Sunday, May 03, 2009

Carol Ann Duffy at the Rylands Library in Manchester Friday morning

On Friday at 10:30, I strode past the Rylands Library in Manchester, knowing full well that in just 90 minutes the announcement would be made there of Britain’s new poet laureate. But I knew that if I paused to take in that announcement I would never make to Liverpool & back in time to attend the opening of The Agency of Words exhibit in Bury, the on-the-wall component to this year’s Text Festival.

(As it was I didn’t have the time to make it to the Tate Liverpool or down to the docks, for which Liverpool is justly famous, though I did take in the Walker Art Gallery and got to see just how the Beatles have become for Liverpool what San Francisco’s more-or-less nonexistent commercial sea trade is to that city’s Fishermen’s Wharf. If anything, the Cavern District, so called, is even tackier, with one bar named Revolution, multiple other pubs making similar (if less creative) claims for association, a converted bank building turned into the Hard Day’s Night Hotel – complete with statues of the Fab Four a couple of storeys up as if they were Italian saints. Across from the original doors to the Cavern Club a busker was dutifully performing “Norwegian Wood.” And the recreated club itself (it was torn down until the city fathers realized what a mistake that was) is indeed a dank place with a tiny stage, albeit when I was there one college-age kid after another was taking turns sitting at the drum set to have their picture taken. Both Rory Gallagher and Mick Taylor are booked to play there on different nights this month & one hopes that they’re doing so for pleasure. I’m told there is a Beatles Museum, but I would have chosen the Tate if I’d time for a second one of those.)

I was pleased with myself at the moment I strode past the Rylands, having just seen a copy of The Alphabet in the Waterstones on Deaconsgate, and having picked up a copy of Tony Lopez’ Covers there. The poetry section there still suffers from the “furthest from the front door” syndrome so typical of bookstores in the states, but just in terms of pure shelf footage, it was maybe double what one expects to find at a Borders or Barnes & Noble, and with a fair amount of diversity. There were several titles from Salt readily visible, as well as the usual, including a volume (but only one) by Carol Ann Duffy, who soon would be fulfilling the bookies’ predictions when she was named Poet Laureate, the first woman appointed to the position in its 341-year history.

Back at the hotel, as poets, artists & turntablists gathered for the ride out to Bury, one British poet put it to me this way:

She really is the best choice, the only sensible one. She will be an advocate for poetry, and that’s all you can ask from a position like that. She’s smart and accessible, so that helps. Even Andrew Motion, who is not nearly the poet she is, was an advocate, so in that sense he was a good laureate. He was willing to argue for difficulty. I cannot imagine that any poet whose work we liked better would have any interest in taking on the tasks that position requires.

In Bury, about 100 people turned up for the official opening of the Text Festival, which was fun and totally successful as an event. Geof Huth has already done an excellent job documenting it on his blog, so I will add only that Geof gave a terrific reading in bare feet, proving yet again that visual poets are indeed poets in every sense of the word – he even concluded with a song based on one of his texts that reminded me, more than anything, of Jerry Rothenberg’s interpretations of the Navajo Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell (scroll down here). Geof has also blogged the exhibition itself here, and curator-impresario-wizard Tony Trehy has been doing so throughout. Matt Dalby’s blog is also quite good. I have to note that I really enjoyed the evening of poetry films presented by Tom Konyves on Thursday, and was blown away by Nico VassilakisFoC on the big screen, in a somewhat longer version than the YouTube clip.

By the time you read this there will have been two additional events, an afternoon of readings of works commissioned on the subject of Bury itself, and my own reading last night. I recommend that you check out Geof, Tony & Matt’s blogs for reports of those.

Some Carol Ann Duffy links worth noting:

The Guardian article

Another Guardian article

Guardian editorial

The Independent

The Irish Times

The Times

A collection of women poets edited by Duffy

The Scotsman