The Leonards- A new rating for poetry readings

I might sometimes review Live Literature, particularly poetry. I was trying to think of a way to summarise what my critical values are. Realised that watching Leonard Cohen live most epitomises them. That gig at the O2 two years ago. He combined thought, feeling, sensuousness, truth, beauty, connection with the audience and integration with himself. I cried a bit, laughed a bit and sort of melted in the middle. I would rate him at Ten Leonards. I have just watched David Cameron’s Conservative Conference speech. He is at One Leonard. Do you see?

Actually, I have simplified the Leonard Rating. Pain or sadness or darkness or confusion combined with the more simply pleasurable elements is necessary to create the “melting in the middle” of high Leonardness. 

I am often disappointed in my search for high Leonard ratings at poetry events (Recent enjoyable ones were Martin Figura’s Whistle and the Apples and Snakes Amuse Bouche event at ARC) . This week however I have been fortunate enough to see three poets with high Leonard ratings. 

Andrew Mcmillan combines a wonderful way with an audience and splendid flat Yorkhire vowels with an animated delivery of elliptical, imagistic and deft poems from his pamphlet “the moon is a supporting player”. Striking pictures are delivered then wafted away again; “a waitress had a voice like cold coffee/the day sweated/the day wrung itself out and left/itself to dry between the streets.” I think I would have laughed out loud twice as many times as the rest of the audience, had I been listening on my own- though that was still many times. They were seduced into listening mode though, tuning in for those sharp needles of insight.  Andrew also has a way with glasses tweaking of a much older man. I became mesmerised by this at some point- but it did add to the Leonard rating. 

Ira Lightman does a thousand things at once as a poet. As a “conceptual poet” in fact. This would not usually provide high Leonardness for me, but Ira’s honesty, musicality and endearing Mad Professor persona mean that his reading from new collection “Mustard Tart As Lemon” produced a gut reaction in me and pleasurably confused brain swirling. I grasped and clung to lines like “The scarcity of public space/is the scarcity of wise management” and happily let them float away amidst his iTunes random accompaniment, gorgeous ukulele playing and concrete poetry read from a projection screen and accompanied by Andrew.

The following night, in the same room at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle, Moodswing editor Steve Urwin launched his collection of “Dreams, diaries and debris”- Shades of Grey. He brought his usual kinetic energy to the prose poems- but also a warmth in between the dark pieces of real and surreal grittiness which meant the pieces were really shared with us and kept us close, even when the subject was breakdown and despair; “Ask the Talking Pen what these words are trying to convey. I’ll agree with almost everything it says. I’m nothing. I have no choice in the matter. I will leave you here”  

To summarise a high Leonard rating then; It will have you leaving a poetry reading with both head and body invigorated in some way. Also, as if you have had some sort of exchange of energy with the poet provoking it.

Both Steve and Ira acknowledged the importance of Crista Ermiya’s role as editor in helping order and bring coherence to their books. They both supplemented this with their performances of the work within. Lovely. Red Squirrel press week continues at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle and all three books can be ordered at