I thought I wanted to start this in a really cheesy way. You know, the old ‘guess who’s back, back again’ thing. Then I remembered I was blogging on behalf of a proper like serious establishment (don’t get upset about my colloquial language peeps; it’s poetic). You may, (and yet are unlikely too) remember me blogging during this year’s London Literature Festival. I love Southbank Centre – that’s Southbank Centre and not The Southbank Centre because that would just be wrong – so blogging for this year Poetry International Festival is an honour.
And so to business. On Monday, I went to see Philip Gross with Simon Armitage. I will openly admit now, that I had never heard of Philip Gross. I know it’s like suicide, I know it’s like I’ve let a bomb go off, but if nothing else it’s the truth. It was my deep rooted affection for Armitage’s work, cemented in me from the age of 15 when I first encountered Hitcher in my GCSE AQA Anthology that drew me to the event. So, I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect. So, he’d won the TS Eliot Prize last year, so what? I’ve learnt better than to judge any artistic person on the prizes they win. I’m not saying that prizes are not significantly important, and as he pointed out significant for the writer’s self-satisfaction. I just believe that you’re only as good as people feel you are. Getting prizes for this therefore seems peripheral. Anyway, away from this tangent…
…Yet, when I sat down and heard that the theme for that night’s event was Landscape and Place, I found myself suppressing an inward groan. I could not imagine, even with my limited knowledge, how anyone possibly could have an original approach to such clearly concrete themes? Yet, as I listened to him read his work, I began to realise that his approach invites these aforementioned concrete ideas for the abstract concepts to stand tall and proud on. It was all very clever. No, it was far more than clever, it was natural, ‘So little thinking of its own beauty’.
He talked endearingly but briefly of his father and their relationship, and the Estonian tradition of ‘not saying’ which he saw as an endowment in some ways. This was evident in his work, which I liked. In fact, there was something about his whole manner which held the unassuming air of ‘not saying’. I only wish I could find the poem which he chose not to read. This silent anticipation is what I believe kept us all gripped throughout the event, despite the themes first appearing highly dull.
One of the last things he said, ‘I don’t think you can teach anybody to be a great writer’ left me in an inner struggle. Perhaps, he’s right. I’ve often felt this is the case. However, does that exclude poets who write poetry, terrible or not, from being considered as real poets? It’s a thought-provoking quote, and one I will chew on for the rest of the festival, for your pleasure.
Philip Gross read from The Water Table, I Spy Pinhole Eye and Off Road To Everywhere and the event was hosted by Simon Armitage, a Southbank Centre Artist in Residence.
I must say(I really must) I found the event highly inspirational, and wished I had know about Philip Gross long before so I would have know what to ask when it came to the Q&A. Only the typical student poverty which currently plagues me stopped me from buying at least one of his books. Out of the night came this strange little piece. Now I’ve set myself a challenge – I intend to put this poem and any poem I write inspired by the festival in a strange place in SBC by the end of this festival. I’m not sure what place yet, but you will see soon. In the meantime, enjoy:
What a state?