24 July 2014

'It was like something out of Dante, like'

Posted by the Bookshop

On 12 August, we're welcoming Philip Terry and Tom Pickard for an evening of readings. Pickard will be reading from hoyoot, a collection of poems and songs spanning the fifty years of his poetic career (that's him up the top, hanging out by the dustbins with Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg). Terry will be reading from his new translation of Dante's Inferno, which relocates the nine circles of hell to the campus of Essex University and populates them with the damned souls of VCs, education ministers and Shane McGowan. His Virgil through this troubling underworld is the New York poet Ted Berrigan.

Both poets share a plain-spoken, vernacular sensibility (and a dirty sense of humour) which makes their poems a joy to listen to. They also share an energy and an anger which roots them firmly in poetic counterculture. A recent interview with Pickard in 3:AM magazine includes this wonderful exchange:

3:AM: You’ve never been tempted to write a sonnet?

Tom Pickard: No I haven’t. In fact I wrote a poem recently called “To goad my frigging peers":

           Fuck the sonnet, I piss upon it           and those who seek to launch a sinking reputation on it           as though it were some talismanic indenture           an entrée to a toothless craft.           Take those billiards out your pocket,           to reach the moon you need a rocket.

Which is all I have to say about form.

This isn't completely fair: in fact, both poets take a lively interest in poetic tradition and form. It's just that this interest is more likely to be subversive than reverential – before taking on Dante, Terry rewrote Shakespeare's sonnets in the language of ad copy and spam emails – and the forms are often those overlooked by high culture. You can see the influence of the Blues and British folk-songs running throughout Pickard's work; his folk-opera, 'The Ballad of Jamie Allan' (an ongoing project, included in hoyoot) draws on eighteenth century newspapers and ballads as well as The Beggar's Opera.

Below, you can listen to Terry reading from Canto XXXIII of Dante's Inferno. Ugolino has been replaced by Bobby Sands, gnawing for eternity on the head of – who else? – Margaret Thatcher. It's blackly funny, starkly political and a completely water-tight parallel.