I’ve taken a brief hiatus from Invective to launch my new book. A new book is a strange thing: shiny and slightly alien to its author. In a post a few weeks ago I commented on the odd sensation of holding it in my hand for the first time. And now there are stacks of them all over the house (or at least there were – the stacks have diminished to two copies, I’m pleased to report), so this book has taken its place with all those other books that seem to occupy every corner and surface.
But this post is not about the materiality of the book, but what it is like to read from it, which I have now done on three occasions (most notably at the launch on 2nd June, sharing the floor with my fellow Salt poet Katy Evans-Bush, launching her excellent Egg Printing Explained: http://www.saltpublishing.com/books/smp/9781844718221.htm). The launch was more of a party interrupted by a few poems to get the assembled crowd in the mood to read the book. But the readings I did in Aldeburgh, and in Chepstow at the wonderful Poetry on the Border series (http://www.poetryontheborder.org/) with Seren poet Paul Groves (http://www.serenbooks.com/author/paul-groves) were very different kinds of events.
To hear a poet doing an extended reading from a book is an opportunity to fall into his / her particular cadence and voice. I remember the first time I heard the American poet Jorie Graham reading at the University of London, and through her delivery, finally understanding her use of line endings as a way of exploring thought process and natural speech. Sometimes a poet’s voice gives me a certain way of pronouncing a word which is not the way I would pronounce it (especially in my North American accent) and therefore suggests different sound patterns and rhymes. Sometimes there is an unexpected emphasis on a word or phrase that never occurred to me when reading a poet’s work to myself, alone in my room. Tone and tempo are impossible to convey on the page, and often the comments poets make in between poems are as interesting and valid as the poems themselves. The poets who are best at reading their work always make me feel as if my understanding of their poems has been enhanced by their presence in the room, their body language, as if they are giving an additional gift, as well as their work.
So that’s my goal. Off to Bath on Thursday for yet another reading. It’s also nice to put faces to readers – it is good to know not only that the book is in the world, but who is holding a copy …