Poetry rarely causes neck pain, however much you may dislike it. Slight physical discomfort may have marred the 200th issue launch of PN Review on September 12th, as the choice of venue—the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury—required the poets to read their work from a balcony above the craning audience huddled below. Yet there was much to enjoy and distract from the occasional crick.
Originally published as “Poetry Nation” in 1973, the PN Review has been championing contemporary poetry, translations and literary debate for over 40 years. Michael Schmidt, one of the co-founders, still edits the magazine, which is run in conjunction with Carcanet Press in Manchester. With their beautifully presented publications and eclectic mix of writers, both Carcanet and PN Review are staggering on in an increasingly difficult financial climate, helped by the continuing (though diminished) support of Art Council England. With international contributors and an increasingly global audience, they have certainly moved on from Carcanet’s original intention to bring together works exclusively from Oxford and Cambridge.
Such diversity could be seen in the poets reading at the event. The evening opened with poems from Marilyn Hacker and Stanley Moss, both Americans who have been writing poetry for as long as PN Review has been published. But it was the younger poets—Will Eaves, Tara Bergin and Oli Hazzard—who hinted at the vibrancy of contemporary British and Irish poetry. Mr Hazzard, the youngest poet at 25 years old, delivered examples of his work in a laconic drawl that made a punch-line of each line-ending. Bringing humour to the event, his insouciance glided over lines of his verse that may seem, on first reading, slightly forced or even willingly incomprehensible: “Ambiguity is the / cornerstone / of a healthy dog-master relationship.” Mr Hazzard’s gift lies in making the unusual seem aphoristic, turning words on their heads to shock an unsuspecting reader. But he should perhaps be wary of over-using this trick.
In contrast, Mr Eaves and Miss Bergin read their poems aloud with a certain solemnity that seemed at odds with their relative youthfulness. In doing so, they made their poems—which include topics as diverse as mourning a dead child and misreading Plato—seem even bleaker than on first encounter. Miss Bergin in particular did not need to preface her delightfully lyrical poems with a statement of artistic intent. Her burgeoning talent should be strong enough to stand alone.
Combined together with the more mature, muscular works read by Miss Hacker and Mr Moss, these young poets suggested that poetry readings did not have to be a sit-down affair celebrating a single author. Brought together by a celebration of a literary magazine, the event edged towards suggesting a new way of encountering poetry publically—something informal, almost spontaneous and, with the exception of a few necks, relatively painless.
~ E.H. (via Prospero)