We held two events at the SPL last week with two very different poets, William Letford on the Thursday, and on the Friday, a rare appearance north of the border by Iain Sinclair. I got to spend a little time with both. With Letford, before his reading, when we recorded a podcast. And with Sinclair, after his reading.
Letford is as delightful in person as he is on the page; there are no Yeatsian masks in play, no Eliot-style impersonality. I don’t mean to imply there’s a lack of craft, that he lets his personality spill onto the page unfiltered. Quite the opposite. Achieving an authentic-sounding voice is one of the hardest tasks for a writer to pull off, and if Letford makes it look effortless, it’s a testament to his talent.
The late Adrian Mitchell, famously, said ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.’ Mibbes aye and mibbes naw, but whatever the truth, you can’t say the same of Letford’s work. In his two collections, his focus is on ‘most people’, particularly one area poetry doesn’t often have much to say, but which most people do most of the time: work. A roofer, the building site provides Letford with material that is funny and at times philosophical. He drew an impressive audience who were charmed by his performance, impressed especially by his ability to recite his poetry without reading from a copy of his latest collection, Dirt (Carcanet).
The following night, the SPL hosted a performance by Iain Sinclair, who is about as different a poet as one can be from Letford. Whereas Letford’s language is shaped by Tom Leonard and James Kelman, Sinclair namechecks avatars of contemporary difficulty: J.H. Prynne, Lee Harwood, Douglas Oliver, Denise Riley, and, further back, David Gascoigne, Charles Olson, J.F. Hendry and W.S. Graham. I had the pleasure of showing Sinclair Graham’s ‘untidy, dreadful table’, the cigarette-scarred desk Graham wrote at, which the SPL owns. Sinclair ran his fingers over its pock-marked surface as if it was a form of braille, or perhaps grail. The poetry he values is poetry that disrupts – language, narrative, and, in more mystic mode, time and space.
Sinclair also attracted a full house – it’s been over six years since he last read in Scotland – who enjoyed excerpts of poetry and a preview of his soon-to-be published prose work The Last London (Oneworld). He was interviewed by our events manager, Kirsten Norrie, also known as the poet, musician and performance artist MacGillivray, who made a cameo in Sinclair’s previous book, London Overground, and is in The Last London too, as we heard in a passage he read. It’s not often authors are interviewed on stage by one of their characters.
Two nights, two poets, two differing visions of poetry. One poetry library.
For further details of events held at the SPL, check the SPL’s event calendar: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/connect/events