Foyles London – Tour Recap
In the fantastic surroundings of Foyle’s new Auditorium at their flagship Charing Cross Road store, four poets gave London its first taste of the Next Generation Poets 2014 Tour. Customarily opening with a young poet yet to publish their first collection, former London Young Poet Laureate, Warsan Shire, read a stunning set of poems on themes of war and the body. In a spellbinding performance, Shire demonstrated her unique way of crafting lasting images: “Look, one war giving birth to another… Look, a snake swallowing its own head”. In poems for her brother and sister, and an elegy for a friend, the poet showed her belief in the transformative power of words and cemented her ability to captivate an audience with starkly beautiful poetry.
Towards the climax of what must have been a fantastic year, Next Generation Poet and Mercury Prize nominee, Kate Tempest offered the Foyles crowd a choice: lots of smaller poems or one long piece. They chose the latter, and it meant we received the full effect of a Tempest performance, an utterly mesmerising piece of storytelling from the opening pages of her new collection, Hold Your Own. In a part song, part poem to gods, the body and metamorphosis, Tempest reimagined Tiresius in modern-day South London, enlisted to solve domestic troubles between Zeus and Hera. As Tempest led us down the narrative of her own epic, there was certainly a sense of a performer at the top of her game, at one with herself onstage as she sung to her protagonist: ‘Tiresias, you hold your own, each you that you have been’.
Mark Waldron, suffering from flu, thought his voice sounded strange: “You might think it sounds normal, but I know myself quite well.” This wonderful, funny and uncanny statement is as accurate a nod towards his poetry as you could hope to hear. Waldron’s poems lead you to strange, imaginative places – chocolate cars, misrepresented lions and interactions with characters inside his head – but behind the humour are verses that pack a punch. “All my poems are advertisements for me,” said the poet, who also said, “I don’t tend to introduce poems.” Misunderstandings, mishearing and misdemeanours lead the listener into a maze of the poet’s making, and finding your own way out makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Next Generation Poet 2004, Patience Agbabi, reminisced about being selected for the accolade and loved that her work was being respected on the page, “because that’s where it begins”. Agbabi brings page and performance together and, aptly, closed the show with readings from her latest book, Telling Tales, a reimagining of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with characters from Copenhagen to Edinburgh by way of Peckham. There is great imagination through Agbabi’s stories, which bring to life fantastically poetic and unique voices while maintaining the lively story-telling of the original text. The work that must have gone in to this book is quite extraordinary and the performance is well-honed and worth trying to see live at some point on Agbabi’s tour. In a long sequence in the voice of The Wife of Bath, imagined as a bolshie Nigerian with a long series of lovers and husbands – all of whom have mysteriously passed away – we perhaps have a window into the challenge Agbabi undertook in creating such a marvellous work: ‘I beat him ‘til he beg for his ancestor,’ the Wife of Bath says of one partner, ‘Now we get on fine’.