The Humber Mouth - Hull Literature Festival 2000 - Thursday 9th November - Sunday 19th November 2000
Critical Eye

Wednesday 1st November - 8.00pm Festival Preview Sailmaker's Arms Pub, High Street.
Critical Eye East Meets West
Lisa Glatt, David Hernandez, Greta Stoddart, Ian Parks
Sailmaker's Arms 8pm 1/11/2000

Organized by the local Wrecking Ball Press, this was one of the more engaging poetry readings to take place in Hull in recent years.

East meets West

Pairing two West Coast writers from the States with two lesser-known poets from the U.K., the event presented a number of contrasts. As one might expect, the easy, almost conversational reading style of Hernandez and Glatt (US) made a refreshing change from the rather portentous style which some UK writers sometimes employ. Both writers read in a bold and direct manner, well suited to the content of their work, and reminiscent of Fred Voss, another West Coast writer who will be familiar to the Hull audience.

The Brits, Parks and Stoddart, sounded less confident, although managed to hold the attention of the audience without difficulty. Stoddart was without doubt the strongest of the four writers, and has a collection forthcoming from Anvil Press. Already the recipient of several prizes and awards, Stoddart would seem to be a name to watch out for. Discussing the lack of 'goosebump' moments in her work, Stoddart said her aim was for poetry which worked its effects over time in the mind of the reader, and this she often achieves. Particularly strong poems are 'The Setter', about the taxidermy shop Get Stuffed, and 'The Cradle'. Several members of the audience commented on the depth and thoughtfulness of what they'd heard, and if there was any criticism it was that she needs a greater range, a more varied texture. However, in such a short set it is hard to know whether this comment is justified and I await her first collection with interest.

Stoddart began her set with the observation that both the UK writers described themselves as 'elegiac' in the programme notes, in contrast to the Americans who both stressed the humour, accessibility, and imaginative qualities of their work. These differences were very striking. Parks and Stoddart presented a poetry of loss, and both seemed to strive for a European sense of identity, although there was definitely a sense of this being an old Europe - mentions of old wars, past divisions - rather than anything recognizably contemporary. This might have contributed to the feeling of lack of texture mentioned above, and it may have been unwise to place the two side by side in the reading.

The work of Ian Parks will be familiar to many in Hull, Parks having read here frequently, most recently at the Polar Bear pub on Spring Bank. Familiarity makes it difficult to compare his performance with writers who are so new to the Hull scene. On the page, Parks' work can be seductive, but I am still unnerved by his reading style which contrasts a highly camp delivery with tales of (heterosexual) sexual prowess. This contradiction works to hold one's attention, but it is striking how differently his poems read on the page. I have no idea whether Parks is working deliberately to suggest an alternative reading, but if so it would be valuable to have his thoughts on this aspect of his writing and presentation.

The instant accessibility of the work of Hernandez and Glatt was achieved through the vernacular style typical of West Coast writers. There was much which was dazzling in the presentation - an easy and unembarrassed intimacy with the audience, and an immediacy of expression in the poems and in the chat between pieces. This is work which is capable of widening the appeal of poetry readings. At their strongest, Hernandez and Glatt demonstrate that poetry is to be found in everyday experience, in ordinary lives. Their shared focus on relationships, family, sex and work (i.e. a focus on universals) again presented a strong contrast to Parks and Stoddart who tend to write from the perspective of individual estrangement.

Having said that, one of Glatt's most successful pieces was a very short and quirky prose item about epilepsy, masturbation, and the 'curative powers of the orgasm'. Stylistically, this piece, 'Spas', justified the description of Glatt as 'a female Bukowski'. If her work elsewhere occasionally sounded a little too off-the-cuff, this was the piece which both surprised and startled. Likewise, Hernandez delivered sometimes arresting images such as his description of drawing as 'letting my hand see what my eye touches', and in his compelling invitation to 'make a trip to the waking world'.

Wrecking Ball Press is to be congratulated for bring these writers to the Humber Mouth. The Sailmaker's Arms proved to be a good choice of venue and one which has not been used before for readings in Hull. Easy to get to and with a comfortable bar, the upstairs function room seemed ideal for this kind of event. Wrecking Ball have a further event at Waterstones on 16th November with the launch of Jules Smith's study of Charles Bukowski 'Art, Survival, and So Forth'.

Wrecking Ball Press -

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Maggie Hannan is the festival's resident web site critic.
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