poetry panic attack

I spent Saturday morning sitting at my desk, thinking about a new poem, jotting down words and phrases, delving into dictionaries and reference books, nurturing that little knot of something in the back of my brain that I hope will evolve, take shape, emerge slowly onto the page.

So I was already in a rather heightened state of excitement when we headed into town in the afternoon for this year’s Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall. And it was quite overwhelming walking into the hall to see rows of tables displaying hundreds of poetry pamphlets, books and other tantalising material, and milling between and around those tables scores of poetry lovers/fanatics/afficionados (lets not use that dirty word c*ns*mers). More than 50 small poetry presses and poetry supporting organisations had set their stalls out. A couple of deep breaths, and I launched into the throng. Ugly Duckling Presse from Brooklyn was a great find, with their beautifully produced booklets and leftfield content. I snapped up a copy of Nets by Jen Bervin – Shakespeare’s sonnets erased to reveal their essence in a few words – and Chinese Notebook by Demosthenes Agrafiotis, translated by John and Angelos Sakkis, for the Greek connection. From Belgian Miel books I bought the latest issue of 111O magazine, 23 poems paired with 23 artworks and printed as postcards. I may have to send these to myself. On Cigarette Papers by Pam Zinnemann-Hope, from Ward Wood Publishing, looks fascinating – an exploration of family, of the darkest side of the twentieth century, of food and language. And I was very pleased to get hold of a copy of Whitehall Jackals, a collaboration between Jeremy Reed and Chris McCabe, from Nine Arches Press. I was tempted by much more, made notes, tried not to panic, gathered leaflets, catalogues, free bookmarks, a free beermat, and couldn’t resist picking up an ‘Anne Sexton Support Group’ badge from Hazard Press. I seem to be acquiring a small collection of literary badges. Took a breather halfway through the afternoon to listen to readings from poets featured in Bedford Square 6: New Writing from the Royal Holloway Creative Writing Programme, another book from Ward Wood Publishing, and particularly enjoyed Judi Sutherland and Lavinia Singer. Back into the buzzy, friendly hubbub of the main hall, before emerging into daylight, fresh air, and an urgent refuelling stop in a nearby hostelry.

After a thorough debrief with my co-conspirators and comparison of purchases, we were ready for the evening haul. Readings at the Square Pig and Pen, across Red Lion Square from Conway Hall, and more literary conviviality. The basement room was packed for Jeremy Reed and Chris McCabe reading from Whitehall Jackals, introduced by Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press. The poems were written as an email exchange between the two poets, over the first three months of 2011, responding to political events, to London, to each other’s poems, with the river Thames running as another thread through the unschemed narrative. Chris acknowledged London as the third collaborator in their project. The poems we heard last night were urgent, angry, vital, poignant. Two distinctive voices playing off each other, Jeremy flamboyant, scattering sequins, honouring shoplifters and guttersnipes and Kit Marlowe’s ghost; Chris invoking Blake as he waits early mornings at a bus stop in Peckham Rye, or constructing London through statistics – ‘11,001 hotel swipe-card in Bloomsbury/34,789 coiled ring-pulls on the Isle of Dogs/27.703 ex-east-enders in Dagenham’ (What the Courier Knows). I’m looking forward to reading the collection.

Other highlights of the evening were Christopher James reading from his Arc Publications collection Farewell to the Earth, cool and beautifully measured poems; and the maverick energy of a mini Bang Said the Gun show to finish proceedings. Overall, a great event, and as well as the books I’d bought, I came away with a lovely sense of being part of a small but vibrant community. No need, then, to panic.


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