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01st October 2007

A Poet’s Corner at Exeter

Written by India Bourke

The speaker events at Exeter College consistently challenge their audiences intellectually but rarely do they move to the extent achieved by the poetry readings given this Sunday by the eminent Elaine Feinstein and Oxfam’s poet in residence, Todd Swift. The event was held in conjunction with Oxfam and particular emphasis was placed on the current relief effort in Darfur.

The compassion that drives Oxfam’s global campaigns was brought out by the highly personalised subject matter of the two poet’s latest works, both of which were inspired by the loss of a close loved one. It was a privilege to be able to hear two such different poetic styles read in person; from skating penguins playing tennis to love that comes as a Macintosh. On the one side, Todd Swift described his writing as a mix of ‘camp humour’ and ‘seriousness’. He acknowledged Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as an influence on his exploration of the presence of humour in bleak situations.

On the other hand Elaine Feinstein’s collection ‘Talking to the Dead’ draws on intimate memories of her marriage to create poetry that contains a rare honesty and directness about life’s emotional experiences. Her concern with pinning down the poignant moments in a relationship is perhaps in no small way down to the influence of her non-poetic husband. His preference for poems that shared the presence of the subject with the reader is born out by Feinstein’s own faithfulness to the task of bringing his personality back to life, such as through the portrayal of his characteristic stubbornness in “Wheelchair”.

The presence in the lodgings this Sunday of both the poets and the subjects that they reverently induced to accompany them, was greatly valued by all in attendance.

Both poets work features on a fundraising CD for Darfur — highly recommended.

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