Local Literary Events

There are some really fantastic literature events coming up over the next few weeks in the North West, including author readings, drama and poetry performances and literary workshops. We have pulled together a few highlights to showcase some of what’s on offer this month.

Events across Liverpool:

Rob Chapman and Willy Vlautin, Monday 7th April 7.30pm – 9pm, the Bluecoat, tickets £7/5

This is an event for both literature and music lovers alike – two authors with a music background read from their new novels:

Manchester’s Rob Chapman regularly contributes to Mojo, Uncut and The Times. Dusk Music is a darkly comic account of a musician’s career, featuring real-life characters and events such as Jimi Hendrix and the famous Hyde Park concerts.

Musician Willy Vlautin‘s writing has been praised for its “compassion and warmth” (The Times). Willy will read extracts from his second novel Northline, accompanied by the specially composed soundtrack to the novel.

Endgame, 11th April – 3rd May, 7.45pm, the Everyman, tickets £8 – £12.50

Two Matthews. Two Dustbins. No Plot.

A man who can’t stand up, and one who can’t sit down.
Two legless parents and a three-legged dog.
A telescope, a ladder and a fugitive rat.
The stage is set.
How will it end?

Featuring a return to the Everyman stage, alumnus Matthew Kelly returns to Liverpool with his son Matthew Rixon, in a new production of Samuel Beckett’s ‘masterpiece of the absurd’ directed by the award-winning Lucy Pitman-Wallace.

Costa Liverpool Poetry Café, Open Mic Night – Monday 14th April, 7.30-9.30, Costa, Bold Street, free

Heart Beats Rhyme and Roll Poetry Night with Poetry in the City present Salt poets, Tuesday 15th April, 7.30pm – 10.30pm, the Bluecoat, tickets £3/2

Forward Prize nominee Eleanor Rees presents her 2007 collection, Andraste’s Hair: poems of myth, memory, folksong and murder ballad. Jo Colley‘s new collection, Weeping for the Lovely Phantoms, has received widespread critical acclaim with its “distorted landscapes infested with the manifold ghosts of the unresolved and unrequited”. Jo and Elly will be joined by another exciting Salt poet, plus live music from one of Heart Beats’ favourite rock bands.

Fiction reading by Maria McCann and Michael Symmons Roberts – Powerful Prose, Thursday 17th April, 7.30pm – 9pm, the Bluecoat, tickets £7/5

Liverpool born Maria McCann‘s first novel, As Meat Loves Salt, was an Economist ‘Book of the Year’ and featured in September 2007 as one of the Observer‘s ‘Fifty Most Underrated Novels.’ Set in the 17th century, the novel examines the workings of power and explores what happens when someone obsessed by rage and guilt becomes enthralled by idealism.

Michael Symmons Roberts will read from his new novel, Breath, a moving examination of a country recovering from a brutal and divisive civil war. A poet and novelist, his fourth book of poetry, Corpus, was the winner of the 2004 Whitbread Poetry Award.

Orange Broadband Readers’ Day – Saturday 19th April, the Bluecoat, 1pm – 5.30pm, tickets £10/8

Meet some of the UK’s most interesting female cultural and literary figures, take part in exciting book discussions and attend inspiring workshops. Kate Mosse, bestselling author and Honorary Director of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction joins Clare Allan, Shami Chakrabarti, Philippa Gregory, Bel Mooney and Lionel Shriver for an afternoon of readings and discussions. Beginning with refreshments at 1pm, the audience will have the opportunity to attend events with all five guests and Kate Mosse. This is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with some of the UK’s most interesting cultural and literary female figures and to be privy to the next generation as judges Clare Allan and Shami Chakrabarti will discuss the shortlist of the Orange Award for New Writers 2008.

Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction Readers’ Day is brought to Liverpool to celebrate Capital of Culture 08 by Orange, The Reading Agency, Liverpool Libraries and Time to Read, The Reader Organisation and the Bluecoat.

