Out of East Anglia
by Thea Lenarduzzi
Journalists, students, proud parents and friends gathered around bowls of crisps (those ones with beetroot) and bottles of British sparkling wine last night for the launch of the UEA Creative Writing Anthologies 2012 at the LRB Bookshop in London. A selection of graduates read roughly three minutes’ worth of their work, the Tracy Chevaliers and Kazuo Ishiguros of the future; we listened.
UEA’s association with creative writing courses goes back to 1970, when Angus Wilson and Malcolm Bradbury founded a course for prose fiction writers looking to hone their craft in an academic environment. A Poetry course was added in the mid-90s, when Andrew Motion took up his professorship. Scriptwriting followed a few years after, and Life Writing (part of the Prose strand), came in 2000.
Last night’s voices were as diverse as you would expect: Angus Sinclair read his poetry of assemblages from a textbook The Traditional Formal Logic, transforming the language of academe into something delicate, comical and, surprisingly, relevant to an understanding of the world beyond the course-book jargon of the 1960s. Alex Allen adopted a pseudo-Norfolk accent for his poem (not in the anthology), which remains beyond me. But it was brave.
Another poet, Mona Arshi, shared her self-proclaimed “mid-life crisis poems”, the final line of which – “Here’s my mouth, / hummingbird, linger there, and hold / my breath” – was followed by a shattering of glass as someone stepped on an empty wine glass. It felt right.
From the Prose Fiction category, Claire Powell read her short story “The Girls”, about the relationship between a mother and daughter. It began: “I found them in her bedroom: two black leather legs with a pale chiffon blouse laid out on top of the perfectly spread duvet – an invisible woman sleeping”. From the mother’s arm-band coloured toenails to the tip of her menthol cigarette, the author’s eye for detail is clear. The dialogue, too, is acutely observed, and Powell’s delivery, superb. The final image of the daughter hugging a defunct food blender to her belly as her be-leathered mother dashes off to meet “the girls” in the West End, conveys the narrative’s mixture of comedy and anxiety perfectly. More, please.
Judy O’Kane – a solicitor from Dublin with a qualification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, as well as one from the UEA Life Writing course – recounted the events of a previous visit to the very bookshop in which we were crowded. The three minutes ended with her relating her journey home, on the tube, beside a tall, dark, (sort of) stranger, in black tights, with handbag and beard . . . .
Neither the piece nor its continuation is included in the anthology, I'm afraid (a piece called "Rocket House", with a cast of local fishermen, is), but O'Kane succeeded, I’m sure, in enlivening many a ride home last night with the thought of similar close encounters.