Monday, March 19, 2007

Huddersfield this weekend for a reading. The snow/hail beat down on Sunday morning and there was a harsh wind. It's years since I've been to Huddersfield and it was a long trek for relatively small audiences. But Brendan Cleary was reading too, so we gossiped all the way back to Brighton on trains that regularly slowed to walking pace.

I visited Nanholme Mill, where my publisher Arc is based, for the first time. The range of poets that Arc publishes is impressive - an astonishing collection of work from overseas and in translation, all the more incredible given the time it demands from the powerhouses behind it, Angela Jarman and Tony Ward. Arc is publishing some of the major poets of the time in its Visible Poets series edited by Jean Boase-Beier: Tadeusz Rozewicz from Poland, Turkey's Cevat Capan, the Slovakian, Mila Haugova and utterly astonishing Catalonian poet Gabriel Ferrater, among many.

On the way up, on Saturday, I read an essay by Susan Sontag, written just before she died in 2004, delight in its wisdom and philosophy of writing. Sontag puts it so well, quoting herself answering the question, what should writers do? "Love words, agonise over sentences. And pay attention to the world."

The first session in Huddersfield is about reading - several of us on a panel answering questions about what we read. Each of us could talk for hours about what we love to read. Each of our answers show how random and eclectic our reading is. Interesting, too, how our performances, Brendan, Pete Kalu and me, in different ways, cover sexual politics, race, dispossession and identity. I love the sparks that are made between poets when they read together, the links that show themselves between apparently different work both at the time and in quieter moments, later.

Sontag's writing about fiction, the novel, how a novelist tells a story by enlivening time and animating space. But she diverts to poetry for a while and this is what sticks in my mind from her piece: "A great poet is one who refines and elaborates the great historical store of metaphors and adds to our stock of metaphors. Metaphors offer a profound form of understanding...."

Reading widely, reading poetry, feels like the only way I know to keep my thinking refreshed. To find new paths, to challenge and question. How easy it can be to do this with the vast stock of writing available to us - contemporary and historic. But let's sidestep the stacks of 3 for 2 offers and root around on the library or bookshop shelves, on the net, in second hand shops for the single books that are written by the unknown, unfamous and discover new ways of thinking.

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