An evening of poetry with Brian Patten and Roger McGough

The Crypt (below the Catholic Cathedral)
Friday 15 April

Reviewed by Sue Hunter

This event could have been a serious, even solemn occasion, given the setting of the Crypt, and the large corporate banner on stage naming sponsors of the Capital of Culture, but the poets set an informal, playful tone from the start.

It began with a counselling session for Brian Patten for his long-term addiction - to Poetry. He had tried its many forms and enjoyed them all, (except iambic pentameters which made him sick).

He then read from his "Armada" collection, starting with his childhood, and involving the audience in shouting key lines. The mood changed from funny to poignant, from sad to bleak. "Echoes" portrayed his grandmother: "The bomb-crushed legs, the bolted bones, / The hands that scrape like talons on the stairs, / The damned-up pain, the hate, the grief; / The soul crushed by iron callipers." "Cinders" is about his mother: "You never went to a ball, ever./ In all your years sweeping kitchens/ No fairy godmother appeared, never."

The date of this event was the sixteenth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, and after the interval, the poets jointly read a moving poem commemorating the tragedy, written by Adrian Henri, their friend and fellow poet, who died in 2000.

Then Roger McGough (wearing his Teddy Boy outfit) performed poetry from "Defying Gravity" and other collections. "Squaring up" described his father's attempts to teach him boxing "When I was thirteen and crimping my first quiff"."But I knew my limitations from the start: / Myopia, cowardice and the will to come second."Eventually "Mum threw in the towel and I quit the ring."

Like Brian Patten he spoke of his Liverpool childhood and family and consciousness of class. Roger McGough's father was a docker and in "The Railings" he describes his Dad's reticence yet pride at school events, watching from a private distance: "You would find yourself there by accident. / Just passing. Spotted me through the railings."

These two are long-established and well-known Liverpool poets, but they showed they have kept their down-to-earthness, friendliness and warmth for this city and its people.

The occasion was packed and there was much buying and signing of books at the end.

Also see Darren Guy's excellent interview with Brian on this website or in Nerve, Issue 5.

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