Shamshad Khan, the local poet for the Oldham leg of the tour, drew the audience into the evening’s proceedings with a mixture of poems recited from memory and read from the page. These included poems from an anthology featuring work exploring the cosmetics industry as well as poems from her Salt collection Megalomaniac. A particularly striking moment was when Khan read an extract from her live literature show ‘Hard Cut’ as she brought a theatrical aspect to the reading without losing a sense of intimacy with the audience. I sat at the very top of the raked seating listening as she recited in her quiet, measured, way that gave a sense of the poem on the page, its twists and turns, and the way each phrase was precisely weighed.
Jane Draycott gave stunning voice to poems from her books Over, shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize in 2009, and her version of Pearl, winner of the Stephen Spender Prize. The poems from Over ranged from a poem capturing a parent’s sense of loss and pride when their child learns to drive, to a poem addressed to namesakes; those spectres who haunt us with lives we might have lived and are haunted in their turn. These poems contributed to a sense of celebration as well as lament that proved to be an evocative mixture. This theme was brought home with Draycott’s reading from, and contextualization of, Pearl. Draycott began by reading the poem in the original, or an approximation of it since we can’t know how it sounded for sure. This gave a strong sense of what Draycott saw in the poem and it was thrilling to hear the ticking consonants and elaborate rhymes carried over into our contemporary idiom.
Jen Hadfield read a little from her T S Eliot Prize winning collection Nigh-No-Place to start, continuing a tradition in which she opens readings with the title poem of that book (an appropriate introduction, perhaps, since the poem’s sonic richness serves to illustrate Hadfield’s attunement to the sound of a poem as well as its semantic meaning). After this invocation the audience was treated to something of an exclusive as Hadfield read poems from her forthcoming collection Byssus (due in early 2014). The book, Hadfield told us, muses on the notion of place and what makes a person feel attached to particular places (the title being the name for the fringed ‘beards’ that molluscs use to attach themselves to rocks etc). The poems were received with warmth and there was a genuine sense of being part of something very special in hearing them.
Ian Duhig began by reading his poem ‘From The Irish’ which employs the terms in Dineen’s Dictionary to subvert the usual mode of the love poem to touching, and indeed hilarious, effect. This was a brilliant introduction to Duhig’s work since it mixes a range of registers, showing evidence of a broad and thorough scholarship, without alienating the reader. The insights Duhig gave into the provenance of certain poems allowed the audience to see them anew. The importance of music to his work brought context to his use of the ballad form and his tale of walking in Ireland and being told a story that inspired ‘The Lammas Hireling’ made a deeply mysterious poem seem clear even though it was being read aloud.