The Film of the Book and the Book of the Film: Fight Club – Thursday 24th April, 6.30pm, café at FACT, free

Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club and David Fincher’s film of the same name have become cult classics since their release in the late 90s. The story is narrated by a nameless protagonist (Edward Norton) and with his growing discomfort with consumerism and the emasculating effects of American culture. After a chance meeting with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), he creates an underground fighting club as a radical form of psychotherapy. Read, watch, or do both and come to our meeting to marvel at a pop culture phenomenon. Organised by The Reader Organisation

Costa Liverpool Poetry Café – Thursday 24th April, 7.30-9.30, Costa, Bold Street, free

Jean Sprackland (Costa Poetry Award winner 2007) and Headland Press poets: Ade Jackson, Janette Stowell, Sarah Maclennan, Dave Ward.

… and slightly further afield

Wirral BookFest, Monday 7th – Sat 12th April, various venues across Wirral

This new festival, organised by Wirral libraries, promises something for everyone, from graphic novels workshop for youngsters to a murder mystery evening in Wirral’s spookiest library! Big name guests include popular children’s author Brian Jacques, acclaimed poet John Siddique and a special ‘Meet the Authors’ session with a trio of best-selling novelists: JoJo Moyes, Mike Gayle and Jenny Colgan.

The Other Room – Wednesday 9th April, 7pm, Old Abbey Inn, Pencroft Way, Manchester, free

A new evening of innovative/experimental poetry in Manchester, in association with Openned, the highly successful London reading series. The first evening features readings by Alan Halsey, Tom Jenks and Geraldine Monk. Subsequent events will take place on the first Wednesday of every second month.

The Northern Poetry Slam – Thursday 17th April, 9pm, The Northern Pub, Tibb Street, Manchester, free

The first in a regular new series of poetry slams at The Northern is hosted by the effervescent comedian John Cooper and features a special guest appearance from Max Seymour, winner of last year’s Manchester Literature Festival Comedy Slam. Come and discover the city’s rising stars of poetry and comedy and help crown a champion.

Favourite Poems Read by Animals

If there is one thing the Web has taught us it is that a lot of people have too much time on their hands. This video is evidence of that. It was recommended to me by Angela Macmillan and is remarkable not only for the quality of the reading (Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’) but the length of time it must have taken to train the dog to speak. And with such lovely vowels too:


Liverpool Poetry Cafe

The launch of Liverpool Poetry Café – at the Costa café on Bold Street – celebrated City Poems with 15 poets and lovers of poetry, from all ages, reading on the night of 11th February 2008 to a capacity audience of more than seventy. Poems as varied as Felicia Hemans Casabianca rubbed shoulders (as it were) with Patti Smith, Adrian Henri, John Tessimond, Mary Oliver and many more.

The Liverpool Poetry Café venture is the brain child of Alex Scott-Samuel, a passionate poetry enthusiast and public health researcher at Liverpool University and has been made possible through the backing of Costa and a positive association of poets and poetry organisations (including Dead Good Poets Society, Writing on the Wall, Liverpool Reads, Heartbeats, North End Writers and Liverpool Library Service) working together to support a programme of events to encourage a new audience for poetry.

Events and readings will take place at the café on the evenings of the second Monday and fourth Thursday of each month, starting at 7.30 pm for the remainder of 2008 to celebrate Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture status. Readings will include poets Jean Sprackland, Deryn Rees-Jones, John Redmond, Gladys Mary Coles, Aileen La Tourette, Alice Lenkiewicz, Brian Wake and Helen Tookey.

Anyone attending an event is advised to get there early to be sure of a seat.

For further information and a calendar of readings, download the brochure: http://pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~alexss/poetrycafe.pdf

By Pauline Rowe

Find the Poet

Angela Macmillan puts out a request to all poetry sleuths.

Can anyone help track down any information about the poem and the poet below?

At school in Bexhill-on-Sea in the early sixties this was one of the dozens of poems we were given to learn by heart. Most of the poems were well known and loved: ‘The Lady of Shalott’, ‘Ozymandias’, ‘Westminster Bridge’; poems by Hardy, Browning, Hopkins and Keats. They have all remained with me making up, with others memorised along the way, my inner anthology.

