Newcastle’s Lit & Phil isn’t easy to describe. It’s a beautiful building that harbours expansive rooms, mezzanines, corridors and hideaways, bookshelves against every wall packed with books. The photos below will give a flavour but I’d advise anyone to check out the Lit and Phil for themselves if they are ever in Newcastle. The readings were exceptional. The poets each read a few poems of their own and one written by someone else on the Magma 60 theme of freedom, and these choices proved distinctive and exciting. Here are the readers in order with a very short extract from their Magma 60 poem:
Tony Williams was MC for the first half and read a few sentences from W.H. Auden’s introduction to the anthology ‘Poems of Freedom’ (Victor Gollancz, 1938)
“Great claims have been made for poets as a social force: they have been called the critics of life, the trumpets that sing men to battle, the unacknowledged legislators of the world. On the other hand they have been accused of being introverted neurotics who find in infantile word-play an escape from the serious duties of adult life, the irresponsible fiddlers deserting a Rome in flames.” (W.H. Auden)
Peter Armstrong chose a poem by Australian, James W. Baxter, as his ‘poem of freedom’ after reading his own work, which doesn’t shirk from tackling big themes of death, time, mortality
“What foresight or what irony
settled you on this high plot,
barely soil for burial…”
['At the Grave of Beveridge']
Tessa Berring’s three poems included two decapitations and she also read Francis Ponge’s marvellous ‘The Mollusc’
“The first thing I did
to the figure
Magma board member, Ian McEwen, read Dan O’Brien’s poem from Magma 60, ‘The War Reporter Paul Watson Has the Time’
“Got an email from the interpreter
I helped escape from Kandahar. The dead
are Sayed’s sister and sister-in-law
and the sisters’ babies…”
['The War Reporter Paul Watson Has the Time']
Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s poems were themed around war, conflict and escape, and she read a poem by Adrienne Rich. It’s just struck me that she was reading her Magma 60 poem about fleeing from Tehran the day before the airports closed, exactly on the 36th anniversary!
“Kamran, almost eleven already tall beside her
knows they aren’t coming back”
['To the Airport' (Tehran, December 11th, 1978)]
James McGonigal found a way of reading his Magma 60 poem by using flash cards (you need to see the poem to understand why that was necessary) and finished his set with a poem by Edwin Morgan.
The fat o the land
['The Scottish Referendum Considered as a Correction Mark in the History of these Isles']
After the break Rob A. Mackenzie took over as MC
First up in the second half was Janette Ayachi who had dressed for the night, her diction as rich as the finest fabric
“At my wardrobe doors I toss clothes like shadows from trains
that marauder off track to swallow the moon whole…”
['Dressing for the Night']
Carole Bromley made people laugh with her poems, which also had a serious side, and she chose a poem by Colette Bryce
“you in your Armani suit. You saw me alright.
I haven’t changed that much in twenty years
though you have, Eddie. You have.”
Finally, there was Sean O’Brien, whose prose article in Magma 60 is stimulating and provocative, part of Magma’s ‘National Conversation (on Poetry)’ of which more will be said in the new year. Sean read from his forthcoming collection. ‘The Beautiful Librarians’, which ought to be good based on what he read on this evening
And – to my delight – he also read Zbigniew Herbert’s The Envoy of Mr Cogito, a phenomenal poem!
Thanks to the Lit & Phil, to the readers and to the audience for making it such a special night in Newcastle. Details of how to get hold of a copy of Magma 60 (single copies or through subscription) can be found at this link.