As I had hoped, I did make it to the Shore Poets last night. I braved the sub-zero chill to make the trip into town and was glad I did.
I had come straight from work and, unfortunately, I missed the first poet, Susan Tichy. I was told many of her poems were about Vietnam. Years after the war, she and her partner (a Vietnam veteran) had visited places where he had fought. The poems were political without any attempt to leaven the politics by symbolism or metaphor the way so many poets do. She also read poems of grief and loss. The word that kept recurring, as people described her reading, was “sombre,” but most also found it interesting.
Next up was Ian McDonough. He was on terrific form – just the right mix of humour, irony, and serious content. His poems on the unpromising subject of physics and those from his latest collection, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, were excellent. I meant to pick up a copy but forgot. However, I will do so at the earliest opportunity. I’ve heard Ian read several times and he’s always good, but this was the best ever.
Frances Leviston kept up the standard. She read mainly from Public Dream. Her chat between-poems worked well and she seemed very much more relaxed than when I’d seen her about 18 months before at the StAnza Festival. A new poem – about her aunt (I think) who kept countless jars of unused, home-made damson jam in her basement – contained an image of “the frozen heads of millionaires” (I can’t be sure I’ve quoted that correctly) and these moments, when poems went beyond where they seemed to be going, showed me why she’s regarded as such a talent.
Before her final poem, Scandinavia, she recounted a story of reading the poem, which imagines what Scandinavia might be like. Afterwards a Norwegian woman had approached her, telling her she should come and visit her in Norway. Frances felt she could never now visit Scandinavia or it would spoil the poem. But I don’t know. Should she go or not? It’s a bit like those tabloid or online opinion polls where you get asked questions like, ‘Should Charles marry Diana?’ or ‘Did Madonna deserve Guy Ritchie?’ – you’re asked to comment on things you have no real knowledge of at all. I think she should go – she might even get a ‘Scandinavia II’ poem out of it (maybe even a III and IV – who knows?) to complement her current one.
So, probably the best Shore Poets reading of 2008.