I dragged my cold-infested carcass over to the South Bank Centre last night, to attend the event celebrating the eminent publishing firm‘s 80th birthday. And I was so glad I went. I’d been feeling a bit alienated from the poems, a bit hopeless, a bit “how will I ever get down in amongst them again?”, not to mention very sorry for myself at having caught a cold so early in Autumn.
But here were the pianist’s hands, fluid over the beautiful piano, while a tenor sang Auden’s words to Britten’s music. And here was Daljit Nagra, as if by magic on a stage, engaging and thoughtful. Here was Wendy Cope, making us unable to stop laughing at her Waste Land Limericks. Here was Alice Oswald, mesmerising us with her reading of Beckett – and my god, in the second half, pointing up her links with Beckett as she read a long poem from A Sleepwalk on the Severn. Something about the pace and, in particular, the use of pitch (and line break, use of white space, I would imagine, to support that). Here was Paul Muldoon, reading Eliot, reminding us again of how funny bits of The Wasteland are, how he really do “do the different voices”.
And here was Seamus Heaney, a little fragile and tired from a ‘flu, but in good voice nonetheless. To hear those poems, so well known, in the orginal voice…magical.
Afterwards, some hasty goodbyes to my friends, and I was flying over Waterloo Bridge, looking up and down the Thames, grinning into the grey-and-orange air. This. This is what I needed, to hear some good – great! – poetry. So, this morning, at last…a helicopter is above our street, so low you can hear the blades rattle. Next door thump up and down their stairs. But I am writing, without worrying about the manuscript or who will want to read it or not. I am writing, pushing the pen over the page, clattering the keys, egged on by the memory of those people on the stage last night; not special, not exalted, just people who write.
And who keep writing, and write wonderful things.