WHEN BROKEN IS BEAUTIFUL
CK Williams and Lavinia Greenlaw
University of Warwick 12.11.03
Review: John Alcock
Two poets entertaining, thought-provoking and beauty searched out in surprising places
The Warwick Writers’ Programme hosted two prize-winning poets readings given by C K Williams and Lavinia Greenlaw.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Williams was giving the first reading in England from his new collection The Singing (Bloodaxe), while Forward Prize-winner Greenlaw’s latest book, Minsk (Faber), has been tipped for both the TS Eliot and Whitbread awards.
Like Auden, Eliot and Fanthorpe, Williams’ name is usually predicated by his initials but C(harles) (K)enneth quickly became Charlie’ to his audience. His quietly-spoken and urbane manner reflects those academic and cosmopolitan qualities which have led him to teach at Princeton and reside in Paris. The editors of the Norton Anthology Of Poetry describe his work as being concerned with the darker dimensions of existence’ and, indeed, he did give himself a verbal reminder to lighten up a little’ towards the and of his reading). They do concede, however, that he writes with tenderness, grace and humour’.
Williams’ poems often contrast the security of domestic detail with the dangers and potential for chaos of the world around us. The book’s title poem recalls an encounter when the poet smiles with pleasure at a man singing only to have the singer break off and warn: I’m not a nice person.’ The Hearth’ begins with the comfort of a homely fire-side but moves on to consider the consequences for all of us of the imminent invasion of Iraq (the poem was written in February this year).
However, poetry can search, even in a deformed world, for beauty. Both poets shared the remark once made that the young Marlon Brando was merely pretty until he broke his nose, after which he was beautiful.
Greenlaw’s poems are born of experience, local and further afield. Born in London, her parents moved to rural Essex where she grew up convinced that time passed more slowly there’ (Essex Rag’). Returning to London with the freedom of a student she found it difficult to break away and, in one hilarious adventure with friends, found herself back in the fields of our years of boredom’ (Zombies’). The poems portray shifts of time (A Letter to Lord Chandos 1603′) and place a visit to Finland, which released her from a period of non-writing, even if she did encounter Arctic personality disorder’.
The two poets complemented each other and concluded by sharing with the audience their thoughts on the writing process: form, content and what both chose to call the conduction and resonance’ of making poems. An entertaining and thought-provoking evening.