Carol Ann Duffy & Friends

Last night I went to the wonderful Kings Place to hear Carol Ann Duffy ‘and friends’ recite poetry.

I was offered a ticket last minute from a friend, as she’d been stood up. Lucky me. Unlucky stander-upper. She missed out.

Kings Place is AMAZING. There’s a sprawling foyer with plenty of seating – long tables with chairs, big beanbaggy-type things on the floor, comfy sofas. The cafe serves coffee, juice etc – but don’t go there if you’re in a rush. The service is infuriatingly slow.

The gallery on the lower ground floor is currently exhibiting The Mechanical Hand: 25 Years of Printmaking at Paupers Press – and there are prints of Damian Hirst’s work, as well as a brilliant set of colourful ‘feminist icon’ prints from Bob and Roberta Smith.

The poetry evening was taking place in the basement concert hall. And we had the best seats in the house – three rows from the front, dead centre. Like I said – the woman who gave up her seat for me SERiously lost out.

The evening was called Words on Monday and is part of the Poet in the City project. It is held at Kings Place each year and the poet laureate is invited to perform with friends. We didn’t manage to ascertain whether the other two poets were actually Duffy’s friends – or if they were more like Facebook friends – ie. not her friends at all. But it didn’t really matter.

There were musical interludes from John Sampson – wind-instrument-extraordinaire – in the form of comical fanfares, background lift-type music and contextual pieces – such as the Christmas carol that he played whilst Duffy recited her poem: The Christmas Truce.

Duffy was funny and serious, romantic and political. This is what makes her the perfect candidate for poet laureate. She shared a story about one of her poems being banned by an exam board after a teacher believing it to be inciting knife crime. Duffy was asked to respond, by the Guardian, and she did so in a very clever poem. “Cow” – she said of that teacher. And we all chortled. She then referred to Meryl Streep’s time as Prime Minister. And we all laughed again.

Ann Gray was second to perform and her soft, clear voice gave her poems a lullaby-quality. She spoke of loss, death, searching for – and losing – love. Again, she covered topics that we are all familiar with and that can be touching but also humorous.

Leontia Flynn was last up and she had spent the former part of the evening looking rather flushed and nervous. The nerves remained whilst she performed but she managed to relax enough to tell some funny jokes and recount a handful of interesting anecdotes. Her strong Belfast accent added variety to the recital – I am rather a fan of an Irish reading voice – and references to her Irish up-bringing and extended family were both comical and endearing.

I was asked to fill out a feedback form after the event – it was funded by the Arts Council – and I wrote, truthfully, that nothing could have been added or changed to improve that evening. It was without fault. A perfect evening of poetry and music in a great venue.

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