Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reading at MMU: Alice Oswald

Omigod, last night I committed what I consider to be one of the worst literary sins: I walked in late - ALMOST HALF AN HOUR LATE! - to a poetry reading. So far I have been only to the Thursday readings at MMU, which always begin at 6.30, and I had not really registered that the Tuesday readings were slightly different not only in that, although the public is invited, they are part of the MA course, but in that they begin half an hour earlier.

Think of the poor writer - last night poet Alice Oswald. Any writer worth their salt takes an effort with their performance and builds an atmosphere. By the end of half an hour the atmosphere should be spellbinding, which it clearly was. And guess what, the door to the side of her comes open, the atmosphere cracks, all heads turn to the people in the doorway, and they become the flippin stars of the show instead! And they are so embarrassed they apologise, and thus take up even more attention, and the poet has to excuse them graciously and ask them to sit down - she is forced to include them in her own show! Oh, cringe. And then they sit, and they can't take off their leather jackets because the squeaky noise of doing so would continue to draw attention, so for the rest of the reading, every single time they shift their leather jackets squeak anyway.

When Simon Armitage read recently he dealt with such a situation with aplomb. Reading from his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he had just got to the point where the giant Knight enters, when a rather large man appeared in the same doorway, and Armitage responded by acknowledging him ironically, brilliantly and wittily incorporating the incident into his reading. But you're not always so lucky with the circumstances. Armitage was reading from what he acknowledged as a product of an oral tradition, and a shared folk tale, whereas Alice Oswald's poetry (although also drawing from folk traditions) is more internal. How much worse it would have been therefore if John and I had not entered fortuitously between poems, but slap-bang in the middle of one...

We still managed to hear a good chunk of her reading, however, including the final part of her magnificent book-length poem, Dart, and sections of a new long poem, a 'biography of the moon'.
Oswald was open and thoughtful in the Q & A afterwards, and I must say there were some pretty intelligent questions from the MA audience, focusing on Oswald's interest in the 'personhood' of things and in the fluid nature of people and the natural world.

Thursday is the final reading of the series, with poets Jackie Roy, Linda Chase and Jeffrey Wainwright - and this one's at 6.30!