Creative Minds at Birmingham: Jamie McKendrick @ Book to the Future

Last Thursday saw the launch of ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ when award-winning poet Jamie McKendrick took to the stage of the Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building to share with us literature enthusiasts his poetical works.

There was quite a turn out as students from different subject areas, lecturers and enthusiasts outside of University attended the event. It is always great to listen and speak to a modern day author about his or her works. The event was opened with an introduction to Jamie McKendrick, highlighting especially his work on Out There (2012), his latest collection of poetry. This followed readings from the collection and other poetry collections by Jamie McKendrick himself.

One of the poems which really stood out to me in Jamie McKendrick’s reading was ‘Singing Lessons’ to which he explained to us his motives and inspiration for writing about – quite literally – singing lessons. He wrote this after the death of his brother-in-law as a way of expressing the lament people often feel when a loved one has died. Whether it be for words that were never said, or things that we regret doing or saying while they were still alive, here Jamie transforms it into a singing lesson which his brother-in-law took and which he teased him about. It is often some of the most small or seemingly irrelevant things that come to mind in our memories in the passing of a loved one which was clearly expressed through ‘Singing Lessons’.

sunflowersJamie McKendrick also read us a poem from an older collection Ink Stone (2003) called ‘Chrome Yellow’ on one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. He doesn’t call this an ekphrastic poem but his take on it certainly shows elements of this. He focuses particularly on the power of yellow in relation to one of the most powerful parts of this poem, his direct reference to Van Gogh as a “mad Dutchman”:

“That mad Dutchman who crammed his mouth with the chrome yellow he used by the tubeful to paint them made toxic lead his edible gold” (From Ink Stone, 2003).

In passing, Jamie McKendrick would mention his experiences on being a contemporary poet. He particularly described his commissioned works being one of the most difficult in working on, in virtue of the very fact that they commissioned; it would lead to lengthy arguments about the final product of certain pieces.

The question and answer at the end allowed us to further get to know the life of a modern day writer and it was also a way of getting advice for budding writers. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions asked was how to distinguish the difference between a poem and a lyric, to which Jamie answered simply that the lyric is wholly reliant on music while poetry isn’t. One of the most interesting questions that relate to the modern day was how far to go when translating the work of other writers. Jamie replied that it essentially relies on what you feel is alright: “if it looks alright leave it as it is”.  He further went on to give advice about the distinction in translating works that have been done before and works of your contemporaries.

Listening to Jamie McKendrick read out his poetry allows us to engage, with not only any biographical aspects of his work, but we also get to see the poems in exactly the way intended, this includes every moment of pause or emphasis on particular words or sections, something that other readers might not have the advantage of.

The event ended with a book signing giving everyone a chance to meet Jamie McKendrick in person. This is just the start of the ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ series, future events include other writers like Michael Longley, Alice Oswald and Kathleen Jamie.

by Malia Choudhury

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