Tour Recap – Cambridge
After Oxford on Tuesday, the Next Generation Poets 2014 Tour rolled across to Cambridge for an event in Waterstones, Sidney Street. Opening the evening, Cambridge Literature lecturer, Sarah Howe, showed why Chatto & Windus are publishing her debut collection, Loop of Jade in 2015. A confident and enchanting reading took us through her range of influences across art, via Borges and into contemporary Chinese politics. Howe’s concern with free speech – the values put upon it – and dissident bloggers working under the light of ‘ancient monitors’ made for a powerfully haunting performance; as she demonstrated her talent for imbuing her characters with dark purpose: ‘what I mean to say is, those who hurt you, I’ll eat their eyes’.
Emma Jones spent several years studying and teaching in Cambridge after emigrating from Australia, so this acted as some small homecoming for her. Topically, she began her reading with the first poem she wrote in Cambridge, and in England, the fantastic ‘Waking’ from her collection The Striped World: ‘Here it is again, light hoisting its terrible bells.’ The following poems seemed to echo a sense of displacement: the tiger stalking the menagerie; the town lost to a dam’s water and resurfacing during drought. In an engaging reading it struck the listener that Jones is a poet existing between spaces, and her contemplation of place – and the values attributed to it – left a lasting impression, as in ‘Equator’:
He wrote in the log:
‘Today, on course,
we crossed the line, with usual incident.’
And he also wrote:
‘There is no line.’
Pauline Stainer, appearing as a member of 1994’s New Generation Poets, said she felt “like the granny” at the start of her reading, but her poems felt as fresh as anyone’s. Her short poems about transition and the gap between inspiration and the word, are packed with stark images that imprinted on the attentive audience’s mind ‘the way fresh water sings in the iceberg’. Stainer spoke of her selection in 1994 as being “a very special thing… especially as a woman at that time”, but her most recent poems about being stranded in Cambodia shows her to be a poet still at the peak of her powers: ‘the air-conditioning roars and we neither come nor depart’.
Last up on the night in Cambridge was a fantastically lively performance from Kei Miller, reading first from his recent Forward Prize-winning collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, before reading a sequence from A Light Song of Light. In poems haunted by the character of the Singerman – a man paid to sing while roads were built in Miller’s homeland, Jamaica – we find his biography, the colour of his songs and his other moonlight jobs. But it was the long sequence, ‘Twelve Notes for a Light Song of Light’, which stunned the Cambridge crowd, and truly showed Miller’s wonderful ability to meditate on multifarious themes of Song and Light, and put huge weight on their shoulders:
A light song of light believes nothing
is so substantial as light, and
that light is unstoppable,
and that light is all.