Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Two local events
Events are almost more frequent than non-events at the moment but I am retrospectively registering these two, both in Norwich, both quite different.
Last Friday we had booked the King of Hearts - a very old building that serves as cafe, art gallery and music room/performance space upstairs - for the local launch of the New and Collected. The idea in this case was not to have a reading by me, but to invite writer friends, ex-colleagues and ex-students, including a couple of present ones (some of these categories overlapping) to come and read a poem. In the event there were some nineteen readers, which is a lot, plus me topping and tailing the two halves with drinks at half-time. I realised in the course of the event there could have been more, but it was a grand audience, mostly on the younger side of thirty-five, and it was as joyful as I can remember. I took sixteen copies of the book, all of which went. Then it was over to the bar for another couple of hours. What I love about teaching is that doing it it becomes blazingly obvious that poetry is not the preoccupation of the middle-aged and middle-class, but is live and shared and pleasure across all boundaries.
Then, on Monday night, Dragon Hall, another ancient Norwich building, or a dual event: the launch of Shuck, Hick, Tiffey including some of the music sung and performed, and the farewell do for the angelic Tom Corbett, who despite being angelic is nobody's fool. Tom has had an extraordinariy life as run-away, sailor, briefly priest, then publisher, headmaster and much else, lord of the universe for all I know. I think of him as an improbable cross between the angel Clarence in 'It's a Wonderful Life' and Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Clarence Sparrow set up poetry groups, set up publishers and was so bursting with ideas they had to tie him down with sellotape. He is also, according to one calculation, about two-hundred and forty-three years old.
The place was packed with about a hundred people, perhaps more. I did a read through of the Tiffey, or rather a spoken performance. The composer Ken Crandell then did about half of the work-in-progress with singer Anna Bentley - then Helen Ivory for fifteen minutes. A break, then a reading from me and from three other Gatehouse Press writers: Jo Kjaer, Gary Kissick and Jenny Morris. Then the well-deserved tributes to Master C. Sparrow-Corbett.
In view of my feelings about localities and communities, their potential exclusiveness and hostility, it is peculiarly good to have written three fully regional pieces. It's a kind of integration. We live here. By this river. Near that mill. In this town. In this city. On that street. It seems a proper integration to me, that is to say it is internationalism on the small, local scale. Whether it seems so to others, I don't know. I once wrote that all poetry was local, and in a sense it is. The Tiffey is our Pimlico.