What a treat to see Tom Leonard reading at Swedenborg Hall, Bloomsbury, London, last night. (Not to mention that he was reading with John Healy and Nicholas Johnson).
The only other time I saw him read was at Poetry and Revolution, another really good event.
The difference between the two readings was that there were more poets at Poetry and Revolution, so his set was shorter, and that he was also in a room above a pub, reading from the floor acoustically.
At Swedenborg Hall, he was on a grand stage, at podium, with microphone. His set was longer and it was very pleasurable to hear his voice amplified. He has a unique timbre, very raw and real.
His father was an Irishman who emigrated to Scotland in 1916. This explains the striking, even puzzling, opening line of ‘A Humanist’ which he read last night: “The son of an immigrant, he had eschewed the culture of his father as also that of the land into which he was born.”
Tom Leonard is a masterly personal-political poet. His essays superbly illuminate the geopolitical and political struggle from which his art emerges. That he does not limit his politics to the geopolitical is what makes him so subversive and important.
His mother worked in a Nobel dynamite factory in Ardeer. If somebody were to nominate him for the Nobel Prize – and somebody should – it would make an interesting story.
Below is a work-in-progress, dealing with the tensions between The Cesspit (i.e. Westminster) and the Sweetie Shop (i.e. Holyrood).