Monday, 17 January 2011

At the Torriano Meeting House

Last night I was reading with Jane Duran at the Torriano, properly speaking The Torriano Meeting House. It's surprising that I should never have been there before. Very surprising really since the Torriano was set up, according to the obituary in Camden New Journal in 1983 by the Hungarian refugee John Réty. Still more surprising is that I never met John Réty, or rather I met him just once, shortly before his death at an event of readings and music in November 2008 at St John's Church in St John's Wood, organised by Judith Chernaik of Poems on the Underground. The evening was titled The Pity of War and John Réty was there. We sat down for a coffee and talked for fifteen minutes or so, resolving vaguely to meet again. But then time passed and we didn't meet and some fifteen months later he died of a heart attack, a death noted by the Telegraph and the Financial Times as well as The Guardian, but, probably most appropiately by The Morning Star, of which he was poetry editor for many years.

There is plenty enough to read in those obituaries so I don't have to give a resumé of his life. I did, of course, know of him before we met - I knew who he was - but my re-connection with Hungarian emigration in England came late, in 1984, and by that time we had been living out of London for some time. What was clear, and became even clearer last night, was just how much he was valued and loved by people.

The Torriano has hosted a long and very distinguished line of poets, as well as regular readings from the floor. As someone - it might have been Alan Brownjohn - pointed out, Torriano isn't a glamorous place. It's a narrow shop-area with a raised platform at the end, slightly, endearingly scruffy, with the air of a well weathered youth club. I could imagine a couple of table tennis tables or chess boards set up in it. Or it might have been a small political club, which maybe it was in some way. John played chess to a high standard and was, notably, a non-violent anarchist, which is probably the most angelic of political states.

It was packed to bursting point though, granted, it doesn't take that much to burst it. Jane Duran writes the most beautifully balanced poems about the overlap between the personal and the political. She was reading from her new book Graceline about sailing to Chile, and the Pinochet regime. The beauty of her poems lies in precision, observation and patience. The language and technique are understated and all the stronger for that. Little need be overt. Details are lightly touched in and the resolutions when they come are like simple flowers unexpectedly unfolding.

...And I imagined the Santa Barbara,
her decks, the long wooden tables and heavy registers,
leatherbound Voyage Supplements - yellow and fraying,
the paddling and hesitant footsteps of the readers -
and our ship rose with a shout from its waves
and the water fell off it like streamers.

from Tonnage

There is a little of the patience and the flowering.


Also last night part of my poem, Seeking North, was featured on this wonderful radio programme. You have six more days to listen - nothing but music and poems with no commentary. Ravishing.

Over summer I will be making a Radio Three programme about Liszt and gypsy music.

I am also adding a link on the right to the blog of commentator and man of spirit, Mr Digressius aka Mr Philoctetes...

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