Monday 14 April 2014

Happenstance at the Torriano

At about 3pm on Apr 13th, my DIY/family circumstances clarified so somewhat unexpectedly off I went to the Happenstance extravaganza in London. The excitement began at the station where I had my first chance to use double-decker bicycle-parking.

On the journey I prepared for my 2 minute slot, following the brief that Helena Nelson, the Happenstance editor, had provided. How had publication changed me? I don't feel my self-image has changed much, but other people treat me differently. Of course, I have problems with people who think that my poetry's all true, consoling me regarding all the tragic events I've experienced. No less surprizingly there are people who think the poetry voice of the pamphlet selection is my only poetry voice. I was going to say that the thing I hadn't realised prior to publication was that a Happenstance poet's success depends in part on the success of fellow poets. We're all in it together - a brand. I decided to read In the soul's darkroom, one of the 5 poems I'd reprint if I published a book. In my intro to it I was going to say "I'd normally explain first what a darkroom is, but given the age of the audience maybe I don't need to".

The non-stop train soon arrived at platform 0 of King's Cross. I was early, so I walked along Regent's canal and read about Daubenton's bat before drifting north. In a window I saw this sign for writers and artists. It took me a while to work out what "rapers" meant in the third line ("ranters, rapers, poets and storytellers"). And it ends with "Do not forget: Everyone can be creative!". I wouldn't like to be running those meetings.

The Torriano venue was locked when I arrived, so I found a nearby bench and wrote a piece of short prose à la Lydia Davis. That's a dozen or so in the last few weeks. When I walked back I found Nell in Torriano Avenue. We'd both heard of the venue before, though we'd never visited. I'm glad I got there early because soon people were standing.

Nell's meticulous plan was that 20 or so poets would read in order of publication and she'd interpolate the history of the press. 9 years of history compressed into 90 minutes or so. I thought it would overrun hopelessly - not the first time my predictions had turned out wrong. When, years ago, she'd first mentioned to me the idea of starting a press, I'd not given the project much of a chance (see my article about happenstance). After all, everyone knows that poetry publishing's a mug's game. When D.A. Prince read she said that she'd anticipated problems too when Nell first mentioned to her the idea of starting a press. As Nell said, there were problems, but the show goes on.

Poet after poet (some from North Norfolk or Scotland, one from Spain) took the stage, many of whom I knew by name though not by appearance (for example, I'd never seen Michael Mackmin before). I knew Peter Daniels though (see the photo). Many poets mentioned the quality of Nell's editing (even if there were some "comma-wars") and how skillfully she'd managed to foster camaraderie. It's true - it's almost a USP. Several poets said how much publication had transformed their outlook.

A few minutes before I was due on I changed my mind about what to say and perform. In the end I read Touch, a poem I wouldn't reprint. And then I sold a book! Afterwards I dashed for the train, only to discover it had been delayed. It was a good day.

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