The other night was very strange indeed. It didn’t start off strange, it start off fairly normally, if a little dull. (Twenty minute bus journeys with only the company of your iPod, and a severe lack of interesting conversations to eavesdrop on, leads to very dull bus journeys.)
The weirdness grew over the night. I felt rather out of place, walking through Bath at half seven at night, on my way to a poetry reading at the ‘Royal Literary and Scientific Institute.’ The dress I had chosen to wear seem to have shrunk overnight, the skirt seemed significantly shorter than when I had last worn it a few days previously and my heels wanted to explore every crack and nook possible.
I arrived half an hour early, with no broken ankles fortunately, though I did have the wonderful moment of standing in the middle of a road as a guy showed me directions from his map. No cars came, and I did not end up as one with the road surface. All was well in the world.
Anyway, back to being thirty minutes early, sat in the foyer of the ‘Royal Literary and Scientific Institute’ (in Bath). As it turns out, first years turning up to the poetry events we are supposed to write reviews on, is a rare and unusual occurrence. There is nothing quite like bemusing second and third years with my desire to pass the first year of my course, especially since I’m paying nine grand a year to study it.
When the poetry reading did start, it was fifteen minutes late, in a first floor room where most of the audience had already finished at least one glass of wine and were part way through a second. It was mentioned to me by a second year, that this had something to do with the organisers believing that wine improves the poetry that you’re hearing. That worried me. It worried me quite a bit.
The poets themselves, in all honestly, were very good. Olivia McCannon was first up, with her new collection ‘Exactly My Own Length’. Isn’t that such a fantastic title. I love the connotation it holds to poetry and writing. The title is from one of the poems, and according to what I could hear, had something to do with someone she knows walking in the countryside one day and finding a coffin shaped hole dug out of rock. So this person did as any reasonable person would do. Lay down, found it was exactly his own length, (coffin-wise), and fell asleep.
This was one of the few explanations she gave about the poetry. The second half of the book were poems written as coping mechanisms during his mother’s illness and death. Her mother died in 2008, and the poems were never written with the intention of falling into public consumption. Though I felt her interaction with the audience was a little dry, and she simply read us the work instead of engaging in quite the same way as Sasha Dugdale would do later on, her manner was understandable.
There were points where I felt that she was genuinely about to burst into tears, her voice was strained and thick, and she stumbled over words as she gave the brief snatched of explanation that she did give. It was clear that her work is very emotionally based, and holds a lot of power because of that. However, Sasha Dugdale had to be my favourite of the night.
Sasha Dugdale’s collection ‘The Red House’, fed into my own interests and loves far more than Olivia McCannon’s had. Olivia’s poems were incredibly personal, while Sasha’s were based more in stories, histories and ideas.
Fantastic lines such as:
How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smouldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song”
This, from “Dawn Chorus” stuck with me, the imagery so utterly brilliant that I couldn’t get the idea of these beautiful small birds, their songs so full and rich that it is as if there is fire and flames burning in the notes. Their throats barely able to contain the sound as they sing away.
I am also a huge fan of tying history and tradition into poetry, such as with her one poem (apologies for any misspelling) ‘Michael Bian’. We were entertained with a quick fill in on how the shepherds on the downs were buried with a piece of sheep’s wool attached to their clothes, as evidence to God, to show why they had not been in church.
This alone had me hook, line, and sinker. Shepards! Wool as evidence to God! Research had gone into her writing, an effort that I admire hugely, alongside the variation within the poems. I love poets who can write from any angle within the spectrum and Sasha Dugdale proved to be one of these poets.
At half nine the poetry reading ended, though the next bus back to campus wasn’t until half ten. This meant one thing for myself and the other first year who would also be catching the bus. We were going to McDonalds, partly for food, and mostly for the fact that they have central heating.
This was the point where the night decided to take a nose dive off random cliff, and land me in some of the strangest situations I have ever been witness to, one after the other. But all that is a post for another day.