Poetry – for loss, absence and bearing witness…

isobel dixonOn this – the final day of the Verve Poetry Festival, we have just been treated to a memorable showcase of four poets from Nine Arches Press, whose writing is both poignant and moving, unafraid to face up to the difficulties of life and the pain of loss. All the poets agreed, in their discussion afterwards, that poetry is an essential tool for “bearing witness” in the world, that it’s important to be truthful, allowing emotion to come through in your work…   

robert peakeRobert Peake read to us first. His poetry is the kind of work you hear and then turn over in your mind for a while afterwards, considering the many layers of meaning. I was particularly struck by his poem written after one of those stock photographs used for marketing – the photo was ‘Confident middle-aged man sitting and smiling in front of a white background’ and his poem presented us with some chilling images, including the line “I come from a long line of ‘he seemed like such a nice guy’”. Peake, who has experienced his own share of suffering, described writing poetry as “an encompassing act, a human act” and “the antidote to the overwhelming”.

Isobel Dixon’s collection Bearings contains a number of poems about journeys. One of them brought to life the situation in Israel, where the lines “No, no, I’m not a journalist” and “The small word ‘poet’ does not pass my lips” epitomise the danger and fear. In the discussion afterwards she said that she believes it is a part of the poet’s “duty” to “bear witness” to what is going on in the world, including the realities of apartheid and the consequences of political upheaval.

abegail morleyAbegail Morley explained that her book The Skin Diary deals with “parallel lives”, “what doesn’t happen”, “the road not taken” and “absence in all its forms”. She described how she has always felt quite happy about being open and honest in her poetry, but that she attended a workshop run by Katrina Naomi yesterday on the theme of ‘risk’, and decided to go one step further, to confront things head on. She read the poem out – one which dealt abruptly and honestly with the painful memory of her partner killing himself – a poem raw with emotion. It was a privilege to hear it.

roy mcfarlaneRoy McFarlane talked about the idea of there being “a right time to write” and explained that his next collection will cover the painful subject of black deaths in custody, which comes from his experience working as an anti-racism training officer for a number of years. He described this process of writing as “a release” which comes from the frustration he feels that despite all his work, nothing seemed to change. See my review of his first book here.

A fascinating showcase. Now for the next Verve Poetry Festival event…Nine Arches Poets