Last night I visited the Poetry Café in London for the launch of Josephine Corcoran’s debut poetry pamphlet: The Misplaced House, published by tall-lighthouse.
There were the usual babysitting hitches and train-near-misses, so when I eventually pushed the door on Betterton Street and fell into warmth from a bitingly cold evening, Josephine was already there, with a load of people I was meeting for the first time but felt I already knew from twitter. People like Jo Bell, Richard Skinner and Hilda Sheehan. Jo hugged me as a familiar friend (twitter magic, right there, because of course we are), and I perhaps held onto Hilda’s hand slightly too long but they were so very warm and mine were so very cold. Sorry, Hilda.
We took our drinks downstairs. This was a triple launch: as well as Josephine’s, there was another debut pamphlet by Matt Haw (Saint-Paul-de-Mausole) and a collection by Chelsea Cargill called Shooting the Moon. Because Chelsea wasn’t well, her poems were read for her by tall-lighthouse’s editor Gareth Lewis. There was also another poet joining the readings, Joe Duggan, whose pamphlet fizzbombs was published by tall-lighthouse in 2008.
And so, the Three Jo Show started. Jo Bell kicked off, warning us that her poems were usually about sex, boats or friendship. Early hecklers suggested some crossover in the Venn diagram, and I half expected her to start drawing on the blackboards behind her, but like the true professional she is, she ignored us and read (mostly by heart) some joyous and beautiful work. She was there to support Josephine, and told us not enough poetry is written celebrating friendship. I can’t argue with that, but her sex font (not a typographical allusion) brought the house down.
Jo number two was Josephine herself, who introduced her poems with thoughtful background that made us able to appreciate them all the more in the short time one always has in a live reading. Sometimes the weight of a poem only lifts off the page after a few re-reads, so when Josephine explained why she had written about Stephen Lawrence we were ready for the kick of her compact, powerful poem. She touched on families’ attitudes to marriage in Honeymoon, and the three smells of her home town (meat pie factory, brewery and sewage treatment works) in Winter. In short, she triumphed.
The final panel in the Jo triptych was Joe Duggan, who ‘road-tested’ some new poems along with some from fizzbombs. He was by turns funny, profound, arch and provocative. He seems to have the knack of already being old and able to travel back in time to advise his younger self. Whether he took the advice is unclear, but we all enjoyed it. One in particular, Bingo, cut through the immediacy of young attraction to ask the fundamental, long-game question, of whether his love would play bingo with him in the era of ‘dentures and piss pots’. His Northern Irish accent was such a joy to hear. I always think that gives poets an instant advantage.
Last to read was Matt Haw. We tried not to blame him for not being called Jo(e). Being a redhead myself, I was predisposed to like him, although having heard him order three whiskies from the bar upstairs earlier (I don’t think they were all for himself), I hoped for great things. There was a great deal of beard stroking as he read some poems not from his pamphlet, and then a number of them from Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. I confess that perhaps I was at the wrong end of the evening to appreciate an ‘intense communion with the art of Vincent van Gogh and the madness that engulfed the painter’, but I bought his pamphlet and hope to learn more on closer reading.
Sadly no time afterwards to celebrate with Josephine, but new poetry books always make a return train journey better. All the tall-lighthouse books are on sale here, if you’re interested. What a great evening.