The teacher who gave us this one was called Miss Ena Coombe and I think she lived in Eastbourne. I have my suspicions that Ena Coombe and Elizabeth Cumming could be one and the same since I can find no trace of the latter and Ena Coombe would have been one of the generation of women deprived of the possibility of marriage and children after the devastation of the First World War.

I may have bits of it wrong, I don’t know the title and I can only vaguely remember how it looked on the page so the line arrangement is probably mostly my own. But if anyone out there recognises it, do get in touch.

And again tomorrow
it will be Spring.
There will be a sigh in the boughs, a quickened beat
of earth’s pulse, and leaf on leaf, petal by petal, wing after wing
They will return, the green wreaths and the flute players and the dancing feet
And sorrow
will be a shadow at the heels of spring.
I shall forget a little. I shall be glad once more –
(since men have died from time to time but not for love) –
to see again, as all the springs before,
how the pale light trembles between the clustered cherry flowers, how above
the swallows whirl their wide sure loops of flight,
Flashing the small white breast, the small sharp arrow wing,
and the strong heart will bud again and feel the light of spring,
forsaking only half reluctantly its watch beside a too magnificent memory.
I know that men have died each spring, but not for love
and we outlive love’s baffled agony and bleeding pride,
and the dark trance of sorrow,
finding a new inglorious joy when the sky’s soft above
and crocuses push through the grass, tomorrow.
And I know too, it would have been less bitter to have died.

Elizabeth Cumming

Sean O’Brien Wins the T.S. Eliot Prize

Last night Sean O’Brien was announced the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize. O’Brien, who is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University also won the Forward Prize for the third time last year. The Guardian has excellent coverage of O’Brien’s win, including the poet himself talking about the winning collection, The Drowned Book, and a selection of poems.

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Philip Pullman on Milton

Kirsty at Other Stories, who also writes for the OUP blog, is getting all excited about a piece by Philip Pullman on Milton and Paradise Lost. He writes about Milton’s political life, but especially, passionately, about the poetry:

He would be remembered still as a poet if he had been executed under the Restoration, and had never begun Paradise Lost. But in that great poem he found a theme and a metre that matched every fibre of his genius. From the magnificent opening showing the defeated rebel angels chained on the burning lake, through their plan to travel to the newly-created earth and seduce the ‘new race called Man’, to the superb psychological drama of Satan’s temptation of Eve and its consequences, to the sad but resolute music of the closing lines, Paradise Lost is unmatched. It is the greatest poem by England’s greatest public poet.

Here’s the link again.

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A Note on Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh, who died forty years ago today is one of the best-loved of all Irish writers and was effectively the first poet of the newly independent Irish State. He had an honest, unpretentious writing manner which contrasted firmly with that of his intimidating predecessor, W. B. Yeats. The literary critic Seamus Deane has described him, shrewdly, as “a bare-faced poet, without masks” and, thanks to those characteristics, “revolutionary.” Growing up in rural county Monaghan, in the unfortunately-named town of Mucker, Kavanagh experienced firsthand the humdrum hardships of rural life. These feature in his novels, The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn and also in his most important and ambitious poem, ‘The Great Hunger’, which begins with memorable menace:

Clay is the word and clay is the flesh
Where the potato-gatherers like mechanised scarecrows move
Along the side-fall of the hill …

To pursue his literary career Kavanagh moved to Dublin where he lived a precarious, free-lance life, occasionally drifting into journalism. A rough, lumbering man he had a memorably abrasive manner, acquiring enemies and admirers with noticeable ease. These days, Irish artists receive generous treatment from the state but this was not so in the 40s and 50s. To make ends meet, Kavanagh was often reduced to borrowing from friends and similar humiliations. My father, who knew him slightly, remembered how Kavanagh once responded to a greeting in the street: “I’m off to dinner with a fool,” he growled, “the company will be bad, the conversation will be worse — but the food will be mighty.” Kavanagh’s generation of writers, which included Flann O’Brien and Brendan Behan, was mired in an outwardly genial, but ultimately scabrous, poverty. Kavanagh was frequently ill. Indeed, his sequence of Canal Bank poems, which most Irish children first enjoy at school, was penned after a period of hospitalisation. These poems reflect a new mood in his work, a quasi-Buddhist acceptance, which he described simply as “not caring.” ‘Canal Bank Walk’, for example, opens with a gorgeous labial waterfall:

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me that I do,
the will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.

