From the pop poetry of the Mersey Scene, to the political dub-poetry of Levi Tafari, Liverpool’s always been a lyrical city. And where else could host the Dead Good Poets Society but here?
With his first collection (Steak and Stations, pub Penned in the Margins) published this week, Michael Egan’s poetry documents a city in transition, of urban existence set against ancient myth, where ordered lives are pitted against the chaos and confusion of the everyday. Together with local poets Nathan Jones and Chris McCabe, Egan’s hosting a poetry reading night next Tuesday at the Fly in the Loaf.
How healthy is the poetry scene in Liverpool these days?
There’s a strong poetry scene in Liverpool but it’s not as exciting and as forward thinking as it could be. To me it doesn’t match up to other cities like Manchester, Edinburgh, London and even Norwich.
There are plenty of amateur open-mic nights like the Dead Good Poets that are really valuable to nurturing an interest in poetry but there is nothing that is showcasing contemporary poetry regularly or asking questions about where poetry is heading, and I think that’s what Liverpool is crying out for.
Recently the Cooperative put on a couple of nights at the Old Rapid Paint shop and brought poets and poetry groups like Stop Sharpening Your Knives to the city but these nights aren’t planned to continue.
There are nights in Manchester like The Other Room that bring poets in, three at a time, and try to promote the more modernist, avant-garde poetry scene and they’re really interesting. Then in London you have the more popular poetry of Aisle 16 (who performed at The Cooperative), Homework and the nights my publisher Penned in the Margins puts on regularly.
Liverpool needs a scene that is thriving, vibrant and challenging but one that also pushes poetry into the minds of people who wouldn’t normally go to poetry nights, a mix between the underground and the over-ground, the avant-garde and the popular.
That’s my challenge for the new year. I’m starting a poetry night with two other Liverpool poets, Eleanor Rees and Chris McCabe, called Gutter/Wall. We’re hopefully going to invite poets to read and mix up the poets we get by inviting an established poet, a local poet and a young poet. We’re also going to focus on themes and ideas such as performance poetry, nature poetry, political poetry, poetry with an awareness of form.
Hopefully Gutter/Wall will do what I’m complaining is lacking in the city and put Liverpool up there amongst the other places that come to mind when I think about cities that are cutting edge and exciting in poetry.
Do you think there’s enough events/venues showcasing the written word in the city?
There is a good number of events out there. The Dead Good Poets, The Egg, Mello Mello are all doing really well attracting the open mic crowd. Then there are places like the Bluecoat who are always doing something whether that be a poetry reading or a visiting fiction writer. Philosophy in Pubs has its Literature in Pubs wing and has also started a Creative Writing group called Scrips. Further afield Edge Hill University puts poets on at the Rose Theatre – I recently saw Jerome Rothenberg there, a night that was an amazing, probably once in a lifetime poetry experience.
Mercy are doing excellent stuff like their E-zine and Audio Guide. People are trying to showcase literature but to me there is a gap in that for poetry to get a firm foothold. You also have a lot of pubs, bars and galleries that are willing to act as venues for the written word.
I’ve always found Liverpool’s venues to be very receptive to helping out with poetry nights. As a poet it’s good to get out there and mix with other poets because the life of a poet, unless I suppose you’re a tutor or Carol Ann Duffy, can be pretty solitary.
Tell us about your new collection – a call to arms? A commentary on the city they grew out of?
I think they’re definitely poems about now, about the city (Liverpool mostly) and about how we live now amongst a groping urban backdrop, but still have an awareness of nature, maybe I’m suggesting some kind of blurring of these boundaries. Animals feature heavily, dead foxes, domestic cats and so do mythologies such as the Grail (but this Grail is abandoned outside the Oxfam on Bold Street). I get my influences from different sources but mainly they come from travelling around the city by bus or train or simply walking. I’d like to think there’s a strong feel of Liverpool in there and maybe some resonance with the times we’re living in, some kind of disenchantment or taking the everyday and make it uncanny, more than it is.
Narrative is something that I see as central to my poems. Though they appear disjointed and fragmented on the page they are all interested in a story or an idea. The book is split into four sections, the first of which ‘Steak’ is heavily dependent on narrative and the poems almost read, to me, as fast paced and broken up short stories, they may wander from the theme but they come back to that by the poem’s end.
I think that’s how I write, to find a connection from one idea to others. The third section is called ‘Station Stop’ and they are in a form I came up with called Motivism which sort of reflects my writing process by focusing and refocusing. I see Motivism as someone sitting on a train looking out at a view then becoming distracted by the ticket collector or the voices of passengers and then returning to the fast moving view beyond the window, whether that be urban or rural.
I’ve just completed a pamphlet in the form called After Stikklestad that will be published by the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2011. I think the overall theme of Steak & Stations is that of poetry attempting to interact with the narrative of now.
What can we expect on launch night?
The Liverpool launch should be pretty good. I’ll be reading from my book but there will also be Chris McCabe reading and (ex Bluecoat poet-in-residence) Nathan Jones. All three of us offer something different, me with my narrative sensibility, Chris with his experimental and political awareness and Nathan’s more lyrical and performance based pieces.
Your favourite poets/poems?
My reading is quite varied and I tend to pick at different forms and styles. I really like Tom Raworth and Christopher Middleton. I’ve always read poets like Ezra Poud, WH Auden and Ted Hughes. I think I pick up influences through Pound’s minimalism, Auden’s interaction with ideas and mythologies and Hughes’ sense of nature and grittiness.
I’ve always liked the Movement poets but I think my poetry has always been more influenced by Modernists. I’ve also been reading and re-reading a book of sonnets by a long dead Italian poet called Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, a poet who wrote visceral almost grotesque poems in the Roman dialect. There’s actually a homage to him in my book called ‘I’ve had a belli full’.
Poets that I like at the moment would be James Brookes, Adam O’Riordan, Jack Underwood and Joe Dunthorne. Some of the newer younger poets who are quite unlike my stuff and might be said to be more part of the mainstream where as my own style and visual form is more abstract and disjointed.
My favourite poem is Christopher Middleton’s The Dead Friends –
Who can they have been
In that red car
Going by, so fast, waving
And with a hello so loud
It still hangs in the wind,
Still it softly rings
The compound of my thought?
There’s also one I like by a German poet called Inge Muller called Under the Rubble III
When I went to fetch water
The house collapsed on top of me
We supported the house
The abandoned dog and me.
Don’t ask me how we did it
I don’t remember.
Ask the dog.
Steak and Stations, 7 December, 7.30pm
The Fly in the Loaf, Hardman Street
Steak and Stations, £8.
Penned in the Margins