EVENT REVIEW: Live Canon Present War Poets

Posted by

Sunday 9th October
Durham Town Hall
Review by Melis Anik


The large wooden doors close as I shuffle in my seat, my eyes adjusting to the limited daylight escaping through the stained glass windows. I know this is a poetry event, nothing else is clear. It’s this lack of detail and sense of anticipation which makes these events a thrill to attend.

Detailed introductions are skipped as the first poet, Simon, stands and immediately begins performing a war poem that I was previously unfamiliar with. My lack of knowledge isn’t important though, as the words move me as all good poetry should. The opening poem, “Become Little Children” strikes a chord with both me and the audience as a whole, and the applause lasts long after the final line has been spoken. After that, the poems flow easily, one after another, the performer’s voices changing, their hands moving, and my eyes following each cadence and gesture. One thing is clear as I clutch my notebook – this event is going to be utterly captivating from start to finish, and my words are unlikely to do it justice.

I feel somewhat nostalgic while hearing the poems of Wilfred Owen as I think about the days that I studied him in school. However, unlike the English classes of my youth, the poems read here are reinvigorated with performative intensity. It’s the way that these poets strain their voices to articulate every sound, and use the stage to share the words of poets from times gone by, that ingrains their words in my mind. Their eyes well up, as do my own, and raw emotion takes over the room.

As the event continues, I find myself transported away from the beautiful room which I have come to appreciate over the course of Durham Book Festival’s opening weekend. Everyone is silent, not just out of respect for the poets on stage, but because they too are captivated by it all, hanging on every word and every syllable that rolls off their tongues with consummate ease.

I may have stumbled upon this event but there was no mistaking that it was by far my favourite of the day. The three performers, Simon Muller, Iain Batchelor and Roseanna Frascona, were so talented in their effortless recollection of numerous poems throughout. You could tell that they weren’t just poets being paid to read a bunch of poems they didn’t care about. They were poets who seemed to understand the deep meaning behind the words, who connected with the rhyming schemes, and fully articulated the gravitas of the context in which these poems were written in. More than anything, they approached their material in a very human way, and as a result, connected with their audience profoundly.