Last night was a rapidly-assembled gathering of 31 poets from all parts of the English-speaking world to protest against the Arts Council's undoing of its support for the Poetry Book Society. It was also a fund-raising event to help make up the deficit. The redoubtable Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, was the driver.
For me it was a chance to see and hear in the flesh many poets of whom I had heard but read little. The first impression was just how far women (in this sphere as in so many others) women have taken over the world. Carol Ann gave an amusing re-vamp of MacNeice's Bagpipe Music, but I was particularly taken with her Mrs Faust, ending 'he had no soul to sell'. Other highlights were Imtiaz Dharker's witty knotting-together of English and Hindi slang in Bombay Tiffin Boy, Patience Agbabi's grotesque tale of a man who feeds his wife until she becomes too huge to leave the house (but ends up eating him), Jane Draycott's exquisite translation of Pearl, and the Welsh laureate Gillian Clarke's evocation of the Srebrenica massacre from the perspective of Welsh hayfield. What a variety!
Not to leave the men out altogether, I liked Christopher Reid's Mr Mouth and look forward to his readings in Suffolk later in the year.
The language of some of the swipes at the Arts Council and the government sometimes lacked the subtlety and sophistication that might be expected of people whose business is with words! I make an exception of George Szirtes who gave a forceful and penetrating analysis of the situation. A worthy advocate for an important cause.