My Version of the North
The energy generated by bringing a group of poets together under one roof would keep a small household running nicely for a few days. Present them with an outstanding review of their latest anthology and the National Grid needs to be put on alert for the power surge.
That’s what happened in the Hyde Park Corner Pub, Leeds, last night as Ian Parks, the editor of ‘Versions of the North’, read out Ian McMillan’s review of the long overdue anthology of Yorkshire poets. The whoop of pleasure from the assembled obscurity (the official collective noun for poets) was the source of some bemusement to the rest of the customers, absorbed in the Saturday evening match on TV.
McMillan’s appreciation of the subtleties of the anthology and what it was trying to achieve was spot on and pretty much matched the sentiments expressed by Ian Parks in his recent interview for this blog.
It takes a poet to know a poet.
This observation was never more true than when Pippa Hennessy, the Five Leaves Press representative, and the person responsible for the production of the anthology, was approached by several of the contributors. They expressed their delight at the respect that had been shown to word position on the page. Their inherent attention to detail even extended to querying which font had been used, so they could adopt it for future use. The high quality of the paper and imaginative cover design also did not escape comment.
Pippa is in a good position to understand how poems work, because she is also a poet, who therefore understands the importance that structure has to play in the presentation of a poem. It is worth bearing in mind that in the world of small independent publishers the production team may also be writers. This means that both Pippa and Ross Bradshaw (the Five Leaves’ owner) also share a passion for producing high quality books and, like all the small independent publishers I know, don’t just understand their product, they live and breathe it.
This is why ALL booksellers should cherish and support small independent publishers.
Weaving our way through the assorted mass of students resplendent in anything from dinner jackets to garish fancy dress costumes, we arrived at the Flux Gallery, the venue for the Yorkshire book launch. The delightful Bruce Barnes, there to read his Poem ‘Manningham Mills’, even gave a hand carrying the anthologies in.
The Flux is an intimate and wonderfully unassuming venue embedded in the student quarter of Leeds, on the end of a terrace. The entrance that had been previously indistinguishable from the others in the row, two hours earlier, was now open and lit by a multicoloured coil of lights snaking out along the garden wall.
The inside of the gallery has been likened by one reviewer to a cake slice (the narrow entrance widens towards the rear, where the performance space is situated). The room was filled with an eclectic assortment of seats, and Dan Lyons’ photographs lined the walls. One of Dan’s intriguing photographs adorns the cover of the anthology, and we were treated to a continuous carousel of Dan’s closely observed pictures of Yorkshire at the far end of the room.
Pippa introduced the event, quickly followed by Ian. An excerpt of the lengthy McMillan appraisal of the anthology was unveiled for those who were not aware of it. Then the readings began.
It was wonderfully informal. This was not a gathering of highly strung Prima Donnas, but people comfortable and confident in their craft. It felt more like a gathering of old friends, pleased to share each other’s work and ready to indulge in a customary slice of Yorkshire hospitality. Each poet performed their piece without fuss when called, although it had to be said that Linda Marshall’s wickedly observed ‘Murder at Annabel’s’ did create a lively ripple of hilarity.
The performances, like the book, were easy on the mind and engaging (I have often been dismayed by poets, whose pretentious or lackluster performance has killed the spirit of their written word).
The day had been dry and the night relatively balmy by comparison to the last few weeks (at the pre-event drinks gathering, Julia Deakin had treated us to her photos of the epic snow drifts near her home). So the audience spilled out into the small grassed front garden in the break. In this chance to catch up, the reminiscences and discussions seeping from the various groups were as entertaining as the performances.
Given the quality and reputation of the poets present, there was no sense of wanting to form cliques or attempting to exclude an outsider. So for anyone wanting to put a toe in the water of these sorts of events in Leeds and meet the writers behind the words, in a relaxed environment, then places like the Flux Gallery are to be recommended.
My last impression on driving away from the event was of leaving a friend’s house after an enjoyable party.