Tour Recap – Oxford, Blackwells
Opening the show in Oxford’s Blackwells store was former President of Oxford University’s Poetry Society, Rachel Piercey. Now Poetry Editor at the Cadaverine magazine and small publisher, The Emma Press, Rachel read poems from her most recent pamphlet, Rivers Wanted. Demonstrating a gift for filtering the poetry from what’s around us, Rachel read poems on mis-hearings and over-hearings, and praise-songs for the countryside and its creatures. The integrity and love with which Piercey approaches much of her poetry was especially evident in a show-stopping eulogy, ‘Song for Amelia’, which sings a song of admiration for the erstwhile female pilot from the perspective of her various aircraft engines.
Jane Yeh is a fantastically unique poet able to turn her attention from fine art to Star Trek, from historical figures to ninjas, with seamless ease and energy. In Oxford, Yeh gave a funny and charming reading to the young crowd, with poems in the voice of animal movie stars – ‘I enjoy parties otherwise I see only Tracy’ – and lonely ghosts – ‘We don’t mean to spook you, we just want to be noticed’. It became evident that the poet’s real talent is for giving a poetic voice to characters on the fringes of existence, and placing her own voice within darkly comic, technologic worlds inhabited by robots.
One of the continuing highlights of this series of events is the presence of a poet from one of the Previous Generations, and Susan Wicks proved no exception. Reading from poems across her far-reaching back catalogue, Wicks brought to bear her particular way of looking at both nature and human relationships. Marking the occasion of 11 November, she read World War I poems, and – some of the earliest poems she’d written – pieces about her childhood relationship with her father, stuck long in the memory. The poems performed from her next collection, forthcoming from Bloodaxe in 2016, seemed only to build on her sympathetic and enlightening way of looking: watching the way ‘the earth shoves back’ against an elderly runner, ‘The way he lifts his water bottle and glugs, the way it falls back, lighter’.
Every so often at poetry events, a performer begins by confidently announcing they’ll read a poem they wrote on the way to the venue. The heart sinks. Unless, that is, it’s Luke Kennard who’s behind the lectern: a man whose mind can turn buying his child some sweets into a wild, philosophical extravaganza, and whose pen does wonders to keep up. The Oxford audience were truly lucky to hear a handful of new poems from a poet who always seems on top of his game, even when “filling blank pages under titles” in his notepad. These poems keep the surreal humorous tone of much of his earlier work, but are cut through with more overtly political messages especially in ‘Drone Pilot flies over himself’ and ‘Poor Door’, written in response to the back door entrance for lower classes in a posh new apartment blocks. Making clear the scope and range of his work, Kennard read two poems from his 2011, themed pamphlet, Planet Shaped Horse, but it was a night which left us eagerly awaiting a new collection.