RADICAL POETS AT THE UEA POETRY FESTIVAL

by Fern Richards

Over the past couple of years, the UEA Poetics Project has been doing the important job of sneaking radical poets into the institution without much fanfare. The Norwich Radical featured an article by Linda Russo fairly recently – one of the readers at the last Poetics Project event – but apart from that, not a huge amount has been written about these readings. As a fan of radical poetry, political poetry, anti-establishment poetry, I thought it might be worth giving a small preview of the second UEA Poetry Festival, or at least its featured readers, Sandeep Parmar and Sean Bonney.

Of the two, Sandeep Parmar is probably the closer to a household name, having written articles for the Guardian and – more recently – the LA Review of Books. Her article ‘Not a British Subject: Race and Poetry in the UK’ is a detailed and scathing account of how British poetry’s race problem has manifested itself in an overarching poetic whiteness, “a largely monochromatic, monolingual expression of sameness”, which keeps culture and poetry stagnant:

“A mostly white poetic establishment prevails over a patronizing culture that presents minority poets as exceptional cases — to be held at arm’s length like colonial curiosities in an otherwise uninterrupted tradition extending back through a pure and rarefied language.”

Parmar’s own poetry is experimental and radical, particularly in its form. It is also better read in its entirety rather than in snippets, but here is a bit I like, to give you an idea:

On the verso, written in ink, is a page from Box 1, folder 8

[misplaced]

I remember clearly when I knew that I would one day die.

I was on the toilet and I was 11.

The bathroom was white and oblivious.

                    (from Archive for a Daughter)

Sean Bonney, on the other hand, is not so much ‘well-known’ as he is notorious. I have two lines of his seared into my brain, though I often misquote them slightly:

When you meet a Tory in the street, cut his throat

It will bring out the best in you…

(from After Rimbaud)

Bonney read at another Poetics Project event in February 2014. I had seen his poems written down before but it was an entirely different experience being on the receiving end of his full-force barrage delivery. He’s a great showman; after that last reading, people left uplifted with radical anger. We were still in the wake of the Margaret Thatcher death-carnival and this was our new hymn:

Every single one of us was well aware that we hadn’t won anything, that her legacy “still lived on”, and whatever other sanctimonious spittle was being coughed up by liberal shitheads in the Guardian and on Facebook. That wasn’t the point. It was horrible. Deliberately so. Like the plague-feast in Nosferatu. I loved it. I had two bottles of champagne, a handful of pills and a massive cigar, it was great. I walked home and I wanted to spray-paint “Never Work” on the wall of every Job Centre I passed.

        (from Letter against Ritual)

What changes about poetry when it’s read out, when it’s performed? You might say, released from the page. You might say, activated (I nearly wrote ‘agitated’). You can read things off the page yourself silently and feel something, but it’s not the same as being together and listening in a crowd. It can’t be beaten. Maybe it’s because good poetry readings are a cross between a gig, a political rally, and a football match. Or none of those.

TL;DR: We’re actually having a festival of *radical* poetry, it’s on Friday and Saturday, and maybe I’ll see you there.

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The UEA Poetry Festival begins this Friday (22nd April) with a (free) reading by MA Poetry students at the Moosey Art Gallery, followed by a full day of readings at Dragon Hall (13:00 – 22:00) (£5 concessions, £10 waged)

Featured Image © Barry Hobson

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