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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, Central Library

Young Digital Reporter Rebecca Roe visits an unusual poetry event at Central Library as part of the Chaos to Order programme…

The first thing that I noticed when I entered Manchester’s Central Library café is the noise. In one room of the building the band Everything Everything was playing from behind a glass wall, replacing the usual oppressive silence found in libraries with the soft sound of rock. The café wasn’t bustling with people, but there were enough to fill the spacious room with a low buzz of chatter. Most of the people there hadn’t come for the reading of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, and when it started many seemed entirely disinterested. However when Animals author Emma Jane Unsworth read out the poem ‘Music’ about half way through the 20 minute reading, the whole room seemed hushed, as if they had only just realised that actually this was something worth listening to.

When asked why she wanted to do an informal lunchtime performance, Emma Jane told me that she knows what it is like to be eating your lunch bored out of your mind, and she simply wanted people to, “sit there and be entertained”. I asked her why she had chosen to read out some of Frank O’Hara’s poems and I was astounded at her enthusiasm on the subject. “[Frank O’Hara] is one of my favourite poets”, she told me and she was full of praise for his work. “He’s very straightforward, but at the same time has the most amazing imagery”, adding that the “glamour and grit” of his writing is what connects his work with her own. One line of the poem ‘Lana Turner has collapsed’ has particular resonance for her; the line ‘I have been to a lot of parties and acted perfectly disgraceful’ is a favourite because she can greatly empathise with it.

She read two other poems as well, ‘St. Paul and all that’, and ‘Personal Poem’. Emma Jane has a very dramatic voice, and you could really see that she was getting into it, using dynamics to emphasise the most powerful lines. She really seemed to bring the poems to life for me.

The other reader is also worth a mention. Nabila Jameel is a Manchester poet who has had some of her work published, and she read some of her poems. The poem that really stuck in my mind was the last one she read, ‘The Last Prayer’. This poem describes the wealth of the afterlife and the power of love, using outstanding descriptions such as “rivers of milk and honey” and “stones of pearl and emeralds”. You should definitely check out some of her work.