Conor O'Callaghan and Robert Gray
Last night was a cheery launch of the Philip Larkin Centre's Autumn programme, my first at the helm. Wine flowed freely as we made a social occasion of it, welcoming folk to the new year on campus.
Conor O'Callaghan, over from Ireland by way of Manchester, spoke to my Creative Writing MA students before the reading. Adlestrop by Edward Thomas was his choice of a formative poem to lead us through, conjuring its hidden background (the poem set in June 1914, written from wartime a year later). As Conor works to break the tyranny of the poetic line, hidden elements give his own work structure: a poem without the use of the letter 'l', to keep its liquid nature out of a tone that invokes dryness; the visual play of the X in 'an Xmas present', being the ribbon on the present and the box itself.
His reading was playful and wry. I laughed at the quiet start: 'I'm going to read for three and a half hours.' A very engaging opening act for the series.
And then Robert Gray (on a world tour from Australia: yesterday Berlin, today Hull, tomorrow Edinburgh), looking like a leaner Alan Bennett but with a fuller crop of blond hair, with a couple of narrative poems (the wanderings of a Chinese monk focused on writing; the twistings and abstract wisdoms of his mother's Alzheimer's) wrapped around a bawdy limerick.
Robert's recent memoir featured his friendship with Patrick White, perhaps my own all-time favourite novelist, so my mentioning meant we hit it off well from the start. Patrick White joined other esoterica that bound us over the post-reading dinner: Dogen and Soto Zen; Arunachala and sacred mountains; the town of Gloucester in New South Wales; Carlos Castaneda etc. It's fun when those secret references all connect.