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  REVIEWS
  GEORGE WALLACE READING IN LIVERPOOL
     
Review and Interview by Helen West

Neon Highway’s series of poetry readings concluded in the dignified surrounds of Liverpool Central Library on Friday 19th November. George Wallace and Sam Smith were welcomed as guest speakers in the Library’s Hornby Room, with its resonant acoustics and intimate atmosphere.

A selection of local poets began the evening, each introduced by event organiser Alice Lenkiewicz. The enthusiasm was obvious and infectious as the poets were keen both to exhibit their own work and to be inspired by critically successful poets Wallace and Smith.

Sam Smith has 25 years of writing experience, although his works have only recently begun to be recognised and published, gaining him a Booker prize nomination in 2000 and numerous other awards. Smith read compassionate, insightful prose focussing on his work in a mental institution. The frank discussions of mental illness and society are unsettlingly thought-provoking, as the tangible dilemmas that Smith encounters are laid bare with effective and efficient language. Smith was relaxed, open and approachable, and received hearty applause for his reading.

The themes of the night’s poetry were Journeys Near and Far and Identity. Decorated New Yorker George Wallace followed Smith with ‘I was Sorry I was Late’, in reference to his own slightly late arrival to the event. He jokingly encouraged all poets to write a poem about being late for such occasions. Wallace only loosely adhered to the themes, regarding all dreams as journeys. He also comments that for him, the importance of poetry is in the process of writing, suggesting that each poem is a voyage in itself, regardless of the content’s subject.

Wallace showed an undeniably original style, and his latest collection ‘Burn my Heart in Wet Sand’ portrays the dreaming world in vibrant imagery. His work lacks the refreshing clarity of Smith’s, leaving the reader to frequently wonder what is really meant by the poems – and whether even Wallace himself knows. It is this inchoate nature to the poems that demonstrates the dream-like quality that Wallace is striving for. The exclusion of punctuation in his writing might be seen to reflect the stripping away of the trappings of convention, but as Wallace reads, his talented use of pace and pause confidently chivvy the listener through incohesive passages. As Wallace mentions in his foreword, when we dream there are no ‘self regulatory mechanics’ to adhere to, and this is emulated in the poetry.

Wallace’s poems are most effective when the powerful imagination behind them is unconstrained. The tenuously connected images and ideas are effective and appropriate in ‘The Classroom of Neuf Chatel’, a captivating exploration of a child’s mental wanderings. By contrast, the poem ‘Wednesday on the Farm’ contains references that seem somewhat arbitrary, such as a character speaking to herself in Danish.

Between poems Wallace shares anecdotes with the audience, establishing an easy rapport, and after his reading nobody moves to leave. The library’s staff casually grant extra time in the room and when the small community do leave it’s in the direction of the pub, where they continue their evening amongst the congenial support of their peers.

Sam Smith has four books and four poetry collections to his name. He edits ‘The Journal’ and ‘Jacobyte Books’ and publishes ‘Original Plus Publications’.

INTERVIEW

New Yorker George Wallace toured America, Italy and Englandon a recent publicity tour for his latest poetry collection ‘Burn my Heart in Wet Sand’. The high mileage leaves Wallace unfazed. “It’s a community of interest, not geography,” he explains of poetry. Wallace says that the Internet makes it possible for more poets to influence each other than ever before and that this is an exciting time for poetry.

‘Burn my Heart in Wet Sand’ is an exploration of dreams. Wallace demonstrates an undeniably original style, and his latest collection portrays the dreaming world in vibrant imagery. “It’s about transference; resurrection,” Wallace asserts, and it is almost a non-sequiter, following the logic of the conversation only loosely. This tendency for subtley connected ideas is widely exhibited in his poetry, and the reader is left free to interpret as they choose. He often leaves the reader to wonder what is really meant by the poems – and whether even Wallace himself knows. It is this inchoate nature to the poems that demonstrates the dream-like quality that Wallace is striving for.

Wallace’s poems are most effective when the powerful imagination behind them is unconstrained. The tenuously connected images and ideas are effective and appropriate in ‘The Classroom of Neuf Chatel’, a captivating exploration of a child’s mental wanderings. By contrast, the poem ‘Wednesday on the Farm’ contains references that seem rather arbitrary. When asked about the title of the collection, Wallace says, “In itself it doesn’t mean anything, but in the context of the whole poem [it does]… It’d be like looking at a Jackson Pollock,” he suggests, explaining that the sections are meaningless alone.

“The important thing to me is the process of writing a poem,” Wallace says, suggesting that each poem is a valuable journey in itself, regardless of the content’s subject. He says he does not work and re-work a poem, instead preferring to follow a regimented schedule of writing a poem every morning, in one sitting. He finds that his work has more tension this way. With an assortment of awards behind him, something is obviously working.

Four-time New York Press Association Writer of the Year nominee, George Wallace is publisher of Poetry Bay, and co-host of the radio show PoetryBrook. He has read his work across the USA and Europe, and his current tour included a visit to Italy to promote a translation of his work. Last year, he became the first Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, New York

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