Planning a poetry event in the north west of England was never going to be easy. It is a sad fact that London has the monopoly on poetry events in the UK, and those of us who organise, with all good intentions, events outside the capital have to find ourselves against various tides of resistance. These rage from the financial, (i.e. can people afford to come and socialise on a Wednesday night?) to the practical (does everybody work on a Wednesday night?) to the geographical (do people know where we are?) and the downright vainglorious/paranoia shifts that occur within the mind of the performing poet (they will all come to see me. What if nobody comes to see me ?)
In London, the latter is rarely a problem. You could hold a poetry gathering at 3am and still pull a crowd of 20, easily. But elsewhere, attendance is an issue. Now. There’s “elsewhere” and, there’s Liverpool. Erbacce press is very much a Liverpool press, with editor and poet Andrew Taylor born and bred here, setting up loft space as a makeshift office here (lovingly known as Erbacce HQ) and hooking up with other poets in cafes, coffee shops and galleries across Liverpool to discuss publication and poetics. He lives and breathes the Port of Liverpool.
Unfortunately, the Port of Liverpool does not live and breathe the poetry scene of 2012. It is a vibrant arts city. It is also huge on its musical heritage. But sadly, the poetry scene is very stuck in the 1960’s. There is a prevailing attitude of “if it’s not like Roger McGough, it’s not proper poetry.” I mean this as no disrespect to McGough. But we need to reach out further in our outlook. There is also the problem of factionalism. I suppose this is because we are, in size, in spite of our historical prominence, a very small city. It may be internationally famous, but it has a village mentality in several respects. The poetry scene suffers for this. There seems to be a very set way of going about being a poet and anybody who deviates from this mould tends to either be regarded with suspicion or ignored.
So, for other poets, it’s no surprise that for conversation, inspiration and some kind of poetry happening, we look to the next city, Manchester. There is a very encouraging reception for experimental poetry here. By experimental, I do not just refer to that which is visually innovative, but also that which tackles issues that mainstream poetry is failing to address. Feminism, class issues, LGBT life, and falling in love not through couplet constraints and dictionary dictum, but truly madly obsessively, sprawled over and out of the page to the point where the words may and well get up and walk. There is plenty of this in Manchester.
Through Manchester, I also had the pleasure of welcoming Jo Langton into my life. Jo is a Manchester based visual poet, a talented artist who had her chapbook, [fill the silence] published by erbacce six months before I had my own. We both agreed that it was time for ourselves to become more involved in the community by hosting our own event, and also to give Andrew a chance to promote erbacce to those who may have been new to the press down the motorway.
The name From Liverpool With Love was chosen as a pastiche on the gig, From Manchester With Love, at which the bands The Smiths, The Fall and New Order played a gig in Liverpool, which Andrew was luckily enough to attend in 1986 (I was a child, Jo wasn’t even born!) We thought it would be good to give something back in the spirit of appreciation through poetic action. Jo set to designing the poster, a glorious mix of pink, red, a heartbeat, a pulse, our names, psychogeographics, all on the one flyer.
We chose a venue that was somewhat new. We wanted something different from Manchester’s usual factory set-up (much as I personally love this) as what we really hoped was to attract new faces. So the Thomas Bar, with its Parisian lighting, red sofas and vanilla scented room seemed just perfect for us. It was cosy and welcoming, but at the same time, deliciously modern. It felt of another age, and yet just ripe for now. Not to mention blackberry gin cocktails that set this particular poet up most pleasantly for a fun evening. Bliss.
Anxiety reigned for most of the day as to whether anybody would show up. By the time the actual day arrived, Jo and I were banking on ten at the most. When we got past this number, then we got excited. People were actually interested. And not just being polite, received each poet warmly, enthusiastically and with great levels of spirit and interaction.
What pleased us so much was that the diversity of the line up reflected that of the audience. Ursula Hurley was first to read, with a collage of loss, the city, of flowers and words to lift colour off the page and into the crowd. Angela Keaton then read an audience participation piece that invited the crowd to mimic a tide, with the room divided into a repetition of “let me in, let, me out.”
We then had Jo Langton with acerbic words on relationships, sex and the magazine aesthetic our real lives can reflect all too often, myself (feminism, shoes, feminism, Liverpool) and then Andrew Taylor, wrapping the evening up in a beautiful piece of poetics. Complete with Nico, the city and the longing for a home within ourselves wherever we find our physical presence, in this case, the other city, Manchester, glittering, glorious and generous in all its red brick winding arms and tangled tights roads. It was wonderful and worthy of poetry in itself. It was the perfect example of how if the work is put in, a poetry happening outside London is possible, it just needs, like any flourishing plant, the right amount of love and care. Erbacce comes from the Italian for weed. We hope that through the night, buds appeared through the cracks of the motorway debris.
From Liverpool With Love, Poetry Event for erbacce press, The Thomas Bar, Manchester, 10th October 2012.