In Person is a collaboration between Bloodaxe Books and award-winning film-maker Pamela Robertson-Pearce. Her style of filming combines directness and simplicity, sensitivity and warmth – the perfect combination for these intimate readings. It is as if the poet were sitting in the room with you, reading just to you, and sometimes saying a few things about the poems.
Apart from one recording taken from a live public performance, all the films present informal, one-to-one readings. They enhance your appreciation of the poetry. You hear how the poems sound; you see how the poets read and present their work. T.S. Eliot once described poetry as "one person talking to another", while W.H. Auden believed it was essential to hear poetry read aloud, for "no poem, which when mastered, is not better heard than read is good poetry". In Person presents the oral art of poetry in that spirit.
There are six hours of readings on two DVDs pouched inside the back cover, and all the poems are printed in the book.
In Person celebrates 30 years of poetry from a pioneering press. Founded in 1978, Bloodaxe has published nearly a thousand titles by three hundred writers. Until now you wouldn’t be able to see or hear readings by many of Bloodaxe’s international range of poets. In Person makes that possible for the first time, presenting readings by 30 essential voices from Britain, Ireland, America, Spain, Hungary, Palestine, Pakistan, China, New Zealand and the Caribbean.
Four out of the 30 short films present the poets’ work bilingually. Menna Elfyn’s reading alternates between her Welsh poems and their English translations. Joan Margarit reads in Catalan in tandem with his translator Anna Crowe reading her English translations. Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali reads in Arabic and then re-inhabits each poem as it is read in English by his translator Peter Cole. Yang Lian introduces his work in English, and reads the poems in Chinese. The anthology presents all their poems in both languages in a parallel-text format, enabling you to follow either language as the poems are read on the film.
All the other readings are in English only, and in many varieties of English which will add greatly to your enjoyment and appreciation of the poetry: not just poems read in Scottish, Welsh and Irish English by Jackie Kay, W.N. Herbert, Gwyneth Lewis, Brendan Kennelly and Micheal O’Siadhail, but also George Szirtes’ Hungarian-inflected English, Benjamin Zephaniah’s melding of Jamaican and Birmingham, and the Caribbean lilt of John Agard and James Berry. The musical range of American voices is just as diverse, ranging from urban Detroit (Philip Levine) to the Ozark Mountains (C.D. Wright).
There’s also a “bonus track”: a short film of Bloodaxe’s first poet, Ken Smith, made by Ivor Bowen just before Ken’s untimely death.
"Bloodaxe: here's to another 30 years of incisive poetic returns from your cutting edge."
Michael Horovitz, The Independent
"There is no snobbery of subject or style, nor cloning of poetic type in the eclectic mix represented here. You can see what the poets look like; their ethnicity, their age, their manner of delivery - even their choice of outfit - all serve to emphasise their humanity. Their emotions are more accessible because we are able to read their faces as we listen to their words. They appear to be addressing us; the private performances recorded on the DVD feel really quite intimate. We have the poets all to ourselves; if we need to pop out to make a cup of tea they will wait for us, too... The readings bring poetry alive for us."
Frieda Hughes, The Times
"There really is something for everyone: the cutting and cut-up satire of Peter Reading, John Agard's hymns to diversity, Selima Hill's funny, frightening trawls through the unconscious... Audio-visual recordings are rare indeed, and the In Person DVDs offer an unprecedented wealth of footage... Here is CK Williams, reading a sinuous, shocking piece like 'The Gaffe' with tone and timing so perfect you wonder if you ever understood it before. James Berry's assumed patois when he reads 'Defendant in a Jamaican Court' brings the voice - 'Yes I did chop him, sar' - into terrible life. The excellent Naomi Shihab Nye perches on a staircase, as if to emphasise her poems' gentle refusal of existing phrases, existing positions, her eyebrows dancing between puzzlement and knowledge, and says slowly: 'I missed the day / when it was said / others should not have / certain weapons, but we could'. There are studious, intense readings by Maura Dooley and Philip Levine, generous, warm performances from Imtiaz Dharker and Menna Elfyn, and WN Herbert singing the entirety of 'Bad Shaman Blues'. It is an exhilarating, fascinating six hours, rounded off by a special short of Ken Smith frying breakfast in his kitchen, then reading 'Three Docklands fragments' against a display of the wooden masks he used to make."
Frances Leviston, The Guardian
"What makes In Person so exceptional is that the book is accompanied by two DVDs, containing six hours of the poets reading all the poems in the collection. Such is its impact that it is impossible to imagine that it has never been done before... What Astley and Robertson-Pearce have created for poetry readers is an opportunity to witness some of the most important poets in the English language giving voice to their own work... Disseminating poetry through this free-wheeling, 21st-century medium feels revolutionary, and yet this decision to incorporate the ever-changing present fits with the impetus to forge something of historical worth... readings from poets as diverse as Fleur Adcock, James Berry, Taha Muhammad Ali and Galway Kinnell are testimony to this extraordinary archival value. The written word winds through their varying accents and rhythms, with many poems read in two languages to give the reader a true sense of the sonic beauty inherent in the work in its original tongue. It is a gift to poetry lovers on the birthday of one of their most beloved publishing houses, with Bloodaxe's 30 extraordinary years celebrated through these 30 extraordinary voices... In Person is testimony to the human voice that is poetry, a fitting celebration of an art that has reflected and shaped human experience since the birth of language, and a publishing house that is helping to make it heard."
Fiona McCann, The Irish Times
"With six hours of the poets reading their own work, the video version is a wonderful companion - or is it the other way round? - to the print version edited by Bloodaxe founder Neil Astley. Together, as a tidy package, they provide 'your own personal interactive poetry festival'... In between Adcock and Zephaniah we find Helen Dunmore, Imtiaz Dharker, Selima Hill, Jackie Kay, Gwyneth Lewis, Maura Dooley, Penelope Shuttle, Jane Hirshfield and many more, captured lightly, intimately and unpretentiously, the settings as varied as the poets themselves. The initial viewing is deceptively low-key; the second is utterly moving."
Daneet Steffens, Mslexia
"What makes In Person really special is the presence of two DVDs containing some six hours of film of these thirty poets reading their work. The films (all save the 2002 film of Ken Smith made by Ivor Bowen) are the work of Pamela Robertson-Pearce... The relaxed nature of most of the settings makes an attractive alternative to the greater sense of 'performance' encountered in public readings and there are certainly insights to be had from many of the films. Hearing C.K. Williams read his long-lined poems, for example, I understood the principles of his metrics much better... There are lots of fascinating moments... This anthology ought to be distributed free to every sixth form."
Glyn Pursglove, Acumen
"This is a magnificent birthday present to poetry lovers from Bloodaxe on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary... If there are still any students who think, despite all our efforts, that poetry is dry, arcane and only for swots or toffs, this will disabuse them. Every institution - and every individual - who claims to care about and enjoy poetry should have a copy of this. It is a real joy."
Frank Startup, School Librarian