Michael Glover on the unpredictable world of performance poetry
So it was this week in London. In the basement of the Troubadour coffee house in the Old Brompton Road, Iranian-born Mimi Khalvati was reading from her new book, Mirrorwork. It was a traditional Persian evening of poetry mingled with the music of the santoor. "This is how you would have heard poetry on the radio before the revolution," said an Iranian friend of the poet's. "The mullahs don't have much time for music."
Trained as an actress, Khalvati delivers her poetry - especially the poems of love and its various disenchantments - with a rash gaiety, a humorous impertinence and a dab or two of playful mischief. And beneath it all ran the santoor, an instrument that has a distant cousin in the hammer dulcimer and gives the words a touch of ceremoniousness that seemed at first surprising and then, a little later, entirely appropriate.
Over in Faber's penthouse in Bloomsbury, traditionally a good place to talent-spot, three poets were launching new books. The most substantial was undoubtedly Maurice Riordan from County Cork - further proof (if any were needed) that the Irish continue to have a damnably winning way with words. There are half a dozen poems in his book The Word from the Loki that tolerate reading and re-reading - for their music, their narrative drive, and almost anything else that might distinguish a good poem from a bad one. Riordan's is a quiet, insinuating voice, with a measured delivery, that never strains after its effects, but lets the words speak for themselves. And every one is worth savouring.
Katherine Pierpoint, meanwhile, launching her first book, Truffle Beds, told us with undue modesty that there was little to be said about a bean - and then managed to string out "The Dreaming Bean" over 29 lines. Her poetry has great descriptive strengths, but she caresses her words a little too much in the reading. She doesn't need to remind us of what marvels she has brought to birth.
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