Poets on Tour: Carol Ann Duffy and friends

Shore to Shore Poetry AnthologyWhen I discovered that not only Carol Ann Duffy (UK’s Poet Laureate) but also Gillian Clarke (former National Poet of Wales), Jackie Kay (Scottish Makar) and Imtiaz Dharker, were going on tour together, and would be in Monmouth (only a short distance from home), there was no way I could miss this incredible line up.   

It was only when I looked into it further, that I discovered the link with independent bookshops, which explains some of the slightly more unusual locations. I’d not heard of Independent Bookshop Week, but this year it celebrated its 10th anniversary (18th-25th June). Carol Ann Duffy, in her leaflet which each audience member receives at these events, describes independent bookshops as “run with boundless passion, deep knowledge, local expertise and independent spirit”.

Rossiter Books

Rossiter Books

The Monmouth event (which coincided with the Monmouth Literary Festival) was held in the Savoy Theatre, organised in collaboration with Rossiter Books, a shop which actually has two homes (the other one is in Hay-on-Wye). And the beautiful anthology, which was published especially for the tour, is on sale only through independent bookshops for the first three months.

The event itself was as fabulous as I expected it to be. The musician John Sampson introduced each poet with a witty, musical masterpiece, playing multiple instruments, from a trumpet to a goat’s horn. Gillian Clarke read first and was as exceptional as always, reading poems both powerful and emotive, from a description of reading poetry in the “presence” and “absence” of dementia patients, to a sensitive depiction of the Six Bells mining disaster in 1960.

Poetry tour- Jonathan Edwards

Guest poet Jonathan Edwards being introduced by John Sampson and his trumpet

Jonathan Edwards was the special guest at this event, reading poems about his parents, including one which focused on his mother’s reading voice. He also read a strange and haunting poem about the Capel Celyn village, where graves were moved to allow the area to be turned into a reservoir. He was an entertaining speaker, commenting at one point on the fact that he often chooses to write about the past, because it includes “everything that’s happened up until now” which means there’s “plenty to write about”. The audience enjoyed that.

The most hilarious poet was Jackie Kay, whose wry sense of humour had the audience laughing out loud. Her poem about her son, aged four, recovering from an epileptic fit, was particularly emotive, and she commented that “some poems take a long time to cook”. Her son is 27 now. She finished (bearing in mind this was the day before the referendum took place) with a brilliantly funny poem for which she was originally planning to give the title ‘Planet Farage’ but had changed her mind and called it ‘Extinction’ – basically a list of all the people Farage would like to not ‘let in’, including “vegan lesbians” – a line which she added there and then, on the stage. By their reaction, you could tell that most of the audience were on the side of ‘remain’.

Imtiaz Dharker reading poetry

Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker read us a fabulous poem ‘Over the Moon’. Her performance was especially funny, and she read some of the same poems I’d heard her read at the Hay Festival, but it was well worth hearing them again, including the one which describes the experience of “living in Wales, wanting to be Italian” and “living in Glasgow, wanting to be French”.

Carol Ann Duffy finished the evening off by reading some of her more popular poems, including ‘Tiresias’ from The World’s Wife, in which the man is punished by being turned into a woman for seven years, which she described as “a bit like being a laureate,” and added, “I’m actually Andrew Motion”. They finished the event together as she read out a poem – Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf! – getting the audience to join in.

Poets: Carol Ann Duffy, Jonathan Edwards, Jackie Kay, Imtiaz Dharker, Gillian Clarke

The final poem involved everyone joining in together

The tour (visit the Shore to Shore website here for details) is in Bramhall (near Stockport) on Monday 26th June, followed by Carlisle, Corbridge (near Newcastle), St Boswells (not far from the Scottish border), Biggar and finally St Andrews on 2nd July.

You can read the poets’ own blog too, and find out what it’s like for them as they tour the UK during this turbulent time.