I always enjoy the Great Grog readings in the bar of the same name in Edinburgh’s Rose Street. As an aside, it was in a bar in Rose Street that I had my first (underage) drink. Most of the bars have changed, in name and in many other ways, since that first whisky in the Kenilworth. However, to the reading: While the acoustics of the place leave something to be desired, and the sounds of music and conversational drinking leak into the big back room, there’s nothing wrong with the poetry – in fact it’s splendid, and marvellously varied.
I was very startled to find, looking round the room before the readings started, that there were very few people in the audience I didn’t know. I suppose that’s something that happens when you’ve been around as long as I have, and it’s somehow very comforting.
Last night’s session, introduced by the admirable Rob Mackenzie, who organises these readings, started with the very talented young poet Charlotte Runcie. Her reading began with seasonal poems, moved on to love, and then took off in other directions. She has a sharp intellect, and an originality of subject and image, that I find very appealing. She finished with a poem about the orbital dance of Pluto and its moon Charon, far out in the Kuiper Belt. A very stimulating set, and one which inspired the solution to a problem I’d had with one of my own poems.
Dorothy Baird is someone I’ve met often in poetry circles in Edinburgh, but I hadn’t heard her read before. She gave a thoughtful and cadenced reading, mostly from her new collection from Two Ravens Press – Leaving the Nest. I was very impressed with the emotional integrity of her poems. She started in India, moved to Russia, then England, and back to Scotland. One of her poems dealt with a public bath in Russia, mentioning the babushkas who oversee the bathers. I didn’t get the chance to tell Dorothy later, but when I was in Sochi many years ago, I discovered that the babushkas oversee the male changing rooms also – it was an egalitarian society in those days.
Helena Nelson followed, with a scintillating read, which challenged as it entertained, something all good readings should aspire to. She’s the publisher behind HappenStance Press, an excellent critic writing for Ambit and other magazines, and a fine poet in her own right. Her readings, she announced, would be on themes of love and death, and I just loved them. It was a very stimulating reading. She closed with an epistolatory tribute poem to our late lamented mutual friend Angus Calder. I found it very moving, and I’m sure Angus would have loved it.
The final poet of the evening was Michael Schmidt, Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University, founder and director of Carcanet Press and editor of PN Review. His poems are complex, subtle, often formally structured, sometimes classical, and deeply thoughtful. The first group he read were variations on parables, and he finished with poems on paintings. He’s a poet who repays careful reading of the texts on a page, and I think I missed some of the subtleties of, for example, his terza rima poem, in live reading. Nevertheless, it was a fine reading.
I’m reading here in November, along with Patricia Ace, A B Jackson and James W Wood. I’m looking forward to it very much.
I’m now knuckling down to selecting the poems (not my own) I’m going to be reading in Elgin, Forres and Buckie at the begininng of October.