Sunday, September 12, 2010

Readings, Poets, Novelists

The last two readings I've been to have been by novelists. Last night, at Blackwells, to see Lee Rourke read from "The Canal", and a week or so before Howard Jacobsen to read from "The Finkler Question," at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. The latter has now made it to the Booker shortlist, the former to the Guardian's "Not the Booker" list. In both cases, a small, select crowd, most of whom had either read the book or the author, listened to well-read readings, and then asked, and had answered a range of thoughtful questions. In both cases, the audiences didn't have too many "civilians", appealing, it seems, to writers, academics, and other literary types. Manchester's poets, were mostly absent. I always joke that poets and novelists are like characters in Oklahoma, the "farmer and the cowman cannot be friends."

There's always a sense that poetry is less popular than fiction, yet poetry readings are regularly busy affairs, though less (much less) concerned with selling books. It's like the novelist is an advert for his product, whilst the poet is the product himself. Jacobsen said he once read at Buxton literary festival and was advised by Roy Hattersley not to read from his work, and that he'd sell more books as a result. I guess there's something partial about a prose reading, yet I'm not so sure. Seeing Anne Enright read from "The Gathering" stuck in my mind when I read her book, and even where there's less of a "voice" in a work, in both of these recent readings, the reading of the work, and the intelligent discussion of the themes written about, seemed enhancing. In contrast, although I admire poets who are able to read their poems, and talk about them, there can be too much explanation.

Thinking about this as I prepare for my reading at the end of September at the Didsbury Arts Festival. There are readings all week, so there will be plenty of chances to compare and contrast.

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