The Manchester Literature Festival doesn't officially start until the 7th of October but I volunteered for one of the preview events last night, at Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, where Don Paterson and Paul Muldoon were reading for an audience made up of festival goers and students who had been attending the 3rd British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference. The evening became something of a homage to Seamus Heaney, who died just a fortnight ago and had been scheduled to be reading last night. Both poets read from his work as well as their own and spoke about the influence he had had on them personally and on poetry in general. A gentle touch of self-deprecation was the order of the evening, genuinely presenting Heaney as the master and their own humble offerings as attempts to live up to the example he set. The world of poetry is obviously small and both men had plainly lost a friend.
I find that I didn't really get around to reviewing Don Paterson's Rain that mum bought for me several years ago, I will try and rectify that soon. He was a lovely reader, very chatty in style and shuffling through his papers as if he were picking his choices spontaneously. He seemed to feel that his style was a little depressing, making several references to his penchant for dead dog poems, but on the whole I found him the more entertaining of the two. I particularly loved when he talked about having 'googled' himself and found the vast array of people determined to destroy his carefully constructed reputation, and he read us a poem which set out all the various criticisms of his poetry that had appeared online. It appears that poetry reviewers can be as pretentious as some poets.
Here he is reading Rain. On watching it again I realise how typical it is of how he read, as if he just happened to be reading a poem and someone came along to listen, not that he is reading to anyone. Every time I go to a poetry reading (and it's been a few now) it remind me how much this is an auditory medium, that listening is a whole other layer of experience over merely reading poetry.
I confess to knowing nothing of Paul Muldoon, who described himself as a wanderer; having a tendency to wander the stage while reading rather than some kind of poetic style. Neither did I have a pen and paper to write notes so I was only left with an impression that I would need to give his poems more attention in print to appreciate them; several times he reached the end of a poem when I was expecting more so I was left with a feeling of having missed the point. He was much more methodical and had his selection properly scheduled with sheets and books arranged in order for the reading, and I felt a little as if he were hiding behind his mop of grey hair.
This video shows him noticeably more relaxed and humorous.
All in all a great start to this year's events. My first event of the festival proper is Patrick Ness. (Warning, don't go to youtube and start watching poetry videos, it could swallow up the rest of your day.)