To the lighthouse? Pointing out new directions at bookshop reading
Before the bookshop reading I spoke to another early arrival, a man who had only recently retired. Since retiring he had discovered writing, and now rarely thought of anything else. He had come, he said, to watch and hear and learn how to deliver words.
Blackwell’s bookshop in Newcastle is in the heart of the university. The shelves are generously packed with poetry. The event was titled Salt Poets in the North – three poets published by Salt, Michael Brown, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, and Ken Evans – plus a guest poet, Kitty Martin.
Michael Brown is a creative writing research student at Newcastle University, and winner of the university’s 2023 Chancellor’s Poetry Prize. (The chancellor is famed poet Imtiaz Dharker, and Brown had to leave this event early to attend the award ceremony). His Salt collection is titled Where Grown Men Go, and one of its themes is fatherhood. One poem, ‘Device’ from the collection is about a daughter leaving home to spend a year abroad in Russia:
these days for grown men to cry
at photographs, old toys, what’s left behind.
Another, ‘New Look’, charts a bad day going to the shopping centre with his wife and two daughters, when they were younger:
Sometimes we might lose them,
acred in the minutes outside fitting rooms.
Hardly we are fathers now.
Men! Don’t waste those idle minutes spent waiting outside fitting rooms. Write a poem about it!
Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana has written about her 10 years in Japan, two international marriages, a homecoming, and the struggles of cross-cultural relationships in Sing Me Down From The Dark. It’s ‘confessional’ poetry that does not hold back. She is a humanities lecturer at Newcastle University, and has a MA in poetry from the same university. Humour in references to “Belgian chocolate willies” and titles like ‘Julie Andrews’ Honesty’ reflect a devil-may-care and refreshing poetic attitude. She has endured tough situations but has fashioned unexpected and interesting material from it, and come up smiling.
Ken Evans is another poet that does not hold back. ‘Mother, You Make Therapy a Brick Wall at Times’ reflects on a woman who stashed a tea towel her grandchildren made for her at school away in a bottom drawer, unused, unwrapped. The title poem of his second collection, To an Occupier Burning Holes, visualises a dictatorial regime that bizarrely orders everyone to relinquish their middle names. He introduced ‘Grendel at the Mayan Bikers Club’ as the result of “too many box sets during lockdown”. It’s a poem that references Thom Gunn, and is an example of his darting observation and imagination.
Guest poet Kitty Martin is also a Newcastle Chancellor’s poetry prize winner. She is an actor as well, which helps to explain the drama in her poems, as well as her expert delivery of them. ‘Pass’ forms part of a poetry sound installation about migration and resettlement, arising from the oral history collection at Manchester Jewish Museum: “Don’t speak of the trauma … don’t speak in the mother tongue … a disconnected third generation … a few words accepted into the English language.”
She then played a recording of her grandmother’s voice, telling how some of her family left Ukraine to avoid having to serve in the Soviet second world war army, while others stayed behind. Six brothers went out all over the world. There were also lockdown poems, one written in the style of the shipping forecast, and another about poetry prompts at three in the morning, that invoked Simon Armitage and Brian Eno.
At the end of the reading I thought of the man I had met before it began. He was off the next day to St Mary’s lighthouse at Whitley Bay, for research, to find inspiration. I remembered the fire in his eyes, the new purpose he had found in his life. I’m sure these four poets at Blackwell’s had given him plenty to think about.
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