Last night I went to the Scottish Poetry Library for the launch of two new chapbooks on HappenStance Press, Matt Merritt’s Making the Most of the Light and Eleanor Livingstone’s The Last King of Fife.
I often find readings and launches boring, average poems read badly to friends and groupies, but I couldn’t say that of last night – far from it. The poems were humorous, imaginative, unsentimental but packed with emotion, and intelligently crafted. The poets read them pretty well.
Eleanor Livingstone’s poems approached their subjects with humour and empathy. They were accessible and multi-layered. I enjoyed her Last Chance, about her hometown of Leven in Fife. She draws a parallel between Leven and old USA frontier towns:
“…These days the ‘Indians’ are take-aways
but cowboys roam from door to door and drive hard deals
in double glazing. Meantime for the good, the bad
and others back on Main Street, music loud with drink
spills out of each saloon while cash tills play a tune
which sure ain’t bluegrass…”
Matt Merritt read several good poems. He clearly likes to play with sound and rhythm. Vocabulary, which dealt (on the surface) with the technical language that family members pick up when visiting cancer wards (Merritt’s sister died of cancer in 2004), had the biggest emotional pull. The last few lines are heartbreaking:
“…Every evening is cocktail hour –
methadone, codeine, immodium – a chance to discuss
the many meanings of serious, before they come
to make us comfortable,
and we can watch the sun go down,
red and furious.
It is unbearable.”
At only £3 each (£4 from outside the UK), these chapbooks are great value and are available from the HappenStance website (see my links) along with two other excellent chapbooks by Helena Nelson and Andrew Philip. It’s good to see such high-quality poetry coming from this new Scottish publishing house.