We went to Poetry International last night at the South Bank Centre. Four poets (Valzhyna Mort, Mounid Barghouti, Jorie Graham and Mark Doty) read from their newest collections. The first two poets read in their native Belarussian and Arabic, which was quite interesting from our point of view, not only because the words seemed more forceful and vibrant in their original language, but because my husband could understand part of the Belarussian and I could understand part of the Arabic. The English versions were projected onto a screen above.
Jorie Graham and Mark Doty, the two American poets, couldn’t have been more different from each other. Jorie Graham spoke to the audience for as much time as she spent reading, and both her poetry and her words were solemn and passionate, addressing issues of the environment and American politics. She read true to the line breaks in what are already quite difficult poems, so the effect was purposely disjointed and stilted, all done extremely well.
Mark Doty, by contrast, read in a most relaxed and conversational manner. His narrative poems are humorous when read on the page; in person he makes them into the most hilarious stories you’ve ever heard. I was crying with laughter by the last poem ‘House of Beauty’. A wonderful way to end the evening.
Whenever I go to a poetry reading or a talk with an author, I feel inspired the whole way through and want to grab my notebook and scribble various notes even while the author is still talking. I don’t, because I feel like it would be rude to appear as if I weren’t giving them my full attention. So I wait until afterwards – but invariably, as soon as I step out of the event, I’m distracted by something that brings the calibre of my thoughts downwards again. Last night it was getting on the bus – the conversation going on behind us was at about the lowest of possible standards. It made me angry that in London (and anywhere, I guess) the mood can change so quickly from highly-crafted and thoughtful to puerile. It’s too bad.
I’ll be bringing our copies of the poetry books on the Tube with me this week, though. That ought to provide a few more well-crafted words than usual.