I am a great fan of the Bloodaxe poetry collections edited by Neil Astley, Staying Alive and Being Alive. Between them lies such a wealth of words and thoughts that it feels as if I can dip into them and find something that resonates with whatever mood or experience I am living. Being Human is a companion collection that I have not read, but this did not stop me from attending a performance of selected poems from the anthology at Kings Place this week.

Three performers dramatised the varied works, varied both in terms of content and also the diverse corners of the world the pieces originated from and have been translated for the collection.

The performers are talented and impressive actors, who with an innate skill and ease allowed the poetry to come alive, and to seduce.

Of more than 30 poems, which covered most life events from the banal to the sublime, I enjoyed the entirety, yet inevitably I have favourites.

Philip Larkin’s poignant The Mower is one:

‘The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,

‘Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.’

I love the essence of this poem, how the banality of mowing the lawn transmutes into something that resonates beyond the event. But only if you allow it to.

I was introduced to many poems and poets during the performance that I was less aware of, for example Doris Kareva, and her poem Shape of Time (translated from Estonian by Tiina Aleman):

‘You aren’t better than anyone.
You aren’t worse than anyone.
You have been given the world.
See what there is to see.’
The performance encompassed most life events, from birth (Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child, by Thomas Lux), to the departure of children from the parental home (To a Daughter Leaving Home by Linda Paston), to ageing (Getting Older by Elaine Feinstein) and death (Antidote to the Fear of Death by Rebecca Elson).
One of my favourites was Table, which proved to be a centre piece, as the text recurred throughout the performance. It is a multi-layed piece that epitomises the power of poetry to say little, and much…
From Table, by Edip Cansever, translated from Turkish by Julia Clare and Richard Tillinghurst:
‘A man filled with the gladness of living
Put his keys on the table,
Put flowers in a copper bowl there.’

‘On the table the man put
Things that happened in his mind.
What he wanted to do in life,
He put that there.’

‘He was next to the window next to the sky;
He reached out and placed on the table endlessness.’

‘He placed there his sleep and his wakefulness;
His hunger and his fullness he placed there.
Now that’s what I call a table!
It didn’t complain at all about the load.
It wobbled once or twice, then stood firm.
The man kept piling things on.’

Being Human, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2012.