Cambridging, graveyards, poets & lots of fibre

Last weekend I went on a fascinating, moving and timely tour of four Jewish cemeteries, which Tamar Yoseloff led, photographed and blogged here. I have a few photos of my own to contribute.

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My last reading in the UK was on Tuesday in Cambridge. I enjoyed a day of wandering in town, which I hadn’t properly done or perhaps not for ages. I poked my nose into a couple of galleries and had a look at the Ian Hamilton Finlay show at Kettle’s Yard, but his work leaves me a bit cold. Though I enjoyed a few pieces – Catameringue was my absolute favourite – I either wasn’t in the right mood for it or it’s just not my thing. I found more to wonder over at Primavera, which stocks a huge and stunning selection of contemporary British jewellery, art and craft. I missed the reportedly wonderful show at the Fitzwilliam, but one cannot be everywhere at the right time. I did find myself 2015JanCambridgePintShopPorkBellyin the right place for lunch though: The Pint Shop was pleasant and delicious. I had the pork belly with Heaven & Earth (it was sat on a disc of black pudding and surrounded by pleasingly tart stewed apple) and washed it down with a modest little glass of Sirens chocolate porter, which was suitably dark and complex and worked well with the pork.

The CB1 Poetry venue has changed since my last appearance there some years ago, and is currently at the Gonville Hotel. The granting agency requires the series to offer disabled access, which unfortunately narrows the options and cuts the charm of available spaces. Still, the organizers have done their best to soften the corporate feel of the room, and aside from a bit of spillage from the Rotarians meeting next door, it was a comfortable and well equipped reading space. There were some good readings from the floor before Rebecca Perry and I took the stage. Rebecca’s work was great – varied, funny, edgy and moving. She works a lot with found poems and deconstructions. We had a good natter on the train back to London and I look forward to having a closer read of her first collection, Beauty/Beauty, when I have time to catch my breath.

And I’ve been walking around London getting a few last views in before I leave next week.

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The last couple of days have involved dining out – lunch in Brixton with poet pals at a restaurant I’ve undertaken not to discuss but whose very interesting work is described here, and lunch in Whitstable with Kent poet Sue Rose and Canadian poet/novelist Steve Noyes. And… I attended a British Nutrition Foundation half day seminar on fibre research, and have discussed that in more detail at my nutrition blog, Go Local Nutrition.

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Travelling Through… London

Travelling Through BookshopLast Wednesday’s reading at Travelling Through Bookshop went well. A cosy crowd gathered in the downstairs cafe of this newly opened shop on Lower Marsh to hear poetry of place & travel from three poets. I was reading with Sue Rose and Tamar Yoseloff, poetry pals from way back. Sue and Tammy have small and lovely collections from Hercules Editions. Sue’s is called Heart Archives, poetic responses to Christian Boltanski’s Les Archives du Cœur audio installation and gorgeously assembled with her own photos. Tammy read from Formerly, which features her poems responding to Vici MacDonald‘s photographs of disappearing London. And I of course read from Ex-ville, which is perfectly suited to the reading theme, bristling with travel poems of many kinds. Thanks perhaps to Tammy’s apt observation that the book was not otherwise available in the UK, I enjoyed brisk sales: thanks to all my book-buyers!

Lower Marsh is a rather special little street tucked away behind Waterloo Station. I was very pleased to happen upon Greensmith‘s, a very different kind of supermarket, made up of a kind of accretion of different independent businesses – butcher, baker, greengrocer, coffee specialist, and wine merchant – and together able to provide just about anything an urbanite might need to keep a small household going. In a pleasing patchwork of adjoining rooms where visitors find a happy surprise on every floor.

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Hercules Editions takes its name from William Blake’s last home and printing works in Hercules Road, Lambeth. I had a wander down this road and happened upon some ceramic reminders of Blake’s time there. More about the mosaic project here.

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Another wander down memory lane took me to Daquise, a Polish restaurant that’s been around since 1947, clinging on in South Kensington through an era of fast food and chains. They’ve updated the decor since my last visit and now have their cooks serve at the table, which is quite fun. The menu has been upgraded too: almost sorry to find the borscht is not what it was (used to be thick with grated beetroot and other delights) but is tasty and elegant nonetheless.

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Markets, mezze & muses

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Brixton Village & Market Row

Last week was another busy one in London. It involved a visit to Brixton market, where the pickings were far from slim. Brixton Village & Market Row is populated more by smart shops, delis and cafes than traditional fare, although there are still a few butchers, fishmongers and less chi-chi retailers.

We browsed the offerings in both these arms of the covered market, looking for lunch, and settled upon Salon, which has its eye firmly on well produced local foods – cheeses, cured meats, bread and delicious lunch items. We had celeriac & whey soup, a salad of cauliflower & turmeric and a pasty beautifully filled with parsnip, cavolo nero and cheese – and could only gaze enviously on the many other offerings remaining on the table. One must stop somewhere.

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Meanwhile, in the poetry realm, I gave a reading last week at the Loose Muse‘s regular monthly series, co-starring with the delightful and entertaining Tania Hershman who read a few very short stories and recited some poetry in the first half. There were plenty of open mic readers – the series clearly attracts a supportive community of regulars, and there was as might be expected a good assortment of topics and styles. A good and responsive audience, but as is so often the case nowadays, not big book buyers. Which is their right of course, but tricky to predict when one is travelling in a transatlantic fashion with printed matter. Poetry tends to lack international distribution, so we poets are the hauliers of enlightenment, and it can be a heavy load.

