The six touring poets arrived in Belfast separately over the 24 hour period preceding the first event, and we quickly got to acclimatising to the travelling mode that awaited us for the next 10 days. A welcoming atmosphere during the first reading and its aftermath, facilitated as much by the eagerness of our guest poets to respond to the challenges of collaboration as by Stephen Connolly & Manuela Moser's excellent work in establishing a community of open minded poets over the past couple of years through The Lifeboat series of readings, was key. The Cube space at the Crescent Arts Centre with its huge black curtains as backdrop accentuated a sense of seriousness and weight running through the majority of the work presented here. Beyond a diversity in theme, it's the range of approaches to collaboration that I'm anticipating to be a preeminent feature of this tour - and we got off to a fascinating start. Following the five Belfast-based pairs, the core partnerships of Billy Ramsell & Steven Fowler and Patrick Coyle & Ailbhe Darcy moved things into the realms of heresies and object exchanges, before Sam Riviere & I swapped mild unpleasantries, passive aggression and a (sort of) reconciliation through the medium of 'letters to the editor'.
A welcome return to Derry for me, where I had such a great time with the Poetry Parnassus posse a couple of years back. This has a different feel, though: whereas two years ago I was seen as part of an exotic group of poets from around the world, this time the English/Irish aspect is hanging in the air, noticed in particular by the English-accented poets among us. Our event here was part of the annual Culture Night, when numerous events take place across cities with audiences free - and encouraged - to go in and out of venues as they please, and was quite strangely part of a buzzing night of MTV concerts and historical reenactments on the city walls and craft workshops and much more. We were preceded at the Verbal Arts Centre by a British Council-sponsored discussion/reading on the theme of writing and travel with Colette Bryce, Leontia Flynn and Qatari poet Maryam Al Subaiey. Our gig was quite a different animal altogether, not only from what came before it in the same space but also from the previous night's tour date, with its own rather electric identity. Aodán McCardle and Áilbhe Hines kicked us off with an intimate piece featuring bodywriting and the use of performative props including a skipping rope, while James King and Ellen Factor upped the ante with word choreography and scrambled utterances and improvisational dialogue. Top 10 countdowns, Iris Robinson, nuclear holocaust and undermined recipes for writing poems rounded off the evening.