Sunday, March 02, 2008

Poets & Players at the Whitworth

Yesterday afternoon, to the Whitworth gallery for Poets & Players. Now Arts Council funded, Linda Chase brings together a mix of poets - well known and upcoming - and mixes them with music. So yesterday had the somewhat incongruous mix of avant-garde new music collective House of Bedlam, alongside the understated charms of Tobias Hill and four other poets. The Whitworth gallery is a wonderful place for a reading on an afternoon, with views into the park, and a sense of genuinely getting away from the hustle and bustle of a Saturday afternoon. The event was packed, and well more than the "40 people" that I reckoned, rather glibly, last week, was a massive audience for a poetry event. That said, its all a little on the patrician side, and the poets were all very proper. I enjoyed Martin Malone's poems about old neighbours, and late night taxi rides with lovers; they felt like something I could relate to; whereas, though they both read very well, the young women poets Rachel Mann and Rebecca Perry seemed more exercises in form; life perhaps not yet furnishing them with the material to match their undoubted facility. Hill was okay, though I didn't think the reading added to the pleasures I've found in his book; his concentration on the longer poems from that collection, Nocturne & Chrome in Sunset Yellow, perhaps missed out some of the book's slighter pleasures. In other words, it was all very pleasant, but - perhaps in keeping with a Saturday afternoon visit to an art gallery - nothing to particularly stay in the mind. Afterwards, talking to James Davies, who is about to launch a new experimental poetry magazine and publisher If P then Q, whether the way to grow audiences for new music and poetry is this "mix and match" approach - the avant garde musicians possibly gaining a bigger audience than they would have got at an avant garde poetry reading. I was saying to someone the other day how rarely it is for me to go the Royal Northern College of Music, despite it having some music on I'd undoubtedly like. All of these things require ways in. Manchester does it better than most, but it's still not perfect. And as always, I find myself somewhat mystifyingly in the middle of all of this - neither mainstream or avant garde; as put off by performance poets as by Radio 4 wannabees, wanting rock music thats a little more than drums and guitars, and classical music that is less up its compositional alleys; fiction that can have some of the vivacity of the best poetry, and poetry that doesn't get locked into its own sentimental conventions. Artists, writers, musicians all need a freedom to "be", but there's a sense that its more important that they "belong". Choose your sub-genre carefully, you may be there for some time.

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