Christopher Reid is a fine poet, and he didn’t need to win the Costa Prize to prove it. His reading at Bridlington poetry festival was mostly from his collection of poems, A Scattering. This collection is a beautiful tribute to his wife and an unflinching account of her illness, her death and his grief. It is deeply moving, a collection of poetry which is both complex and accessible- a rare gift. He is not a performance poet, there is no reason why he should be, and to attempt to “perform” any of these poems would do them a disservice. He read simply, from the heart, and even doing this much must have taken a lot of courage given their subject matter. He movingly described the collection as poems that he had tried to make out of a bad business. I was very glad to have the chance to hear the poems spoken in his own voice and to see the man I almost felt that I had got to know from reading them in the flesh. He has said that they are his best work, and I am only sorry that he had to suffer such a dreadful loss in order to produce them. They are a single minded, direct look at emotional distress- the writing of a man who is facing deep feelings and tremendous loss and has the courage to analyse and express his grief and his reaction to it. Already the collection is both admired and loved and I am sure that it will stand the test of time alongside the expressions of grief in Wordsworth’s Lucy poems and Tennyson’s In Memoriam.
He also read some new work, dramatic poems which will be set to music in an opera. I felt that these really did need an actors voice before I could judge them properly. I wish him every happiness and success in the future. I don’t know him of course, but anyone who has read A Scattering will understand why I feel that I need to say that. He is also a very generous and incisive workshop leader as I found out the day after this reading. I wasn’t surprised. This is someone who has edited Ted Hughes after all. As far as I’m concerned recommendations don’t come much higher than that.
A few days after the reading I listened to Robert Bathurst read the whole collection on radio four. He read them quite beautifully but strangely there was also something lost from the reading given by their author. I was glad to have heard them in what might be thought of as their original voice. Halting, diffident, almost puzzled sometimes, but beautifully sincere with every phrase pointed perfectly.