Wednesday, April 09, 2008

DLR Poetry Now 08 Highlights

Well now, what an excellent few days! A hearty well done to all concerned.

Standouts for me were:

Ruth Padel’s keynote address

Comparing and contrasting structures in Tennyson, Dickinson and Harsent, Padel took us to the building blocks of the poem – vowels. Vowels as the basis of syllables, thmselves in turn the basis of words and rhythms. She spoke eloquently on the role of vowels in unlocking our emotions – creating a syllabic sensuality of sounds – pointing out that we tend to sing in vowels – consonents being largely percussive.

Henri Cole Workshop

Despite limited time (we inevitably ran over) the twelve participants and Cole engaged very thoroughly over readings of a poem each, some of which were truely remarkable. Henri proved a pleasant and knowledgeable facilitator and shared his thoughts on personal language (…would you use that particular phrase over cocktails?) , the dangers of the demotic ( …wheelie bins, anybody?) , Epigraphs (…you want to start your poem at 20,000 feet) as well as some thoughts on Anaphora, Modifiers (as an exercise, delete them all from your draft!) and Enjambments. Particular poets were recommended as reading in the context of certain of these and other points (Hopkins, Stevie Smith and AR Ammons came up). A key theme was the balancing of ‘sonic technique’ so as not to clutter up the emotional intent of the poem.

Overall a wonderful opportunity to bend the ear of a “master poet, with few peers” to quote Harold Bloom.

CD Wright / Seamus Heaney Reading

I must admit I wasn’t very aware of Wright’s work prior to the festival. That’s all changed now. Described by some as an Elliptical Poet, the clarity, experiment and refined audacity of her work blossomed in her vocalising. Language Poetry is another term that has been applied to her work – and language here is certainly approached with vigour. A wonderful, bracing reading which had the hairs up on my neck. And then came Heaney! Peter Sirr made reference in his introduction to ‘Seamus Heaney, pursued by Seamus Heaney’. When the Man Himself entered, stage left, he was always going to be chased by the ‘bear’ of his persona and reputation to some extent. However, Heaney is a longtime friend of this festival and intimacy was quickly established with a puckish grin. Referring briefly to his recent ill health (and full recovery) he then proceeded to give a masterclass with a thematic and considered reading of select recent work. With poems from 'District and Circle' to the fore, he finished his reading with ‘The Blackbird of Glanmore’, a favourite of his own and, I’d guess, many of the audience – who gave our 'Chieftain’ (Wright’s introductory word) a warm and emotional ovation. A startling, yet moving event – a tribute to the power of poetry and to this valued poet in particular.

So, just a few of the highlights from a truely special few days. And I haven’t even mentioned the roundtable discussion on current trends in the publishing and reading of poetry, the visceral charge that was Brian Turner reading from his collection ‘Here, Bullet’ and the varied delights of the Strong Reading, with the Strong Award won by Dave Lordan, for his collection The Boy in The Ring. Yet.