Friday, January 25, 2008

Sloans Bar: WN Herbert and Ciaran Carson

I caught the bus from Edinburgh’s west end, which diverted at a crawl through the east end of Glasgow and arrived about 30 minutes later than it should have. I found the venue after getting lost for a while and met up with Andy Jackson, Gerry Cambridge, Sandy Hutchison and Cheryl Follon. Because of all the delays and getting lost, I didn’t have time for a pre-reading drink – just as well, as it turned out.

WN Herbert read first. One immediate impression (also relevant to Ciaran Carson’s reading later) was that anyone who has ever asked what the difference is between poetry and prose could have heard the answer last night. Verbal dexterity, rhythm, wit, depth, mystery, and sonic explosion can also belong to prose but, from his opening lines, there could have been no doubt that WN Herbert was reading poetry. It was an ebullient performance and there can be few UK poets around with a more deranged imagination.

Ciaran Carson’s reading was also quite mesmerising. He managed to perform the poems as if he was inhabiting every syllable, but without theatrics. His sense was humour was dry, his manner extraordinary. That “piece of glass in the brain” that Andy J (in a previous comments box here) reckoned good poets need to have – well Ciaran Carson definitely has it.

Afterwards, Andy, Gerry, Sandy, Cheryl and myself spent a few hours drinking. I got the midnight bus back to Edinburgh and woke up this morning feeling rather the worse for wear! And I had plenty of work to get through as well. Also, I entered the Wigtown Competition with an hour to spare before the deadline. And my daughter (5) decided she was going to write a poem, unprompted by me, I hasten to add. It goes:

Snakes and ladders as a stool.
Up the ladders, down the snakes.

I don’t know what that’s all about, but it’s perfect trochaic tetrameter. Most of us think in iambs, but she thinks in trochees. Doesn’t surprise me.


Anonymous said...

Carson was definitely a mesmerizing character, one of the best readings I've been to.

I was also fascinated to see that he has a stammer. These lines take on a particular resonance in that light:

"What is / My name? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? A fusillade of question marks."

This constant interrogation by the armed forces would be harrowing enough; but for someone with a stammer, being asked to say your name is usually the one thing you dread above all else. For most folk, it's a default stammer, no matter what other words you get right.

That question, then, is like a bomb going off in the mind, inducing panic. You can't re-arrange or substitute words, as in a sentence (stammerers think 3 or 4 words ahead as they speak, keeping an eye on what might cause trouble and therefore avoid it). You can only say the one thing, hence the anxiety and the block.

The syllabic force you mentioned, Rob ... I would guess that this is also a necessity for getting the words out in one piece, rather than just a style.

The famous Blackadder episode in which Rowan Atkinson has a female 'man servant' called Bob ... the reason that 'Bob' had such a comedic, plosive pronunciation was because Atkinson has a stammer, and didn't want to stick on the B.

Made me think of Tom Paulin as well.

With WN Herbert as well ... great night all round.


Dave said...

That's a great first poem! My neice was similarly brilliant with her first poem at the age of five. Hasn't done anything quite as good since.