Even before the doors opened, a queue began to snake its way down Marchmont Street, the warmth of the bright day falling, but animation lingering in the crowd. And inside Gay’s the Word, the narrow space was soon teeming. After the chairs, the audience filled the aisles, leaning against lightly moored bookshelves and making them teeter. Compared to any poetry reading I’d ever been to, the event felt charged with solidarity and anticipation, with laughter and the rising fragrance of man sweat.
Kate Foley went first, reading from her eighth collection, A Gift of Rivers. She had a compelling warmth, starting with an anecdote about how, aged 11, she had been separated from a friend in her convent school by the sisters, lest the two of them do anything ‘unfresh’. Those early prohibitions on touch grounded a deep determination to connect: as one of her early lines put it, ‘Lady, protect me from the sin of frost’. She was amusing and heartfelt too in her poetic recollections of the early scene, women in their quiffs and ‘sharp flares’. She concluded with a poem celebrating the private, ‘uxorious’ love of wife to wife.
Richard Scott, launching his first full-length collection, Soho, was introduced to whoops from the crowd. He has always impressed me with his sinuous balance of intensity and lightness, mediated by frank desire; his sensitivity to the way meanings hide and unfold, make a shifting ground; his call to bare the appropriate that shyly nestles in the crack of the inappropriate. In this throbbing vein, he began with the book’s opening poem, ‘Public Library 1998’, a delightful (strip & prick) tease of language and longing. Responding to the lack of gay poems in the library, he mounts a rescue operation:
I open again the Golden Treasury of Verse and write COCK
in the margin
His graffitied figures despoil and revivify the fusty literary bastion: one of them ‘bares his hole beside some Larkin’, and his biro feverishly underlines ‘queer subtext’, as he becomes a gaylord of misrule, ‘rimming each delicate/stanza in cerulean’.
It was time then for praise of the bookshop, and its fight down the years since its founding in 1979, followed by sections of a long, impassioned poem, ‘Oh My Soho!’, a psycho-geographical excavation of a place that however tentatively, might have elements of home: that ‘chunder-fugged, rosy-lit, cliché-worthy quadrant’ in which ‘your/neon labyrinth became our plain-sight priest-hole’.
As a reader, Scott is voluptuous and daring, loving the words in his mouth. In a museum in Athens, he finds arousal in a statue and above all in the real and symbolic desire for its less feted parts, ‘I want to kiss your/sites of amputation … wet the hilt of your/battle-toned ass’. Then after another poem or two, the night is over already, the night is young, and I reel out, away from the lovely animated fug of chat and book signing and wine, into the oncoming night.
A fuller review of the collection itself will surely follow, but in some other place.