Michael McCarthy and Emma McGordon

The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Gransmere –  05/12/09

Reviewed by Carla Scarano

Driving along the A 591 from Kendal to Keswick I was aware I was getting late for the poetry reading of Michael McCarthy and Emma McGordon at the Wordsworth Trust, Gransmere. The villages of Windermere and Ambleside passed slowly already lit by Christmas decorations, their shops tempting.

I found no traces of floods and no diversions, but a beanstalk sky-high rainbow interrupted the road, its bright colours glistening. I had to pass through it feeling lucky, was I entering a magic world? The road wound alongside the lake, the ochre and burnt sienna of the undergrowth struck me while I was getting closer to Dove cottage.

When I arrived Michael McCarthy had just started reading from his last collection, At the Races, which won the Poetry Business Competition 2008/09, judged by Michael Longley. His verses led me into a humble world regulated by seasons and family routines. The Irish countryside where the fields teach how to read and the religious items in the house how to pray. A simple honest life devoted to work in the family farm and dreams stopped by a slap of the teacher or ‘a yellow hammer’ flying out ‘of a furze bush’. Everyday events are enriched by place-names evoking an intense love for Ireland and by detailed descriptions of animals and plants. Parallels between the ordinary life of ordinary people and big events like Bobby Kennedy’s death and Patrice Lumumba’s assassination give us the right unpretentious slant.

At the Races is published by Smith/Doorstop Books, one of the independent publishers advertised by Inpress (www.inpressbook.co.uk) , the sales and marketing agency which organized the poetry event together with the Wordsworth Trust.

After a break in a cosy round room with tea, coffee and the opportunity of a quick chat with the poets we went back to the library to listen to Emma McGordon’s poetry.

I had met her book, Those who Jump, published by Tall-lighthouse, at an Apples and Snakes event at the Litfest in Lancaster last year and at the Brewery in Kendal, where she gave a moving reading intermixed with music. From her own experience with homeless people Emma started with a monologue in the voice of a young homeless guy with no place to go, no bed to sleep in because nothing belongs to him and nowhere is for him. I felt glad I could also listen to her new poem Being in love is like wearing a jacket you found in a charity shop, witty and romantic as usual. A sincere report of passionate feelings but also a final acceptance of life as it is, with its different opportunities.

She also read two poems from Those who Jump, which I strongly recommend to those who haven’t read it yet. Truly inspired, fresh, committed poems, with vivid images of a profoundly experienced life.

The final chat was with Peter Sansom, Poetry Business and editor of The North magazine, Les Robinson, Tall-lighthouse, Emma, Michael and the audience. Different aspects of small press came out: its fierce independence, the opportunity to get known for a wide range of poets, the accessibility of pamphlets and the importance of the homogeneity between the cover and the inside, which prizes Tall-lighthouse for the impressive black and carmine cover with a personalized picture.

As Michael McCarthy had said during his reading I left the event with a general ‘sense of nourishment’ and some good poems to read over.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Carla Scarano,

    I came across this by accident while googling, and am touched to find my poems reverenced in this way.

    The experience at Grasmere was a special one for me.

    Thank you

    Michael Mc Carthy

  2. michael mccarthys poem The Scarf..its a great poem , I read it at my creative writing class two weeks ago . Michael is clever at making the ordinaty , everyday stuff come alive .

    thank you to my teacher Joan Johnston for introducing me to this mans work

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