Poets Live – Sue Chenette, Dylan Harris and Andrew Parkin
Review by Rebecca Larkin. Photographs by Kate Noakes.
On such a sweltering day, we were all glad to escape underground to the cooler caves of Carr’s pub for some poetry from Sue Chenette, Dylan Harris and Andrew Parkin.
Sue Chenette read first, from her most recent book The Bones of His Being, which “explores loss and what remains. She finds – in old photographs, in subtle exchanges, and in quiet moments – the skeletal shape of her dead father. Within the underbelly of grief, at the heart of loss, she also uncovers fragments of herself ” (reviewed here). The inception of the book was in a conversation with Sue’s friend and fellow poet, Barbara Beck (editor of Upstairs at Duroc magazine). The poems from this collection were beautifully delicate songs of grief, full of memorable images; Sue talked of ‘outer limbs like swaying dancers’ arms holding candles’. She gave an expressive reading of poems about her father’s depression – the poem ‘Simple Gifts’ spoke of his favourite song and her memories of singing it with him during dark times. She followed this with a selection of poems from a sequence about her father’s death, these poems both written and read with affecting poignancy: ‘[Sue’s] father was the kind of man who took pride in fine work’, and his daughter’s verses about him are fine poetry.
Dylan Harris (the founder of Poets Live) was the second to read, starting straight in with a punchy poem about St Pancras. He followed this with a poem partly in Dutch (‘as we’re in France, I’ll read in Dutch!’) – as Dutch and English have a lot in common, Dylan challenged us to understand the Dutch without translation. Continuing with the languages theme, a poem partly in Gaelic. This, with the refrain ‘Bikini Hotel’ is part of his sequence of poems written in, or about, Dublin (according to his rather poetic biography for the evening: “Dylan Harris was born. In 1957 in the UK, just before the launch of sputnik and lived in Dublin. Where he co-founded and co-operated wurm im”). We all enjoyed Dylan’s dynamic delivery and great stage presence, as he read a couple of poems inspired by Paris’s La Defense, talking of a “suspicious tickle” and being “out to the colour red”.
Andrew Parkin opened with a light-hearted limerick: “There once was a fellow named Parkin, Who wished he could be Philip Larkin…”. He read from his 1997 book Hong Kong Poems, originally to be named Two Poets and Six Translators, to reflect those who worked on it (Andrew shares the book with Laurence Wong) to achieve ‘poems written in English, poems written in Chinese, Chinese poems which seem like English poems and English poems which seem like Chinese poems’. An affecting love poem preceded Andrew’s highly political ‘Four Treasures‘, inspired by his interest in the research of Fabienne Verdier, in her book Passagère du Silence:
First they took my brush: I wrote with my own hair. They stole my paper: I wrote on walls. They confiscated ink and stone: I wrote in blood with a bit of bone.
Andrew finished with the beautiful question:
And do we in sleeps enigma hear their music
and is it to our dreams attuned?
Andrew kicked things off after the break, pondering multilingual and multicultural people, reading in a Brummy accent and then describing the tradition of Cantonese ghost opera, and Flaubert’s visits to an Almeh (high-class tart). It was a gripping round of facts and enchanting words, a highlight being his poem about the mystical Sybil.
Dylan with a translation of Sappho, then his morning routine, needing coffee to ‘feel the brain inflate’. He invented some mountains in Cambridge for us, but didn’t fool us that they really exist (unlike some of the residents of Cambridge, apparently) and let us know that ‘memories and slippery and sharp’.
Sue closed the night, reminding us that ‘chocolate helps’ if you wake up in a bad way, wondering if ‘this poem might benefit from shutters’ and doing a fine job of typographically presenting the strikethrough without being a printer. She made sure we knew what a Dory is, made us all laugh with her poem about ‘Miss Stein’, and ended with a piece of poetic jazz inspired by both the myth of Odin and Ella Fitzgerald’s 1983 performance of ‘Willow Weep for Me’.
This was the last Poets Live before the summer break. It’s back in September.
Sue Chenette, a classical pianist as well as a poet, grew up in northern Wisconsin, lives in Toronto, and spends time in Paris whenever she can. She is an editor for the Canadian poetry press Brick Books, and co-editor of the anthology Cry Uncle, from Aeolus Press. Her books include Slender Human Weight (Guernica Editions, 2009), long-listed for the ReLit award, and The Bones of his Being (Guernica Editions, 2012), as well as three chapbooks: Solitude in Cloud and Sun, A Transport of Grief, and The Time Between Us, which won the Canadian Poetry Association’s Shaunt Basmajian Award. Her poems have been widely anthologized and have appeared in literary journals in Canada and the U.S., and in the Paris journal Upstairs at Duroc. http://www.guernicaeditions.com/author.php?id=353
Dylan Harris was born. In 1957 in the UK, just before the launch of sputnik and lived in Dublin. Where he co-founded & co-operated wurm im. Apfel in Paris he launched Poets Live and corrupt. Press in Luxembourg he hasn’t done much. Yet his books include antwerp and the liberation of [placeholder]. See more works at http://dylanharris.org/
Andrew Parkin has been an active poet since emigrating from England to Canada in 1970. His first collection, Dancers in a Web (Turnstone Press, 1987, reprinted 1991), a later one, Hong Kong Poems (Ronsdale,1997, reprinted 1999 ), and most recently Star with a Thousand Moons (Ekstasis) were all published in Canada. A distinguished Canadian critic, Jack Stewart, has published essays on Andrew’s poetry. Andrew has given readings in many different countries and has been asked to read in Vancouver in September this year for the Chinese Canadian Writers’ Association. He lives in Paris as well as Canada.