In June 1996 a bomb exploded at Manchester Corn Exchange’s Arndale Centre, the shopping mall in which independent poetry publisher Carcanet Press had their office. The building was condemned for months and at the time business owners were only allowed to briefly drop by and pick up whatever they could carry with them. The hard drive containing Carcanet’s accounts system was miraculously unscathed.
The literary community including competing poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books, and Carcanet’s poets themselves offered as much help as they could collating contact names, contract details and so on, to make up for the loss of the company’s paper files. Eventually the company got back on its feet and happily continues publishing wonderful books to this day.
I was deeply moved at the time by the sad news of the devastation of their office. I had had several poems of my own published in various journals that year and considered Carcanet gods of the literary world. And so I created a very simple response by way of this collage – basically cutting up the startling newspaper headline IF YOU CAN SELL POETRY YOU CAN SURVIVE A BOMB and fastening it to a single sheet of A4 printer paper I had rinsed in a crimson watercolour, then stuck it in a frame on my living room wall. After a week’s holiday in Ibiza I came home to discover the sun streaming in through the room’s window had discoloured one half of it. It had changed the piece entirely! And yet the message remained the same, and I felt that was in keeping with the story of survival and the organic nature of poetry that it represented.
Cut forward to a scene in my garden in Ibiza in 2003 by which time the piece had been weather deteriorated to such an extent that, as a challenge to its very survival, I placed it in the middle of a wall of pansies, and left it there through the seasons for seven years, watching it fade summer after summer, while the small bugs that had somehow slipped under the glass began to nibble away at the edges of the faded red paper.
When I packed up to relocate to the UK a few years ago I kept the piece in a bag where it remained undiscovered (and presumed lost) till recently…
So here it is now, on our terrace, above the hutches, beneath the 300 year old fir tree; organically shattered and battle weary in a way that might render any other artwork quite finished, but which in this case carries on the story of the resilience of poetry.
In this, National Poetry Month, I salute that survivalist spirit of poetry, now and forever.