Celebrity and financial support eventually caught up with him, but, as he put it, “too late.” The final stages of his career were marked by a literary and medical decline. Not that this did anything to diminish his effect on such later luminaries as Seamus Heaney. Kavanagh’s influence is profound — but its nature is not technical so much as it is existential. He showed how it was possible to write about the most crashingly mundane aspects of Irish life while putting to one side the romantic mystifications of the Literary Revival. He is seen, now, as a kind of secular saint: rooted, realistic, and entirely un-pious. “I don’t like the poems of Patrick Kavanagh”, said the Dublin poet Paul Durcan, “I believe in them.”

By John Redmond


John Redmond is a lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool. His first book of poems, Thumb’s Width (Carcanet) was published in 2001 and was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award. Recent poems deal with computer games and car culture. They also reflect a period of teaching in St. Paul, Minnesota (2001-3). He is also the author of How To Write a Poem (Blackwell, 2005).

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Biographer Stephen Gill: Wordsworth’s Prelude

The Reader’s outreach project, Get Into Reading, was kick-started by Melvyn Bragg’s Radio programme In Our Time. I was driving through the north end of Birkenhead (if you don’t know those happy fields imagine a wasteland among the worst indices of deprivation in Europe) listening to Melvyn’s guests discussing something or other, when one of them said ‘it’s the Prospero effect, isn’t it?’ and all agreed, yes, it was, without needing to explain to each other what the ‘Prospero effect’ was because they all knew: Shakespeare, literature, was something they had in common and, I suddenly understood, it gave them a language for thinking. It was at that point that I realised it was necessary to get great literature out of the University and into Liverpool’s North End and other socially, economically, pschologically and educationally devastated areas. Six years later,through Get Into Reading, The Reader has 50 weekly read-aloud reading groups doing just that.

I still occasionally listen to In Our Time in the car and had the best radio pleasure of the year this week when Melvyn hosted a show about Wordsworth’s great autobiographical poem, The Prelude. It wasn’t the erudite discussion, though that was mildly interesting, nor Melvyn Bragg’s faux-naïve questioning. (Was William a big head? I loosely paraphrase). No, it was biographer Stephen Gill’s warm and measured reading of an extract from Book Two of the poem that really got me. Stephen Gill’s accent is a lovely deep black-country+Oxford don combo, and you can feel a lifetime of loving Wordsworth in the reflectively steady walking rhythm his voice gives these great lines. It’s not often you can feel love and thought coming out of your car radio but don’t take my word for it–listen to him here. Or try it yourself–read aloud but very slow and steady:

But ere the fall
Of night, when in our pinnace we return’d
Over the dusky Lake, and to the beach
Of some small Island steer’d our course with one,
The Minstrel of our troop, and left him there,
And row’d off gently, while he blew his flute
Alone upon the rock; Oh! then the calm
And dead still water lay upon my mind
Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky
Never before so beautiful, sank down
Into my heart, and held me like a dream.

Here’s the link to the In Our Time page. You can subscribe to the programme’s podcast here.

Here’s the link to Stephen Gill’s reading.

By Jane Davis

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Vernon Scannell 1922-2007

The poet Vernon Scannell died last weekend aged 85. He was a prolific writer: eight novels, autobiographical memoirs, works of criticism, children’s books and several collections of poetry and yet it seems he was not as well known or as highly rated as he certainly deserves. My fellow Reader editor, Brian Nellist is a long time admirer of Scannell’s poetry, likening him to the school of Thomas Hardy finding in his work something of Hardy’s consciousness of cruelty but with a warmth and tenderness. Brian points out that he is an active rather than a reflective poet though led to the reflective by particular incident as in his poem ‘Incendiary’, which we chose as one of the poems for discussion in The Reader’s Food For Thought event earlier this month:

and frightening, too, that one small boy should set
The sky on fire and choke the stars to heat
Such skinny limbs and such a little heart

