Thanks to the collaboration of the poets anthologized and the team — coordinating editor Sally Mortimore, designer Nadja Guggi, and manager Barbara Morris — at Two Rivers Press, A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens, co-published with the English Association for the bicentenary year, was available and sent out to contributors and reviewers in January of this year.
From this came the selection of Richard Price’s ‘I am Greatly Changed’ as the Guardian Poem of the Week along with the publication of Alison Brackenbury’s ‘Dickens: A Daydream’ and Carol Rumens’ ‘Marshalsea Quadrille’ in The Times Literary Supplement during the week of the 7th February, the day on which Dickens was born two hundred years ago.
On the principle dear to poetry publishers of ‘launch early and launch often’, we began the anthology’s series of public events with a Sunday lunchtime gathering on 12 February in the Great Expectations Hotel & Bar, Reading. This venerable pile on London Street, with its mock-classical façade was built as the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institution and photographed by Fox Talbot in 1845. It features on the cover of the anthology in Martin Andrews’ especially commissioned painting. Dickens read there, and its Library, sporting images of the great novelist, was where the youngest poet in the anthology, Isabel Galleymore, joined me, Derek Beavan, Adrian Blamires, Terry Cree, Jane Draycott, John Greening, A. F. Harrold, Kate Noakes, Tom Phillips, Richard Price, Lesley Saunders, Julian Stannard, and Susan Utting, in reading our poems to a standing-room-only, more than packed house.
The second event, its Northern Launch, took place on 28 March in the even more venerable surroundings of the Portico Library, Manchester. There Mairi MacInnes, the anthology’s oldest contributor, Carol Rumens, myself, Jeffrey Wainwright and Susan Utting read our own poems plus one by other contributor, which allowed us to hear the poems by Phillip Gross, John Hegley, Paul Muldoon, Elaine Feinstein, and Adrian Blamires.
The theme of the event turned out to be Dickens and Dogs with Jeffrey Wainwright’s tribute to Sissy Jupe’s Merrylegs segueing from a bonus poem not in the anthology about Bill Sikes’ Bull’s-eye read by its author, the Liverpool poet Mandy Coe. It was, in Mairi MacInnes words, ‘both strange and enjoyable. I felt I was a century and a half back in time — that great domed room of Polite Literature (and Biography, not so polite, presumably), the library’s seclusion, the cucumber sandwiches, the unusual audience with their secretive faces’. The event organizer, Lynne Allan, had indeed laid on a splendid high tea for the poets, the cucumber sandwiches (unlike in The Importance of Being Ernest).
~ by Peter Robinson, Poetry Editor for Two Rivers Press