Wednesday 14 March 2007

The Moderator

Last week, as part of the Bath Literature Festival, I served as the moderator for a "Poets in Conversation" event with Tim Liardet and Gerard Woodward at the Victoria Art Gallery. The venue, with the current Keith Vaughan exhibition all around us, provided a pleasant and intimate atmosphere. As moderator, I felt it important to do two things: to keep the conversation rolling and interesting; and to provide useful introductions to each author's work, to guide the audience when they heard the poems read. With Tim it was easy--he always has something to say, but with Gerard, I was glad I was prepared, e.g. when he said he hadn't thought about masculinity much in reference to his poetry (and let it stop there), I told him how I saw it working in his poem "Norfolk." I mention this not to compliment myself; it's just that I've seen panels badly moderated often enough to know how to avoid the same.

I am pleased with how my introductions turned out, so I'll include them here:

"Gerard Woodward has published a trilogy of novels, the last installment of which, Curious Earth, was launched just last week. He has published four books of poetry, and the most recent, We Were Pedestrians, was shortlisted for the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize.

"In each poem in We Were Pedestrians, the opening lines plunge us into a new predicament. The style spare, the narrator regarding his situation with both care and aesthetic detachment, the poems proceed slowly, carefully, toward unexpected, convincing conclusions. The poems do not celebrate the ordinary so much as appreciate it for itself, for its commonness and hence its claim on our lives. His style reminds me of the work of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, in that in both their works, the apparent effortlessness evinces the authors' delicate, self-effacing skill."

"Tim Liardet has published five collected of poetry, to critical acclaim. His most recent, The Blood Choir, won an Arts Council England Writer's Award in 2003 and was shortlisted for the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.

"Where Gerard's style is spare, Tim's is lushly analytical, in the density of description used to apprehend the world, part by part. The Blood Choir presents poet as anthropologist, interpreting an alien culture by describing behaviour and environment in meticulous, exquisite detail. Importantly given the book's focus on prisoners, the narrator understands his relation to his subjects in a way that does not privilege his own position or viewpoint, but tries to appreciate theirs through the nuances of a common language."

After the event, it occurred to me that moderating is like reviewing: sometimes tedious, sometimes onerous in preparation, it's a real pleasure once the work is properly underway.

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