Or in ‘Ageing Schoolmaster’ reflecting on the huge inevitability of his own death:

Not wholly wretched, yet knowing absolutely
That I shall never reacquaint myself with joy,
I sniff the smell of ink and chalk and my mortality
And think of when I rolled, a gormless boy,

And rollicked round the playground of my hours,
And wonder when precisely tolled the bell
Which summoned me from summer liberties
And brought me to this chill autumnal cell

He was, like Hardy, a craftsman poet. Language fits and operates in harmony within the tight framework of his verse and he was concerned with and interested in form. Extraordinary physical images spring out at you from the poetry. Even so it is still surprising to learn that he was once a boxer, earning a living in fairground fights. This was following a deeply troubled army service in WWII. After witnessing the results of a massacre in North Africa,

Disposed in their scattered dozens like fragments of a smashed whole, each human particle/ Is almost identical, rhyming in shape and pigment, /All, in their mute eloquence, oddly beautiful (‘Remembering the Dead at Wadi Akarit’)

he deserted, only to be caught and imprisoned. He was later released to take part in the D.Day landings where he was wounded and once again ran away. While on the run, he changed his name from John Vernon Bains to Vernon Scannell but in 1947 he was caught and sent to an asylum as an alternative to prison. He was a man who lived life to the full and much of that experience of love, violence and death is reflected in his verse. Perhaps his most famous poem and one of the greatest poems of the Second World War is ‘Walking Wounded’:

A mammoth morning moved grey flanks and groaned.
In the rusty hedges pale rags of mist hung;
The gruel of mud and leaves in the mauled lane
Smelled sweet, like blood. Birds had died or flown,
Their green and silent attics sprouting now
With branches of leafed steel, hiding round eyes
And ripe grenades ready to drop and burst.

To hear the rest of the poem read movingly, in gravel voiced seriousness by Scannell himself, visit the Poetry Archive.

If you would like to read more of his work, Collected Poems 1950 – 1993 is available from Amazon.

On the back cover of this collection, Paul Fussell, author of The Great War and Modern Memory says: ‘you actually want to go back and revisit the poems many times. Their shrewd structures hold their elements firmly in place and they resonate also with the kind of humanity time is generous to…’

I can think of no better tribute.

By Angela Macmillan

Poetry Launch: Life Lines 2

Last night, amongst the hustle and bustle of London’s Tottenham Court Road and Soho, the launch of Life Lines 2 was held in the tranquil surroundings of The Poets’ Church, St Giles in the Field. Hosted by Todd Swift (whom I had met on the first day of the Cheltenham Literature Festival), the evening consisted of readings by featured poets in this anthology which has been created to raise funds for Oxfam‘s Darfur appeal. Admitting to me before the event started, “I’m very nervous”, Todd hosted the event in his unasuming and witty manner to great success. He needn’t have been worried: this audio anthology is superb, it’s a joy to be able to listen to poets reading their own work and to hear such different timbres of voice in one collection. It’s credit to his position as Oxfam’s Poet in Residence and the evening’s readings were an impressive representation of the work that is featured on the collection.

The readings last night came from a collection of  distinct and original poetic voices: Dannie Abse, Sujata Bhatt, Siobhan Campbell, Elaine Feinstein, Atilla the Stockbroker, Wayne Smith and John Hartley Williams. Todd himself read the memory-laden ‘The Man Who Killed Houdini’ from Winter Tennis (a collection that I admire very much), an emotional Elain Feinstein recitied poems  from her latest collection explaining the difficulties and joys of marraige to her late husband Arnold (‘Wheelchair’ is featured on Life Lines 2), and Dannie Abse read some of his heartfelt and emphatic poetry: “a liturgy to literature”, my dear friend Ruth noted whilst we were sat in the pews of the beautiful Poets’ Church. This is not to say that it was a sombre and serious event, humour came from Atilla the Stockbroker and from the anthology’s youngest poet, Wayne Smith (who, unlike me, has no shame that he was born in Swindon). I wish every success for the Life Lines anthologies and hope there to be a third; fantastic poetry by original voices for a commendable cause.

Posted by Jen Tomkins