I'm glad I made it through to Edinburgh for the Allen Ginsberg event, it was certainly an interesting night with a wide range of poets reading. We read in the chronological order of how our poems appear the lovely Starry Rhymes chapbook launched at the event and as my poem is the first one in the chapbook I was first up to read. A bit unnerving but also good to get it out of the way which meant I was able to focus on all of the other readings. Poets came from as far as Dublin and Manchester to read and it was a right mix of readings. I think I was lucky to get one of Ginsberg's earlier poems to respond to, I think I would have struggled to get a foothold in his more prominant and political poems. Each of us read the Ginsberg poem we were assigned followed by our own response poem. Some of my favourite readings of the night were Ryan Van Winkle's reading of America and Colin McGuire's reading of Howl part II.
This is the Allen Ginsberg poem I wrote a response to:
The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour
Two bricklayers are setting the walls
of a cellar in a new dug out patch
of dirt behind an old house of wood
with brown gables grown over with ivy
on a shady street in Denver. It is noon
and one of them wanders off. The young
subordinate bricklayer sits idly for
a few minutes after eating a sandwich
and throwing away the paper bag. He
has on dungarees and is bare above
the waist; he has yellow hair and wears
a smudged but still bright red cap
on his head. He sits idly on top
of the wall on a ladder that is leaned
up between his spread thighs, his head
bent down, gazing uninterestedly at
the paper bag on the grass. He draws
his hand across his breast, and then
slowly rubs his knuckles across the
side of his chin, and rocks to and fro
on the wall. A small cat walks to him
along the top of the wall. He picks
it up, takes off his cap, and puts it
over the kitten’s body for a moment.
Meanwhile it is darkening as if to rain
and the wind on top of the trees in the
street comes through almost harshly.
I enjoyed the poem when I first read it but now I've really come to love it. I found it challenging to read at the event, so different from reading my own work and quite unnatural in that sense. I deliberately didn't listen to any recordings of Ginsberg reading his poems, I decided the best way I could read was by making it mine and so I read it aloud until it became perhaps not quite natural to me but certainly a lot less strange and the more I read it the more I naturally emphasised the beats and the rhymes that gave it a rhythm I could comfortably read with.
When it came to writing my response poem I spent a lot of time reading the Ginsberg poem backwards to disassociate myself from the narrative and the familiarity of the poem and focus instead on the words themselves and imagery. It quickly became clear to me that the key point in the poem that was going to spark a poem in me was the narrative between the kitten and the bricklayer and the tension of the threatening rain and wind. So my poem is called "The Kitten and the Bricklayer's Cap'! I initially attempted to write a fatrasie, the form I learned from Claire Crowther's fantastic workshop at Stanza this year. I've kept the spirit of the fatrasie in the poem but couldn't contain it within eleven lines however I did use an introductory couplet which combines the first and last lines of the poem, a part of the fatras form that I really enjoy working with.
So it was a very enjoyable evening and now only two weeks until my pamphlet launch!