What one buys at a poetry festival must say something about what stood out from the crowd. But for me it isn’t that simple. I was under strict constraints, partly because my bank balance this month is pretty hopeless, and partly because I’m trying not to buy anything unnecessary during Lent.
However, I felt it would be wrong not to buy books from fellow poets, especially when I was hoping people would buy my book. But what I bought doesn’t tell the whole story, as there were books I really wanted to buy but couldn’t, because I’d already fulfilled my quota for the day.
Sometimes I wanted to buy a book after seeing a poet in performance, such as Mario Petrucci, whose reading was terrific - particularly his poems on Chernobyl - and Mimi Khalvati, whose performance was reflective and engaging. Other times it was because I thoroughly regretted missing a performance after glancing through a poet’s book, or because (as well as the poems) I liked the poet as a person – Imtiaz Dharker, for example, on both counts, and Ron Butlin (whose reading I did see) on the second count.
I wouldn’t buy a book from a poet I liked personally but whose work was poor (well, not usually), but the reverse scenario doesn't follow i.e. when a poet is obnoxious and his/her poems are great. I did buy Mark Strand’s book, even though he came over to me as very grumpy. His poems were great though.
Two poets I did like personally: Jen Hadfield’s reading was a delight and her book looks excellent. Michael Laskey did a fine reading, which combined depth and wit.
The chapbooks all appealed to me because the opening poems were good. I bought each on the strength of that and I now hope the remaining poems will match up.
So here’s what I bought:
Selected Poems – Mark Strand
Almanacs – Jen Hadfield
Permission to Breathe – Michael Laskey
Smoke – Jenni Daiches
When Now Is Not Now – Alastair Reid
Three Little Ninjas – Chloe Morrish
Mackerel Wrappers – Martin Cook
And here are poets whose books I really wanted to buy, and will do in the course of the year: