Four star review of the meeting of two laureates at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
To listen to a reading from one poet laureate is pleasure enough – to have two in the same room is a rare privilege. So those in the audience at the Howard Assembly Room to hear Jamaica’s poet laureate Olive Senior and our very own Simon Armitage, enjoyed a real treat.
The event also marked the launch of Out of Many Lit – a five day literature festival organised by Jamaica Society Leeds.
Senior has written 18 books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her first collection of fiction, Summer Lightning and Other Stories.
Though she now lives in Canada, the Caribbean and its stories and history course through her work. Her poems are beguiling, sometimes playful, and their conversational tone allow her to tackle important subjects without ever sounding bombastic.
She read poems from her latest collection Hurricane Watch as well as some from Pandemic Poems: First Wave and finished with a reading of one of her best known works, Meditation on Yellow, which poignantly captures the essence of colonialism.
Senior was followed on the stage by Armitage who is as prolific as he is brilliant and has become arguably Britain’s greatest living poet.
His career now spans more than 30 years and he is a consummate performer. He seamlessly blended more sombre lockdown poems with sardonic (and extremely funny) riffs on the modern world in To The Fashion Industry in Crisis and Let’s Bird Table, which brilliantly ridicules business meeting jargon.
The pair were then interviewed by fellow author Jason Allen-Paisant, discussing the impact of Britain’s colonial past and its indelible mark and the two laureateships and why they believe they can be a force for good.
My only real criticism is you were left wanting more – an hour-and-a-quarter didn’t feel long enough to spend in the company of these two literary talents. But perhaps that’s just me being greedy.
Often in times of uncertainty and fear we turn to poetry for comfort and hope, and here we witnessed its gentle power, compassion and wit.