I like poetry – in fact I have been known to write poetry (probably really badly but what the hell) – however I really don’t know very much about it so an evening at Five Leaves Bookshop with poets Stuart Henson and John Harvey seemed a good opportunity to learn more.
The evening, a few weeks ago, was a pre-launch event for Nottingham’s poetry festival – the majority of which I was unfortunately unable to attend due to work and other commitments. The evening was free, I just emailed and reserved a seat, it was packed to the rafters and I learnt stuff. So a good night was had by me, and I think by all.
Stuart Henson was the first poet. He read several of his works, old and new and as he read, something occurred to me for the first time – poetry is meant to be heard, not read. During a poetry reading, the poet puts the intonation where he intended, pauses for a split second, or for a longer time, where necessary. A poem needs to be performed.
Some of the audience had their eyes closed and, I have to be honest, I had as much fun observing people listening to the poetry as I did listening to the poetry but that’s because I take an almost unhealthy pleasure in people watching. People are fascinating.
But I also found the poetry fascinating. I enjoyed Mr Henson’s poems very much – I even purchased a volume of it.
John Harvey was on my list of Nottingham authors to read. He’s very prolific and (according to Wikipedia) has written more than 100 books as well as scripts for stage, television and radio. On this particular evening he was launching a new book of poetry, Aslant, which features fabulous photographs taken by his daughter Molly Ernestine Boiling, who was also in attendance.
In fact she also read her father’s poetry.
I liked the language of the poems. They were accessible, not written to confuse or confound. I wasn’t searching for a meaning, feeling I was trying to gain access to a club of which I wasn’t a member. I got the imagery, clever words that put pictures in my head. I enjoyed the listening.
I bought a book of Mr Harvey’s poetry too – and a poetry anthology. I’ve read many of them. John Harvey’s I like very much, some of the ones in the poetry anthology I am not so keen on. I genuinely think that I shouldn’t have to struggle to find the meaning of words. I mean I’m educated, literate, I have a good vocabulary, if someone wants to communicate something to me, I’d appreciate it if they did it clearly and not hide behind obscure meanings. I suppose I just find it a bit pretentious. And surely choosing to read someone’s poetry is meant to be enjoyable not a chore (unless you are studying for an exam and I’m not).
I gave up on the anthology but I fully intend to read more of John Harvey’s poetry.
Before that, however, I thought I’d read one of his novels. His most famous creation, I believe, is a Detective Inspector called Charlie Resnick, based in Nottingham. It seemed a good place to start. Waterstones in the city centre stocked a fair few, I chose this one. I don’t know whether I should have started with the debut appearance of this jazz-loving detective, but I liked the look of this one and the novels all looked as though they were stand alone.
It’s funny but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel with as much geographical detail about a place I know pretty well and I loved the Nottingham details. This novel was written in the mid-1990s so more than 20 years ago and it was really interesting picking up some of the social history too.
Phill and I were on the bus into town the other day and I asked him whether there used to be a police station at Canning Circus. He pointed out the building at the top of Derby Road that used to house the old police station and asked me why I’d asked.
I’d asked because we’d just passed the Sir John Borlase Warren pub and in Living Proof, the CID officers pop in there for a drink after work.
As the mystery unfolded, I could follow the action around the city knowing the locations or wondering what shop had replaced one mentioned in the text. It added another dimension to what was a really good read any way. I do like a nice crime novel.
I now have another goodness knows how many books added to my ‘must read soon’ list. Every time I cross one off, another 20 or 30 get added.
I am so glad I went to that poetry evening. The evening itself was great fun, I have added to the list of reading matter and I have a new source of information about my adopted city.
As an aside, a couple of months ago I had a whistlestop tour around Beeston with Matt Turpin, project and communications manager for Nottingham City of Literature and self-proclaimed Lord Beestonia. He showed me a cafe where they have poetry slams. I now feel the urge to go along and hear some more poetry. Maybe one day I’ll even be brave enough to perform some of my own.