London Books

Reading at the RA

Still a few more bits and pieces to share from my time in London, back in March, before this month, like the past couple, get away from me.

I went to a number of events while in town. One, a reading at the Royal Academy, was themed to reflect the architectural exhibit, Sensing Spaces. Poets were commissioned to write poems inspired by the pieces and then come along and read them one evening, in and around the exhibition. The affair was a mixed success, from my point of view out there in the audience. The show carried on around the readings, with bemused art-lovers pausing to puzzle over who these people were and what they were doing. The reading spaces were not always ideal, as in the one shown above, which was a large, cavernous room with a bar – attracting a fair amount of traffic and chat and requiring the poets to bellow above the din. Which not everyone can manage, and it doesn’t always serve the poem’s quiet purpose. Another, shown here, was more intimate and atmospheric, but not always in the best way, as it featured a pebble floor which made, well, pebble sounds when anyone moved or walked over it. Still, a tip of the hat to organizers for trying to include poetry – which is incompatible with many features of our rushed, noisy lives.

A quieter event was Carrie Etter’s launch of Imagined Sons. Most pubs in England have function rooms, mostly above the main tavern. The Yorkshire Grey in Clerkenwell had one that was perfectly sized and situated, and offered what looked like pretty good food too. A goodly throng assembled to wish Carrie well with her most recent poetry collection. We were treated to Carrie’s reading of a number of these moving and imaginative reflections on the unanswerable question of what becomes of a child given up for adoption, and how the act haunts a teenaged birth mother throughout the rest of her life.

Other events included a visit to Poetry in the Crypt, which was, as always, a packed-out event in which poets waive their reading fee and all monies raised are given over to charity. The readers du jour were Clare Best, Robert Chandler and Jean Sprackland, who gave generously of their words, alongside many fine readers from the floor. On my way to the venue, in the crypt of St Mary’s Church in Islington, I noticed other audiences spilling out of pub doorways, as the Six Nations Rugby match was on.

And finally, right at the end of my visit, I was able to attend a book launch by an old friend from way back, Stephen Watts, who was launching his beautifully titled collection, Ancient Sunlight. He read in his characteristically powerful style, from a collection that travels around London and Europe but remains rooted in his personal web of humanitarian and political concerns. A good literary finale, although it meant I had missed Jenny Lewis reading from Taking Mesopotamia in Oxford. And illness kept me from the launch of Heart Archives by Sue Rose. But I managed to get to quite a lot over a relatively short visit. Always so many reasons to return!


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