Report: Carcanet New Poetries V – A Year On
Reading at the London Review Bookshop
26th September 2012-10-01
Report by George Potts
It’s a rare occasion when a poetry anthology has a launch party, let alone a further event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its launch. Yet the quality of Carcanet’s New Poetries V – bringing together the work of 22 poets from across the globe – made it stand out as one of the most remarkable collections of new poetry in recent years. Described by Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian as ‘an abundance of poetic talent’, the collection has been influential in launching the careers of a new generation of English language poets. The six reading on this evening were not only all included in New Poetries V but now have their own volumes published by Carcanet.
Following an introduction by Eleanor Crawforth – who co-edited the collection with Michael Schmidt – the first to read was Evan Jones, whose debut Paralogues was published in June. A Canadian poet who now lives in Manchester, Jones’s work contains many translations and dialogues with figures of the distant past. Among the four poems he read was the captivating ‘Cavafy in Liverpool’, a reimagining of the brief period which the Greek-Alexandrian poet spent in Britain in the late nineteenth century.
Following Jones was Dan Burt, who read what he described as ‘public poems, by and large’. Burt was the eldest of the poets reading, born in 1942, and much of his poetry draws upon a childhood spent in
America in the aftermath of World War Two. His poem ‘Modern Painters’ engages with the work of Frank Auerbach, whose piece ‘Head of Gerda Boehm’ adorns the cover of Burt’s We Look Like This.
Julith Jedamus’s reading closed the first half of this evening. An American living in London, she has previously published a novel entitled The Book of Loss before her debut poetry collection,
The Swerve. After reading several of her own poems, including a beautiful elegy for the New England photographer Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley, she then proceeded with two translations of Lorca from a forthcoming collection. She read both in Spanish and English, with a fascinating commentary on differences between them. One poem was a translation of a piece scribbled by Lorca on the back on an envelope, one word of which nobody has been able to transcribe.
After a brief interval for wine and cigarettes, the evening resumed with Oli Hazzard, whose debut collection Between Two Windows was published by Carcanet just days ago. Hazzard has just begun a PhD on the poetry of John Ashbery; this may invoke many comparisons between the two, but Hazzard’s style is wholly sui generis. Comical, playful and self-deprecating, his work engages with various formal constraints: amongst those read-out here were a pantoum – a ‘hilariously convoluted form’, as Hazzard remarked – and a lengthy palindrome.
Continuing this more playful strand of poetry was James Womack, a Madrid-based poet whose day job is being co-editor of the publishing house Nevsky Prospects, which specialises in translating Russian literature into Spanish. Undoubtedly Womack’s reading
boasted the most inventively titled poem of the evening. After explaining that he was wondering how he could take advantage of the fact that another James Womack has written a book about the future of cars called The Machine that Changed the World and thus attract the most possible searches on Google, he started reading his new poem: ‘The Making of the Sex Machine that Changed the World’.
Concluding the evening was William Letford, a Scottish roofer whose debut collection Bevel frequently engages with both his occupation and his hometown of Stirling. Poems such as ‘Waking for Work in the Winter’ capture the minutiae of his daily routine (‘hard ground rutted by the wheels of tractors … tail lights clog the motorway’) while others speak with a markedly Scottish accent. Impressively, Letford recited the entirety of his chosen material by heart, a rare sight at poetry readings but one that complimented the immediacy of his style and its frequently colloquial tone. His reading brought to a close a wonderful evening of new verse celebrating the success of a great anthology: it showed that poetry is not just alive in its elder statesmen, but also in the rising stars of a new generation.