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Poetry Archive: Michael Laskey Reading from his Poems

Michael Laskey

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Michael Laskey (b. 1944) is a poet, editor and a tireless champion of contemporary poetry, particularly through the international Aldeburgh Poetry Festival which he co-founded in 1989 and which continues to be an important showcase for poets from around the world. Educated at St John's College, Cambridge, he taught in secondary schools for ten years. Since 1978 he has lived in Suffolk, working as a freelance writer and editor and as a creative writing tutor for both adults and children. Married to a GP, Laskey was also the main carer for the couple's three sons in their pre-school years, an experience which finds its way into a number of poems.

As well as founding the Aldeburgh Festival, in 1991 Laskey also set up the poetry magazine, Smiths Knoll, with the late Roy Blackman. His own poems have appeared in three pamphlets and four collections, his first full-length collection, Thinking of Happiness, appearing in 1991. This was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation as was his second collection, The Tightrope Wedding, which was also shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. A new and selected poems, The Man Alone, was published in 2008.

Like the page-turner of his poem of the same name, Laskey is an unobtrusive observer of detail and emotional nuance. The US critic, Mark Halliday, praises this restraint in his analysis of a typical Laskey poem, with its "sense of having arrived at the ending a bit sooner and more quietly than expected." It's a technique which sends the reader back to the start of a poem to see what he's missed. In 'Rain' for instance, the seemingly minor details about a leak in the pantry can be seen, in retrospect, as building up to a contrast with the narrator's children who've been absorbed in making canals and seas. Laskey's poems are particularly good at capturing this intersection of intimacy and distance, for example in the avoidance of illness in 'Picking Raspberries with My Mother'.

This is domestic territory but without a hint of the cosiness this term might imply: in 'Home Movies' what starts as comedy ends in "that slither of negatives" as the poet watches the film of his parents' wedding in reverse. Elsewhere the tone is more celebratory in poems which uphold the rituals of daily living, like the preparing and sharing of food, and which, in the words of fellow poet Craig Raine, "keep faith with actual experience."

The music of Laskey's poetry is also subtle and supple. Making use of half and slant rhymes, they proceed with what his colleague at Aldeburgh Festival, Naomi Jaffa, has described as "a glorious lack of fuss." This is evident in his Archive recording which, like the poems themselves, has a stealthy power.

Track 01: Length: 01:19 - Cucumber
Track 02: Length: 00:56 - Nowadays
Track 03: Length: 01:00 - Family Planning
Track 04: Length: 01:17 - Registers
Track 05: Length: 01:45 - Living with the Doctor
Track 06: Length: 01:15 - On My Own
Track 07: Length: 01:01 - Between Two Lit Rooms
Track 08: Length: 02:15 - The Clothes-peg
Track 09: Length: 01:40 - Rain
Track 10: Length: 01:42 - The Flat-warming
Track 11: Length: 01:02 - Nobody
Track 12: Length: 01:35 - Offering
Track 13: Length: 00:43 - Not Before Time
Track 14: Length: 01:28 - Fried Potatoes
Track 15: Length: 02:36 - Picking Raspberries with My Mother
Track 16: Length: 01:30 - Ratatouille
Track 17: Length: 00:23 - Breakfast
Track 18: Length: 01:55 - Service
Track 19: Length: 01:59 - Laying the Fire
Track 20: Length: 03:55 - Driving Home
Track 21: Length: 01:16 - The Day After
Track 22: Length: 01:26 - Afterlife
Track 23: Length: 01:04 - Life after Death
Track 24: Length: 03:37 - Home Movies
Track 25: Length: 02:17 - Permission to Breathe
Track 26: Length: 01:30 - The Tightrope Wedding
Track 27: Length: 00:21 - Concert
Track 28: Length: 00:57 - The Page Turner
Track 29: Length: 00:49 - The Right Place
Track 30: Length: 00:53 - Not That He Wrote Poems
Track 31: Length: 01:00 - Tinkling Cymbal
Track 32: Length: 01:51 - The Man Alone
Track 33: Length: 01:54 - The Corpse
Track 34: Length: 00:46 - The Last Swim

Total length of the recording 51.14

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