“Keep your mind on a short leash.”
“She’d like to change the world, but the world won’t let her.”
“Empathy – that’s a consumer tool.”
Poets Oli Hazzard, Jane Yeh and Caroline Bird read lines such as these from at Dulwich Books‘ Carcanet Poetry Night on Wednesday, 6 March. A myriad crowd of young hipsters and seasoned literateurs, or people “almost obnoxiously well acquainted with literature” according to Dulwich Books, hung on the poets’ every word as they recited from recently published collections. The event was part of Dulwich Books’ Spring Voices series, a set of six events in March celebrating all things literary and cultural.
The word “carcanet” comes from the French word “carcan,” meaning an ornamental necklace or chain. However, the Carcanet Poetry Night refers to Carcanet Press, a publisher of poetry collections. Each poet who read at the event has published a book through Carcanet Press, and some of them read from collections not yet printed.
The night’s theme seemed to be humorous poetry. Oli Hazzard read poetry from his first collection, Between Two Windows (Carcanet Press, £8.96), and the audience chortled throughout. His humble delivery only served to make his poems more hilarious – poems such as “The Inability to Recall the Precise Word for Something,” which consisted of definitions of abnormal words, and “Are We Not Drawn Onward, We Few, Drawn Onward to New Era?” which consisted of palindromes (starting with the title) . His ludic wordplay had the audience laughing, whispering to each other and murmuring joyfully.
Jane Yeh read next. Before each poem, she paused to explain references made in each poem, such as to the American chain “Red Lobster.” She also explained her inspiration for each poem; one was conceived while she was watching an episode of Star Trek, while another after looking at a Manet painting. She made eye contact with the audience and read slowly, pausing for laughs. Her readings from a collection called The Ninjas(Carcanet Press, £8.96) provoked many giggles. One poem was in the voice of an android, another explained what the world would be like when robots took over (“they use our grammar to mock us”), while another focused on a happy morning, in which a “pigeon molested my bird-feeding contraption.”
Caroline Bird ended the show. She performed most of her poems instead of reciting them. Many were from her most recent collection, The Hat-Stand Union Carcanet Press, £8.96). She communicated with the audience as if she were communicating with a friend. She spoke of an invention to help relationships – “Mystery Tears” – bought from China which made you cry at random intervals during the day. She spoke of tragedies inspired by Edith Piaf, in which someone cried, “I need someone to save me.” And she said, “I did. What any sensible person would have done. I did what any sensible person would have done,” leaving a chilly feeling in the air. She listed “9 Possible Reasons to Throw a Cat into a Wheely Bin” (one of which was: “the cat was planning to steal your husband”) and she encompassed the concept of madness, or going back to the same thing and expecting different results, in a poem about a woman returning to the same dry well day after day, hoping against hope that the well would be watery.
The poets started early at their craft. Caroline Bird won an award at 13, and published her first book at 15. Jane Yeh was 15 when she started writing poetry, because she was “an angsty teenager.” Oli Hazzard, born in Bristol, studied English at several universities and is currently studying John Ashbery’s poetry at University of Oxford.
When asked why they write poetry, Caroline Bird and Jane Yeh balked at the difficult question. Eventually, they answered.
“I like creating miniature worlds,” said Yeh. “They’re sort of based on reality, but really unlimited.”
“I write because… Well, it’s like being sick. You don’t want to, you have to,” said Caroline Bird.
All poets were glad to have the opportunity to do a reading at Dulwich Books for what they thought was quite a large audience for a poetry reading. Culture seems to be alive and well in Dulwich!
Buy these poets’ collections at Dulwich Books, 6 Croxted Road, Dulwich, to read more of their excellent poetry. To contact the bookstore, call 020 8670 1920 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.