Tag Archive: poetry society


Yesterday evening I attended the Poetry Society Annual Lecture at the Bishopsgate Institute. The guest lecturer was (last year’s) US Poet Laureate Charles Simic, who was born in Serbia, spent his childhood in Nazi-occupied Belgrade, and immigrated to America with his family when he was 15. He now lives and teaches in New Hampshire.

Charles Simic

Charles Simic

 Humans always try to find similarities with someone they admire. I enjoyed that Simic is, in a way, a New Englander, but that his accent is more like that of my (Bulgarian) father-in-law. Most of all, I empathized with his comments on “feeling like an outsider, or being considered ‘weird,’ even to [his] closest friends,” and how, even as a young boy, he loved just sitting and looking at things.

“Americans are regional poets,” Simic says. “They write for their climate and thus have trouble appreciating each other.”

Simic, who is 71, has lived through such movements as The Beats, and talked about changes he has seen in the landscape of American poetry.

Despite- or perhaps because of- a childhood in bombed-out Europe, Simic is surprisingly mellow and cheerful. Even though he admits to some broody poetry, he says he often writes when he is happiest, in the kitchen, “with something nice cooking on the stove.”

When a fired-up Russian woman stood up to speak about poets in her own and other European countries being hanged for their words, to ask what his thoughts were on that, Simic seemed unperturbed and rambled a bit about, again, American poetry.

It is entirely understandable that someone who spent his life becoming immersed in his adopted culture should speak solely on that, but there was also a mild air of disappointment that Simic spoke almost entirely on “The State of the Art” (of poetry) in America, when surely a British audience would have liked to hear a bit more about, well, the rest of the world…especially, well, Britain.

Signed copy.

Signed copy.

He has a cute, quiet sense of humour, and drew a number of chuckles from the audience. “I’m not a confessional  poet,” he says in a discernibly American-mixed-with-eastern-European accent, “it goes back to my days when I was a liar.”  

(This refers to his extreme distaste for school as a child; he skipped as often as he could, simply because he found it terribly boring. Later, he would go on to put himself through college at night, working days.)

At the end of the talk, another question arose (based on a comment earlier)- a young woman asked, “Is suffering necessary for the creation of great art?”

Simic chuckled and replied promptly: “No.”

After the talk, I bought his Selected Poems and spoke with him briefly, giving him a copy of Darwin’s Microscope. The man is inundated with poetry, so who knows if he’ll read it, but how often do I have the chance to give the first copy of my first book of poetry to the Poet Laureate?

Poetry Unplugged

Last night I went to The Poetry Place for the second time- my first journey there, about a year ago, was simply to scout it out, and I had a bit of the yummy veggie food they serve (a quiche, I think,) and kind of scurried away again. No events were happening at the time.

The Poetry Cafe

The Poetry Cafe

This trip was to attend Poetry Unplugged, the regular Open Mic night of The Poetry Cafe, an outlet of The Poetry Society.
I have read in the Lipscomb Library and the Martin Science building of my Alma mater, and I have just written about reading in the gorgeous Playfair Library at Old College. Yet I admit to feeling somewhat nervous, just before we got going!
Lipscomb Library

Lipscomb Library

It was the jangle of the unexpected, the not knowing.
There were about thirty people there, and about twenty had signed up to read.
The first guy who read was a bit odd; he singled me out (by chance, I suppose, and/or because I was new,) and wrapped my name into a ‘poem’ about Long Island.
It was fairly convenient, in my opinion, because by the time I was called to read (fairly early on), everyone already knew my name! With only five minutes in which to introduce myself and mention Darwin’s Microscope, I read about three poems, but they were very well-received.
I do think it is good when the poets you think are good also like your work. I think poetry is something one can become better at, but only if one is talented to begin with. It is an elitist attitude and I do not waver- I think the same with ‘talent’ holds true for any art form- music, dance, visual arts. There must be inherent talent to hone. Or what? Or it is a waste of time? No, the arts may be hobbies, enjoyable and relaxing, or emotional outlets. I cannot claim to paint or sing, at least not well!
Speaking of talent, upon first impression, about half of the poets I heard at Poetry Unplugged were very good. I think that’s an impressive percentage! I’ll mention a few whose names I caught and who have information online: Ernesto Sarezale was talented and entertaining; he’ll be at the Camden Fringe festival and obviously is very involved in the London performing arts scene. Guy Jackson was more of a storyteller than a poet, with quirky but funny stuff, and a fantatic storytelling voice. It reminded me of Monty Python.
Two young women, Toni and Grace, were wonderful, each coming from totally different backgrounds but each with rhythm, power, and emotion in their words, ebbing almost into song at some points. One young man hands-down made me think of Shakespeare, or at least how Joseph Fiennes plays him in Shakespeare in Love.
Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare

Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare

I realise that ‘writing like Shakespeare’ is probably one of the Cardinal Sins of modern poetry, but this kid was good. I mean, really good. Beautiful. And though the style was Shakespearian, the words were made modern and they worked. Another young and tender lad read a fantastic poem about giving a narcissist a broken mirror. Again, very well done.
There were a few crazies, a short bout of yelling, and a minor mouse incident, but otherwise a good evening- and hey, it’s poetry, you’ve got to have some oddities…
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