Monday, December 01, 2008

Should Frances Leviston Visit Scandinavia? - Shore Poets Report

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.


Andrew Philip said...

Disappointed to have missed what sounds like a great night. Ian's "Vanishing Hitchhiker" pamphlet is well worth getting a hold of.

And shouldn't a writer go anywhere?

BarbaraS said...

All sounded interesting. I'm particularly interested in Frances Leviston's work. I am hoping to get her work in the next round of poetry buying... but now Ian's book is clamouring to be added too. Thanks for the post!

Colin Will said...

An excellent night Rob. I thought Susan Tichy's poetry was in a different register from the readings we normally hear at Shore Poets, and I enjoyed it very much. I'd now like to see the poems on the page, to confirm what I thought I heard, which was a poet who consciously uses poetic techniques and structures in her work. Audiences today are perhaps more used to unstructured and conversational language from poets, and some may have felt slightly challenged by Susan's style, but I found it enthralling and mature. I agree with you about Ian and Frances - altogether it was a really good night.

Rob said...

Barbara, send me your address and I'll post you a copy of Ian's book.

Colin, I wish I'd heard Susan now, following your description!

Ben Wilkinson said...

Hi Rob - sounds like a good event.

The new Leviston poem you mention was published in Tower Poetry Review over the summer - the line you quoted reminded me of it.

Link's here if you're interested:

Rob said...

Thanks a lot, Ben. "Billionaires," I see, not millionaires. Very interesting poem.

Michael Peverett said...

Didn't Wordsworth have a little sequence of "Yarrow Unvisited", visited, revisited, etc... ?

But there are no places, so it's impossible to visit them. Scandinavia is particularly meaningless, though I am "Scandinavian" myself I never knew that it is supposed to be comprise only Norway, Sweden and Denmark - in irrational defiance of the linguistic kinship of eg. Icelandic or the historical & cultural ties, not to mention the landscape similarities of eg. Finland.