Heavier still are books of photographs, and I had to resist picking up a copy of Dylan 2015JanTasMezzeThomas and the Bohemians, The Photographs of Nora Summers when I attended the closing reception for the photography show that had been gracing the Poetry Cafe’s walls since early December. Afterwards we wandered off in search of food and settled on Turkish mezze at Tas, which offered an ample selection that ended very happily for me with a small glass of Tokaji Aszu.

2015JanMuldoon1Last night’s reading by Paul Muldoon at Keats House in Hampstead was a treat – hadn’t heard him read before.  His reading manner is quirky, full of pauses and random interactions with the audience. He seemed amused by the readers in the front row who were following along in their copies of his new collection, 1,000 Things Worth Knowing, and paused from time to time to give them a page reference. His poetry is singular, challenging and complex, at times deceptively simple, at others tapping incalculable worlds of knowledge, waving come-hither flags of form and rhyme. Such are the poets to hear in person, hoping they will throw their readers a few clues. And it was delightful and absorbing.

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Pausing for lunch

Brunswick House Bar

Brunswick House Cafe

I’ve been working in various cafes and public spaces lately, as my wifi access is variable in the places I’ve been staying. Today’s most elegant setting is the lovely and unusual Brunswick House Cafe, which is attached to Lassco, purveyor of architectural salvage and and decorative oddities. Which I’m guessing makes this one of the few eateries where you can buy the decor. (Very tempted by some old medicinal posters, but luckily their frames would not fit in my suitcase.)

2015JanBrunswickSaltBeefSandwichLast visit I had the delicious sounding salt beef sandwich, but it disappointed with old cheese and not much flavour from the beef or pickled beetroot. Was good and filling though. However, today’s choice, Charred Hispi Cabbage with Lemon Mayonnaise, was most delicious in every way and very good with the nice fresh 2015JanBrunswickCabbagesourdough. Nice also to be able to enjoy a pot of lemon and ginger infusion on a chilly morning.

All of which fortifies me for this evening’s entertainment – travelling to Keats’ House in Hampstead to hear Paul Muldoon reading from his latest collection, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.

Which should inspire me for my own reading tomorrow, with Tamar Yoseloff and Sue Rose, at Travelling Through‘s basement cafe. Snow is in the forecast but poetry will keep us all warm and dry.

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Telltale & Other Poetry

Judging panel chair Helen Dunsmore announcing TS Eliot prize-winner

Judging panel chair Helen Dunsmore announcing TS Eliot prize-winner

Wednesday’s reading with the Telltale Poets was great fun, and has been well reported by champion blogger and poet Robin Houghton (whose book  for blogging writers is essential reading – practical and well illustrated – for those wanting to take the plunge).

Went to a lunchtime talk at the Wellcome Institute on Friday, by epidemiologist Liam Smeeth from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He spoke very well on the state of epidemiological research in the UK, explained his role in untangling the confusion over the MMR vaccine in the 90s, and talked about some large scale research going on to track different cancers in very large populations. I heard distinctly Goldacrean echoes in his discussion of the value of using electronic medical records to improve medical research, and the all-important and extremely time-consuming work of checking data meticulously before reaching conclusions.

This week’s poetic entertainment started on Sunday with the TS Eliot Prize finalists Ian Macmillan - TS Eliot readingsreadings. These readings now take place in the Royal Festival Hall (capacity 2500) – a near sell-out from all reports. It was certainly a busy and overwarm venue, the proceedings beautifully presided over by Ian McMillan.

He introduced us, and more importantly the short-listed poets, to the notion of the poetry year. This he explained was like a dog year, but much shorter, lasting precisely 8 minutes. So each poet had one poetry year, and no more, to read… which included time for the poets to reach the podium, adjust their glasses and introduce the poems, though this part of the definition had not been entirely apprehended by all, including one or two of the most experienced readers.

Made me think nostalgically of the reading I attended at Toronto’s Harbourfront, watching the gratifyingly pugnacious (in this instance anyway) Greg Gatenby walk onto stage to tell the equally pugnacious Irving Layton that he had exceeded his reading time. Many an audience member has sent out prayers for this kind of intervention which occurs too seldom on our over-polite stages. I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum too, at the Vancouver literary festival, where poets were sent to the podium which was rigged with a timer, set to go off at the end of their reading time. Surely there must be a happy medium.

David HarsentAll that having been said, I name my favourite reader as Michael Longley, whose elegies to his twin were simple and strong. The eventual winner, however, was David Harsent, often nominated so a fair choice, though his reading style put me off, as a bit self-satisfied, and found his poetry too distant for my tastes, other than his poem Icefield, a good clean observation on climate change. Fiona Benson‘s poem Portrait with a Bandaged Ear remains a favourite – a powerful portrait of an abusive relationship that lost something for me, curiously, when I re-read the title and realized it was a Van Gogh poem. (You can read a sampling of poems from all the shortlisted poets, plus discussion notes here)

More excitement to come in my world anyway with another reading on tonight’s horizon. I’ll be reading at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden (22 Betterton Street, London WC2) tonight at 8pm, at the Loose Muse women writers’ night. Open mic and a fellow reader I look forward to meeting and hearing: Tania Hershman. If you’re around, come on down!

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