Friday, April 17, 2009

Next To Nothing - Launch

Well, it was as expected, it was an emotional launch last evening, at Chris Agee's reading from Next to Nothing, from Salt Publishing. Even the weather seemed to suit the sombre mood, being close and rainy.

John F. Deane, gave a very considered, close reading of the text, as an introduction to the reading and then Chris Agee read from Next to Nothing. The collection's pretext is that it records a parent's grief after the death of a beloved small child. And the only poem in the collection written before this incident is "At Bethlehem Nursery," a gorgeous poem set on a morning when there's been a very hard frost and the narrator is taking the child to playschool. It opens the book and it also opened the reading last night.

Most of the poems are dated, so that the reader can trace the trajectory of grief. I listened with attention as Chris read from them, but was particularly taken by the brief slips of poems in the sequence, "Heartscapes." They are the very distilation of the moments they describe, no more and no less heartrending for what they represent.

I know that Chris did falter once or twice reading last night showing even now, how making a piece of art like this helps to keep the evocation of his daughter, Miriam, still fresh to mind. I spoke to Chris afterwards, while he signed the copies I purchased, and he told me that every reading is different, he doesn't know when he might get a catch in the throat. It is a brave thing to take on something so close and set it into art like this, constantly re-evoking the spirit of someone so loved, so gone. It is a fine book, with the poems pared right back - no sloppy emotional sensationalism: the poems do what they should and evoke the emotion in the reader.

Here is one small example from the Heartscapes section:

I wish

to live
the coffin
of small details.


apprentice said...

I think less is definitely more in tragic situations. The tiny fragment you've printed here is very beautiful.

In our society the loss of a child has become such a rare thing.

And yet it is something our own families three or four generations ago probably experienced four or five times in a lifetime - and is still something that is all too commonplace in about three quarters of world today.

This book sounds like a wonderful bridge to understanding the plight of many parents, past and present.

Frances said...

I agree Barbara it is a very brave thing to do - and a lovely review and beautiful extract. A book which deserves to be widely read I'm sure.

Unknown said...

Thanks A, it's true what you say: it's not that long ago when tragedies like this were simply a daily part of life's struggle to survive. I think the book deserves to be seen the way you describe, as a bridge of understanding, as that's what I think the impetus was behind it.

Frances, I surely hope that it does get the wide reading it deserves too.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Nice review Barbara, must look out for the book.I'm sure I've come across some of Chris' stuff somewhere, maybe The SHOp?

Michael Farry said...

Barbara, is that you who has just been awarded second prize in the Wigtown Poetry Competition. If so well done!!

Kay Cooke said...

Congratulations in order? If so, congratulations. :)
Thanks for the review, it was beautiful to read and to picture the event.
I am glad you provided a snippet too - it's quite lovely, and is a good example I am guessing of the 'pared right back' poetry you described.

Group 8 said...

More from the book is available on the Salt website. Be prepared to weep - these are very moving poems.
I have poems about my sister who died and, like Chris, I never know when reading them to an audience is going to make my throat tighten or when I'll get through them intact.

Jennifer Matthews said...

What a gorgeous poem. I'm finding myself drawn more and more to work like this, with a simple, shifting and profound image.

I like your commentary on the emotional movement of the evening. I'm more of a crier than i'd like to be, and have mortified myself with getting emotional while reading a poem more than once. It's nice to read your compassionate description of his reading, and might make me feel less self conscious the next time i get blubbery. :)

I'll definitely keep my eye out for his work...

Dick said...

I'm not sure I'd have made it through the reading! I'm constantly surprised by the degree to which having kids again in age has made me emotionally vulnerable. I shall check out the poems on the Salt website.

If you've just picked up an award, Barbara, many congrats on that. Tell all.

Unknown said...

Michael Farry - shh! No, seriously, I was going to blog about it over the weekend, but I wanted to write about Chris' book first.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having a weep over a poem, Jen, N, Dick. We have no problem laughing when a good poet does the witty, funny stuff - say, like Billy Collins does so well. Why should we not indulge the sad side too? In doing so, we acknowledge the ability to be moved by another human's experience, to empathise, and if there were a bit more empathy around, well, who knows what would happen... sorry if that got a bit ranty...

& thanks Dick & Kay, & Michael - more about the Wigtown soon :)))

TFE, not sure about The SHOp: checking Chris' credits, he does mention Poetry Ireland Review... maybe that's where you saw his work. As N points out, and I forgot to mention, there are a good few available on Salt's site to read, but you should consider investing in the book - it's a mighty read.