Celebrating 45 years of Enitharmon Press – An evening with Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Helen Dunmore, Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney.
“We know we have to fight for small poetry presses; this is a world in which we have to fight for everything we hold dear – including the NHS”, said Helen Dunmore to rapturous applause in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in three hours of powerful poetry readings about both political and personal issues. On the evening of World Poetry Day, an illustrious group of poets – Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Helen Dunmore, Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney – gathered to celebrate Enitharmon Press’s 45th anniversary, Enitharmon the name that William Blake gave to a character representing spiritual beauty and the inspiration of the poet.
“As poets we are always echoing each other, so it is very good to read together on the stage”, said Dunmore, in a haunting selection of poems, including one commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, about forcing women to become property, inspired by Browning’s Last Duchess. ‘I owned a woman once’ is a recurring phrase, darkening with the sinister line: ‘Sometimes I had to punish her’. Poignant poems about being haunted by lost loved ones infiltrated the evening, which was also haunted by the ghost of literary influences, from TS Eliot to Michael Donaghy. It was not only literary but musical influences which filtered through the readings. “Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?” asked Simon Armitage, a line from The Buzzcocks, in a selection of poems by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.
“We should not take poetry for granted in these fickle times”, asserted Michael Longley, who read moving war poetry inspired by the death of his soldier father when he was barely twenty. Bereavement was a theme that had opened the evening, with Carol Ann Duffy reading a chillingly beautiful poem about the death of her mother, the recurring world “cold” particularly striking after the first warm day of Spring this year.
Seamus Heaney read poems packed full of literary and natural imagery, from Troilus and Criseyde to a submerged reference about Orpheus losing what he loves when he looks back, to the lovely lingering image of a peacock’s feather. The evening wound to a close with a marvellous rendition of his poem ‘Quitting Time’ from the anthology ‘District and Circle’, and with the uplifting image of a kite soaring skywards. The three hours of delightful poetry reinforced that it is definitely something worth fighting to keep alive.
William Blake dreamed up the original Enitharmon as one of his inspiring, good, female daemons, and his own spirit as a poet-artist, printer-publisher still lives in the press which bears the name of his creation. Enitharmon is a rare and wonderful phenomenon, a press where books are shaped into artefacts of lovely handiwork as well as communicators of words and worlds. The writers and the artists published here over the last forty years represent a truly historic gathering of individuals with an original vision and an original voice, but the energy is not retrospective: it is growing and new ideas enrich the list year by year. Like an ecologist who manages to restock the meadows with a nearly vanished species of wild flower or brings a rare pair of birds back to found a colony, this publisher has dedicatedly and brilliantly made a success of that sharply endangered species, the independent press.’Marina Warner