Poetry at Blackwell’s

At the writing group I go to, we’re encouraged to bring in details of ‘writery’ events in Edinburgh and one that turned up was a flyer for a fab poetry reading in Blackwell’s last night. It was a great line-up, with poems from A C Clarke, Tessa Ransford and Morelle Smith. And it was also part of my ongoing endeavour to find all the best free things in Edinburgh!

The format for the night was unusual, with an interleaving of poems on similar themes rather than individual readings from each poet in turn. It’s an interesting idea to let the poems bounce off each other and mostly it worked well, although sometimes it was a little disorganised. I’d like to see it again with a wee bit more rehearsal.

One thing that all the poets have in common is that their new collections have really interesting stories behind them. Morelle Smith‘s book ‘Gold Tracks, Fallen Fruit – A Quinta Journal’ talks about her travels around Europe and I particularly liked the image, in the poem ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ of the ghosts of writers not being ‘congealed’ behind the desks in the museums where they are memorialised, but instead out in a cafe, watching the world go by and making notes.

Tessa Ransford will have two new books coming out in the summer. One is a collaboration with Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh where they both write about the five pillars of Islam and translate each other’s work – this is called A Rug of a Thousand Colours. I was intrigued to hear the different approaches they had taken to writing about fasting. The other is called ‘Don’t Mention This To Anyone’ and is poems inspired by Ransford’s time learning Urdu in Pakistan – she had some of the original tiny cards with her, showing a sentence in English and its Urdu translation.

A C Clarke was the poet that I particularly went to see, because I was bowled over by her ‘Cyclops‘ poem when I read it in Poetry Scotland. It’s part of her collection ‘A Natural Curiosity’ about the Hunterian anatomy museum in Glasgow, and I was tremendously impressed by how she put such a depth of feeling into such a clearly written and accurately observed poem. I was really glad to be able to tell her this after the event, although I probably came across as a gibbering fangirl.

She mostly read from her new collection ‘Fr Meslier’s Confession’ which is about an 18th century priest who left a lengthy book to be read after his death to tell all his parishioners that he had always been an atheist and didn’t believe anything of what he had told them! I had never heard of Meslier before (he’s a real historic character who influenced Voltaire) so I’ll need to go learn more about him now. A C Clarke’s writing in the voice of Meslier is forceful but structured – I enjoyed her use of rhyme in poems that otherwise sound very free and natural, so I’m intrigued to see how that works on the page.

Blackwell’s was a nice venue and with so many free events going on just round the corner from where my writing group meets, I can guarantee I’ll be there again!

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