy Lumsden, one of the best poets writing in English on the planet today. Roddy puts together themed multi-poet events that have warmth, spirit, and heart; the one to which I was invited was held in his Broadcast series, and took place upstairs at The Betsey Trotwood on Friday 14th May 2010. Titled Lardermania!, it featured over two dozen poets performing an alphabet of new poems on the subject of food, along with a reading by me in the middle that lasted about fifteen minutes, as well as readings from and in tribute to the work of food-loving poet and Poetry contributor Craig Arnold.
A poem each was read by:
Kirsten Irving / Charlotte Newman / Rowyda Amin / James Goodman / Angela Kirby / Claire Crowther / Samuel Prince / Tim Wells / Mark Waldron / Holly Hopkins / Diana Pooley / David Floyd / Samantha Jackson / Judy Brown / James Brookes / Katy Evans Bush / Dzifa Benson / Jack Underwood / Jon Stone / Swithun Cooper / Julia Bird / Roddy Lumsden / Jackey Smith.
My own commission was a poem on an item of food beginning with the letter "P" - the result was an unlikely homage to the late Alex Chilton and the late James Luther Dickinson - more-or-less-Memphians like me - called "Dixie Fried" (maybe someone'll publish the thing, who knows). I read some new poems from my nearly-finished manuscript, Cash for Clunkers, as well.
One salutary thing about UK readings is that poets read work by other people in addition to their own. Though not from Lardermania, here's a clip of Roddy in action:
At our event, Roddy read two poems composed for the occasion, one on short notice and in under an hour's time, and they were each terrific: "Cooking with the Saints" and "Yeast." I wish I had copies of them, and made a fool myself trying to ask after them. [Addendum: "Yeast" appears in the April 2011 issue of Poetry magazine.]
Though every single poet on the bill was a distinctive pleasure, I especially enjoyed seeing Tim Wells, who has absolutely no counterpart in the US - click here for proof!
And Katy Evans-Bush... well, even before seeing her in person for the first time that night, she has seemed like a long-lost sister to me! She read poignantly from Craig's first book, Shells, as well as a poem of her own relating to the queenly quince! Katy has a witty new chapbook called Oscar & Henry, that saucily mashes up Oscar Wilde and Henry James (among others, including Auden and Whitman). Here's "November 30, 1900" -
Earth, receive an honoured guest:
Oscar Wilde is laid to rest.
Oscar knew the price of everything.
Once in prison, once in exile,
once with his health, once with his family,
once in money, once with success,
he paid the price for wit and hubris.,
for having cake, for sowing oats, for sable-collared overcoats.
Wilde expired in a hotel room in Paris,
murmuring, either that wallpaper goes or I do -
having finally learned to do without the frills,
having learned at last that almost everything is frills -
the proof of the gentleman in the unpaid bills,
the garlanded rivalries, guarded shock of the master
never mattering more or less or ever after -
a-boom-di-a-da, boom-di-a-da, boom-di-a-da, boom-di-a-da,
and an unhealthy green haze evaporating over the hills.
I'll stop enthusing now, and end with a link to Craig Arnold's tart and bittersweet "Meditation on a Grapefruit," which we accepted for Poetry on the day he went missing, and which I read on the 14th - a night for which I'll always be grateful.