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On performing ekphrastic poems, Poetry Book Fair etc

I’m not sure I’ve ever really celebrated World Poetry Day, which was apparently adopted by UNESCO in 1999 with the aim of “supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.” It’s held on March 21st each year, and this year in Eastbourne the indefatigable ‘Mister John’ who hosts a monthly poetry open mic is staging a special event on the theme of ekphrasis. The Hastings Stanza will well represented, and I’m taking along poems inspired by contemporary artworks by Anish Kapoor and Jann Haworth.

On ‘Performing’ ekphrastic poems

Reading poems based on artworks is tricky. If they’re famous paintings then at least some of the audience might be familiar with them. If not, do you spend five minutes explaining what it’s a picture of before reading the poem? What if the artwork is a piece of performance art? I’ve written something inspired by The House with the Ocean View by Marina Abramovic, but decided against reading it this week because explaining the artwork is too time consuming. Even with static art, ideally we would have a projector and be able to show it while reading the poem. But what if that’s not possible? I’ve opted for putting a copy of the art next to the poem, printing it out and taking a few ‘pass around’ copies with me. We’ll see how it goes.

The return of the Poetry Book Fair

Although it bears no resemblance to the London Book Fair, London’s Poetry Book Fair (also known as Free Verse) used to be a very jolly and uplifting event, independently organised, until the pandemic years. The great news is that it’s back, to be held on Saturday 20th April. The bad news for me is that I can’t make it. Organised now by The Poetry Society, the fair consists of around 80 small-to-micro poetry publishers crammed into a hall displaying their wares. A great opportunity for editors to meet their readers and potential readers, for poets to meet editors (or check then out incognito!) and sample their books, for tiny indies to rub along with the Fabers of the poetry world. It’s also a good old-fashioned networking event, even if poets don’t tend to use that phrase. Meet poets you’ve always admired and hear them read! Quiz editors about what they’re looking for and make sure they remember your name! Or just run into poet mates you haven’t seen in ages.

I’ve been to three of the Fairs in the past and helped out on a publisher table for a couple of them, and it’s always a fine occasion. This year I happen to be coming back from Spain that very day. I could probably trail my luggage with me straight up to London from Gatwick but it’s unlikely I’ll be there before 4pm, when traditionally things are winding down. Oh well, next year I hope. Do visit this year if you can.

Published inArtBlogEventsInspirationPerformingReadings

One Comment

  1. Louise Larchbourne Louise Larchbourne

    Hi Robin

    Come to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford, where I curate and present a group of ekphrastic poems in the galleries every six weeks or so. Each poet reads the poem they’ve made beside the work that provoked it to the always delightful audience. Next outing 11 May, 2 pm, Gallery 8.

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Robin Houghton 2021