Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sheffield 2

Geraldine Monk some years back, at Coastle Chare, Durham, via.

Even with my shaky sense of direction Sheffield doesn't look too difficult to navigate. I got to four events yesterday, and again today, traipsing down now sunny, now rain blown streets from venue to venue.

Being at festivals is disorientating and timeless. Each seems a series of events connected by string. Yesterday I arrived in time to attend a session at Bank Street, titled Death and the Gallant, a reading and show by collaborators, poet Chris Jones and artist Paul Evans. CJ had Petrarchan sonnets on the theme of iconoclasm, to be specific the Puritan revolution and the destruction / defacing of images, and Paul Evans talked about the pictures which looked about sonnet-proportioned to me, the paintings' own images created then defaced with a sander and white paint. They still looked pretty painterly and edge-of-figurative. Attractive things. Interesting too to hear, somewhat unexectedly, Petrarchan sonnets in the context of a festival in which the accent is on variations of modernism.

From there I rush over to the SIA Gallery to hear Maurice O'Riordan, Elizabeth Barrett (no, not that one) and Matthew Hollis. I find Matthew at a table before the start, with Claire, then Maurice turns up. The reading is well attended but I only have time to hear two of them - Maurice (such a lovely craftsman of verse, so delicate yet iron-firm and sharp) and Elizabeth - before dashing back, as promised, to hear Geraldine Monk, Helen Mort, Peter Robinson and Ben Wilkinson at Bank Street. Another good crowd. Good to meet Peter Robinson for the first time, but it's Ben, then Helen who reads, with considerable attack, a poem about Orgreave (about which I too wrote in An English Apocalypse). She seems extraordinarily self-assured to me, a kind of no-nonsense diva in the making. Peter is witty and lyrical and intelligent, perfect pitch and graceful - a real pleasure, then comes Geraldine Monk, who blows me away - and many others beside.

When she appears before the reading she comes straight over to me and reminds me of myself at Leeds College of Art and of my motorbike there. She is so convinced I had a motorbike she almost convinces me, though I know for a fact that I didn't. But she is so lively and energetic I assume mental possession of a motorbike for the interim. Her actual reading is a cavorting joy. The poems on the page - and I only know her work a little, and had assumed she might be a stern post Marxist down the Andrea Brady line - are sent into a dance which is both comic and moving. I half think that, with her strong Lancashire accent, she is Gracie Fields crossed with Allen Ginsberg, but then she is very much herself. She is a performing poet, not a performance poet, and an utterly natural one. I buy two of her books!

Then it's a bite and back for the 25 anniversary party of The North, but by this time I am exhausted, so go there, but cannot quite force myself to stay through the fourth reading on top of the last two days, so amble home to the splendid Leopold Hotel.

And fail to sleep. Well, I catch at most three hours.


But the next morning I am due to talk with Simon Armitage about translation with Adam Piette in the chair. I am surprised to see some twenty odd people turn up on a dull Sunday morning, but they do. This is a very convival conversation. I read some translations from the Hungarian (Orbán, Rakovszky, and Nemes Nagy) and Simon reads from his Gawain. Then we talk about being at a distance from language, about the limits of translation, about the qualities of Middle English and Hungarian. A woman in the audience asks to hear a short poem in Hungarian, then my English translation, so I read the first of Radnóti's Razdglenicas in both language, glancing over at Agi L to see whether she is smirking at my anglicized Hungarian accent. If she is smirking it she is keeping it in. I sign a couple of books (the hefty Collected and a Reel) then we look for lunch in Cafe Rouge.

I come back to the hotel to rest and choose reading material and at 3:30 Agi and I read at the Workstation, which I keep thinking of as The Workhouse. A decent audience - and Geraldine and Alan (Halsey) have come - and it all goes hunky dory, then a drink before returning to the hall to attend a University Challenge on poetry between Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam, which Hallam win by one point. Then we have another drink before dashing round for a meal.

One last event: the MA Creative Writing students reading their own work at a pub. I sit on a stool at the back, leaning against the wall, concentrating, though the concentration dips from time to time. Seven students, with an interval. I talk to one, a mature student, Tim, who was on the big march last week. I asked him if he heard the speeches in Trafalgar Square. No, he says, and he wasn't bothered. He didn't care about the speches. It was the solidarity he had come for.

I walk back. It's getting on for 11:00 and the weather has chilled down. A girl in the street gives me a card for a nightclub. I take it because I know how horrible it is to have to earn minimal cash by handing out cards. C and I had done it once some forty years ago. You have to get rid of the damn things, so I always take them and put them in my pocket so as not to throw them away, though I never go.

Now it's almost 11:30. I will try to sleep tonight. Tomorrow I am free during the day and have the debate in the evening. One more night here, then home. But how will the PRB / ACE meeting go. Lot more press activity and letter. A serious battle.

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