The annual Rylands Poetry Reading is a grand affair, not just for attracting a literati audience the likes of Simon Armitage and Grevel Lindop, but also for its backdrop: the cathedral-esque surrounds of the John Rylands Library’s Historic Reading Room; all carved wooden niches, polished brass panels and imposing marble statues.
The prestigious programme of readings was inaugurated by the Board of the Library’s Modern Literary Archives Programme, and is run in conjunction with the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing. Each year, it features a prestigious poet published at some point or other by Manchester-based Carcanet Press, including, in recent memory, Sir Geoffrey Hill, Rowan Williams and, in 2017, Jorie Graham.
The event ties in closely with the outstanding modern and contemporary literary archives at the John Rylands Library, including one for Carcanet Press, founded in 1969 by Michael Schmidt and Peter Jones with the aim of promoting and publishing new poetry as collections and through the revered literary magazine PN Review. The Carcanet Press Archive contains papers relating to the business itself along with a whole host of literary material including typescripts, proofs and letters from poets, agents, editors and translators. The range of poets and authors represented is vast, from W.H. Auden and Seamus Heaney, to Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath.
In Manchester’s first year bearing the UNESCO City of Literature title, the 16th annual Rylands Poetry Reading will be delivered by Marilyn Hacker. A multi-award-winning poet known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech (think sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, blank verse and heroic couplets), her career spans over 40 years, from her first book, the National Book Award-winning Presentation Piece in 1974 to Blazons: New and Selected Poems which Carcanet is putting out in March 2019.
Described in The Guardian by George Szirtes as “a major poet… exciting and true”, New York-born, Paris-based Marilyn Hacker is the author of 13 (and counting) books of poems, while her translations of French, Francophone and Arabic poets appear regularly in PN Review and journals around the world, garnering an American PEN Award for Poetry in translation in 2009.
The event will see Marilyn read from her own feminist, political and intimate poetry, as well as translations from the Arabic of Syrian poets’ work. There will be a reception before the reading, and a book signing afterwards.