[ 09-04-2008 ] Alan Halsey, Tom Jenks, Geraldine Monk

Went to the Other Room at the Old Abbey Inn last week to hear Alan Halsey, Geraldine Monk and Tom Jenks read. A really good night and the venue is a remarkable find.


I went to a reading at The Old Abbey pub (now owned by the Kro chain, it appears.) There was Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey and Tom Jenks. Geraldine read from Escafeld Hangings and some know “ghost sonnets”; Alan read some of his logoclastic, intertextual poems, including a wonderful variation on some of John Ashbery’s poetry from A Tennis Court Oath. Tom Jenks read from his first book, A Priori, just published by ifpthenq – which also run a magazine of loose-leaf sheets in an envelope.

Maybe it’s the presence of at least three creative writing courses in the area (Manchester, Manchester Met and Salford) – but there’s an awful lot of poetic activity in Manchester at the moment, and quite a lot of it falls into that strange category, the non-mainstream. Tom Jenks himself writes a poetry that uses the language of science and the media, that plays with the conceptual nature of language in ways that make it almost unrecognisable as poetry to those for whom narrativity and shapely well-made shaggy dog stories are the essence of poetry.

There’s obviously something in the water. Years ago, we had the conventional mainstream of Manchester Poets, and that was it. Harold Massingham led a course at the Extra Mural Dept of Man U, which I went to and it was good in its way. You couldn’t find non-mainstream books anywhere, really. It’s really making a difference to what’s going on in Manchester. I hope it keeps up and doesn’t go away as quickly as it came, as the magazine Mad Cow did about a decade ago.

I have a poem in the latest issue of parameter – which has had a radical makeover. The last issue was conventional A4 staple-stiched, but issue 5 came wrapped in silver foil, with four seperately stapled booklets, one for the editorial, one for poetry, one for fiction and one for reviews and articles. Gorgeous is the word, and with people like Rupert Loydell and Ron Padgett in it, well worth £2 of anyone’s money.

It was a great evening, organised partly by a London group called Oppened and by people like James Davies and Scot Thurston. The next one is in June, I think, and I’m already looking forward to it.

I’ve been to more poetry readings than a sane man should have ever been to. Yet I’ve rarely had a happier time than at the Old Abbey tonight, when Alan Halsey, Geradline Monk and Tom Jenks read, as the first of a regular reading of so-called avant garde poets. I’m not so sure. Halsey made fun, as an ex-bookseller might, of Ashbury’s “Tennis Court Oath”, and its value to collectors, “it always seemed to be the 4th edition, so we wondered if there ever was an earlier one; there was…”; Geraldine Monk confronted Mary Queen Of Scots head on, to great effect; whilst Tom Jenks managed to fit in both religious and secular saints (The Magic Band, thanks, Tom!). Reading from his very visual new collection, A Priori, you relished the words, whilst hankering for the visuals. My reluctant friend (there for a beer), enjoyed it thoroughly and bought the book. Go figure.


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