Liz Lochhead reads at the Orange Studio, Birmingham
(Part of the Birmingham Book Fair)
24 October 2003
Review: Rod Dungate
Lochhead’s poems care about youIn the intimate surroundings at the Orange Studio in Birmingham, Liz Lochhead is able to chat with rather than speak to her audience. Her poetry has an easy-going, natural feel about it: a quality enhanced by this informal delivery.
In answering a question about writing she emphasis that ‘You must find your voice.’ Here is a poet who has most definitely found hers and exercises it with consummate skill. She could be one of the Aunties she writes so eloquently about . . . ‘Famous for her High Ideals/ famous for her peerie heels.’ Her poems are like Aunties too: they make friends with you, care about you when you read them.
Lochhead switches comfortably between the jolly and the less jolly between the black and the white. She is happy, now, she tells us, to mix the poems in her book as she does in a reading. She peppers many poems with direct speech: these moments sing as she reads ‘Maybe it was my grandmother saying/ ‘That was a good coat that’/ with all the reverence and gravity . . . ‘ (CLOTHES.) In this poem I love, too (as elsewhere), the sense of freshly rediscovered words ‘darts’, ‘bugle beading’, ‘sateen’, ‘a shade somewhere/ between peacock and a light royal . . .’
Over and over again Lochhead turns the mundane into the magical and mysterious. ‘All the Dads, like you, that spring/ had put the effort in./ Stepped on it with brand new spades/ to slice and turn/ clay-heavy wet yellow earth . . . ‘ (1953).
In addition to the advice about writing above, she also says: ‘Read lots’, ‘Say your poems out loud’ and ‘Have courage you have the right to talk about your subjects in the way you want to.’ A sentiment she echoes in her final poem (of the reading and the collection): ‘I did it to make them listen to my side of the story . . . . / But I did it/ I did it/ I did it/ Yes I did’.
A fact we should all be grateful for.
THE COLOUR OF BLACK AND WHITE
(Poems 1984 2003)