This is not a review but rather a few observations about the event held at the Whitworth Art Gallery yesterday. I’ve been a committee member of Poets & Players for just a few months, but have attended events for several years. Yesterday’s event was a great success in terms of audience numbers, estimates of over 200 people, which is pretty good going for a poetry reading anywhere.
The sad death of Linda Chase, I’m sure had many people wondering if the organisation could continue; the grounds of Linda’s house were used for some of the group’s fund raising events and Linda herself was much loved, respected and very much the charismatic centre of the operation. The remaining members of the small team have worked extremely hard to ensure that this significant contribution to culture, poetry and music in Manchester continues. Yesterday’s event was testament to their work. I’ve always thought one of P&P’s strengths was putting on events where the poets chosen to read were so different in style. I can’t remember ever attending one of the readings and not having a good time and afterwards being full of ideas and opinions. Not all the poets I’ve heard are my kind of poet, I love some and some I don’t love so much, but that has never mattered to me because what matters is just hearing poets read live, whoever they are. Had yesterday’s event been a paid event and not a freebie it would have been a great financial success, but the real success, regardless of money, is that around 200 people gathered on a rainy Manchester Saturday afternoon in November to hear poets and musicians perform their work.
I said at the beginning, that this isn’t a review, but here are a few rather subjective observations about the performers: Suzanne Batty is a poet with a powerful imagination. Her poems are stunning, dark, violent at times, and invariably unexpected. I’ve attended a couple of writing workshops that Suzanne has also been a part of and one of her great strengths is producing amazing images off the cuff, this is something rare I think, imaginations like hers are rare and it’s certainly not a good feeling having to read after Suzanne in a workshop.
Simon Armitage is a reader with great presence, he has an understated style and he’s effortlessly funny, he broke off mid-poem, to joke with the audience about one of his lines, he’s spontaneous and the crowd seemed to hang on his every word. Armitage is an impressively prolific writer, with the rare ability to engage both the general poetry fan (whatever that is) and the academic reader; the audience I suspect, was a combination, to varying degrees of both. He ended his set with a moving tribute, a poem for Linda Chase.
Finally, the music: I’m aware that when I talk about P&P, that I often short change the musicians, it’s not intentional and nothing to do with them but more to do with my own limited vocabulary in talking about music. The musicians were wonderful yesterday, Matt Halsall, Taz Modi, Gavin Barras and Chris Davies, played in front of the huge gallery windows, through which you could see a darkening, rain drenched Oxford Road, the flash of ambulances and blurred traffic lights, and it was extremely atmospheric, I won’t attempt to try to sound like I know what I’m talking about in terms of instruments because I don’t, but I loved it anyway.
Times are hard in the Arts world, some great organisations have recently lost their funding, but I’m hoping that Poets & Players will be able to continue. I’d miss it if it wasn’t there and I know many other people would too.