Thursday, 24 February 2011

Wider Reading | Days of Roses Anthology

"All that really mattered then was that I was a man..."

The name Days of Roses is taken from a Tom Waits song in which a man phones an old flame in his twilight years for one last reminiscence of things lost. I’ve no doubt that Waits would be happy to have his lyrics used for the recent poetry anthology, not least of all because it had its launch last night in the sort of sweaty, dimly lit, cramped, underground pub that would appeal to his beatnik heart.

As well as the body heat and the smell of incense, what immediately hit me upon arriving at the Day of Roses  launch was what a socially comfortable event the night was. This may seem like an odd thing to point out in a literary review, but as someone who has been to a lot of readings, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of making your guests feel that they are in capable hands when hosting a live event. You will not find a better example of how to make this work than attending a Days of Roses event.

So, for the uninitiated, Days of Roses is a monthly poetry-reading event that has been running for a little over two years in various fine drinking establishments across the land. The list of previous performers is an impressive thing to behold, including some of my favourites; Sam Riviere, Roddy LumsdenJack Underwood, Heather Phillipson, Jon Stone, Ross Sutherland, Tom Chivers, Todd Swift, James Brookes and Emily Hasler.

As they pass the two-year mark, the team behind these events have put together a beautiful anthology of some of their favourite performers. It is clear that the same amount of care and pleasure went into the production of their anthology as goes into the hosting of their nights; the books are hand bound by co-editor, Malene Engelund, the cover includes one of fifteen photographs and pieces of art by Ross McNicol and Amelia Newton Whitelaw and, if I’m not very much mistaken, are typeset in Perpetua, the absolute king of fonts for printing poetry*.

As seems to be the case with every other modern anthology, the Days of Roses team make a selling point of their diversity. Whereas some anthologists will use ‘diversity’ as a way of masking their lack of coherence, I feel that the range of styles to be found in this collection is reconcilable with the high quality of the writing throughout. The beauty of the Days of Roses anthology concept, is that by framing it as an artefact of a live reading, the reader will read it whilst imagining a performance, which makes the diverse range of registers and voices refreshing rather than confusing.

Two particular highlights of the anthology are Maximilian Hildebrand’s wittily bleak Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle:

“So I’m outside in the garden
And it’s just me and the bugs
And they don’t mind
So I light up a ciggie at the
Second attempt and cough
A couple of times to know I’m a smoker
And it’s a desperate profession
And I think to myself
This is living alright…”

and Lydia Macpherson’s Pastoral:

“The wireless bleats
spring is here and look
the chewing gum is blooming
lichen on city pavements
in the river shopping trolleys
are mating at rusty angles
welding in the petrol spills…”

Beyond this, the anthology, and its launch night, is/was also greatly enhanced by the ever mesmerising Liz Berry (follow the link for a review I did of her debut pamphlet last year) and this year’s Costa Prize winner, Jo Shapcott (who has provided an exclusive new poem called The Elements as the book’s opening).

Whilst the fact that you are reading this strongly suggests that you missed the event itself, I recommend you try to pick yourself up a copy of the Days of Roses anthology by e-mailing the days of roses team while supplies last, or wait a couple of weeks for it to come out on Amazon.

*For more information on the virtues of Perpetua, please e-mail James Brookes, who will happily write you an essay on the topic.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

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