On 22 November, Waterstones Brighton hosted Poems to Live your Life by: An Evening with Chris Riddell, where poet A.F Harrold and illustrator Chris Riddell took to the stage to share work from their latest books.
Riddell has recently compiled a collection of poetry called Poems to Live your Live by, which brings together a combination of all of his favourite poems by a variety of different poets. These poems, which represent a journey through life, were read out by A.F Harrold on the night, alongside his own work in Things you Find in a Poet’s Beard, which Riddell also illustrated. Having done a lot of work together in the past, with their last collaboration being at The Globe Theatre, they were able to bounce off one another and create an upbeat atmosphere for the audience to enjoy.
The event was set up on the third floor of Waterstones, with a glass of wine available for guests upon their arrival. Everyone sat and chatted amongst themselves, whilst Riddell drew a few beginning images, which were projected onto a board behind him as he drew. This visual representation was used alongside the poetry readings throughout the event, with Riddell drawing variations upon the illustrations from his book, and other unique drawings, for the audience to admire. This only heightened the experience of listening to live poetry, with the audience being able to admire the benefits of combining art and poetry as forms.
Riddell began the evening by reading out poems from his collection, Poems to Live your Life by, giving him the chance to celebrate some of the poetry he deems to be most relevant, moving and exciting.
The first poem read out was an excerpt from The Tempest, with Riddell going on to say that Shakespeare reminded him of being his days in an “overheated classroom”, being “force-fed” Shakespeare. Riddell similarly closed the event with an excerpt from Macbeth, emphasising the credit he gives to Shakespeare as an early poet. His comment was not a criticism of Shakespeare himself, but light critique on the systematic nature of teaching, with most students in Britain having studied at least two works by Shakespeare.
Riddell continued along the same theme of education, discussing The Minister for Exams by Brian Packman, a satire about Nick Gibb and the modern education system. With the audience packed with students, families and adults, these poems were relevant to everyone, whether you were a young child bored of school, or an adult able to reminisce about your own education. With around 10 children present, Riddell obtained admiration from this younger audience from his comments about school, placing a high value upon creativity, only emphasised by his incredible drawings.
Then moving along a slightly different theme, Riddell shared the only poem in the collection written by himself, in fact, the only poem he has ever written. This personal story resonated with Riddell enough for him to write his one and only poem about it, marking it out as a significant moment in his life. This autobiographical poem, titled The Great Escape, was a story from his childhood, in particular, his days sitting in his father’s sermons at church. The poem was a nostalgic look at the past, with him lovingly reflecting on his time drawing during the sermons, with the lady sitting next to him feeding him wine gums, in exchange for his art. This was the moment, he lightheartedly stated, that he realised he wanted to be an illustrator… and be paid in wine gums. Unfortunately, nobody that evening had any wine gums available, so Riddell had to plough on through the performance without his favourite sugary treat.
I cannot mention all of the incredible poems discussed from Poems to Live your Life by, but you can find them all available in the collection, alongside his beautiful illustrations that compliment each and every poem. Reading more poems from the likes of Carol Ann Duffy and Rachel Rooney, the audience got an idea of what Riddell deemed to be worthy to include in his poetry collection.
Although Harrold was already involved with the event, by reading out poems from Riddell’s collection, he was now able to share some of his own work. He read from Things you Find in a Poet’s Beard, an inventive name most likely inspired by Harrold’s own extremely impressive beard. Harrold’s animated performances and fantastical content greatly appealed to the children in the audience, with their eyes growing wider and wider by the second.
Sharing his poem, Troll Song, Harrold brought the character of the troll into his reading, leaning forwards towards the audience and putting on a well-crafted, slow and grumpy troll voice. This excitement was only heightened by Riddell’s drawing of the troll under a bridge, accompanied by a duck and a girl peering down at the troll, mapping out the poem’s narrative.
Another of the poems shared from this collection shared was Postcards from the Hedgehog. The poem is split into four parts, in the form of postcards from a hedgehog called Simon to his mother. With Harrold warning the audience that the poem was extremely emotional, Harrold began his reading, putting on the voice of Simon the hedgehog. The playful, yet sad, poem told a story of Simon, who was in love with another hedgehog, only to find out she was a pinecone upon trying to speak to her. This lighthearted twist was perfectly demonstrated by Riddell in his illustration, as he draw a female hedgehog, only to transform her into a pinecone at the end of the reading.
Again, I am unable to share all of the fabulous poetry shared by Harrold, but he shared a number of humorous poems, with The Perils of Breakfast and Lesser Known, But Not Less Important, being another two excellent readings that the audience thoroughly enjoyed.
Ending the night with an experimental performance, Harrold shared a piece of his work that he is currently working on, that is his interpretation of Beowulf. He shared one of his completed haikus on the subject, in the voice of Grendel, that summed up the 3,000 word classic. Harrold argued the haiku form was particularly effective for busy professionals who don’t have time to read the lengthy epic. Harrold then went on to share some of his unfinished work, Grendel’s Song, giving us a taste of what to expect from his upcoming project. Incorporating the same lighthearted tone that appeals to children, Harrold did not disappoint with this new endeavour. Sharing unseen work is something Riddell and Harrold like to do at all of their events, adding an element of exclusively surrounding the evening.
After the readings, everyone was able to purchase the collections and have them signed by Riddell and Harrold, with my copy of Things you Find in a Poet’s Beard, below:
Riddell was also giving out and signing the artwork that he drew during the event, with the children being particularly thrilled by this, being able to take away images of trolls, hedgehogs, ogres and many other magical illustrations. I got the opportunity to take away Riddell’s set-list of drawings for the evening, scribbled on and signed by the artist himself, as featured below:
There will be another opportunity to see Riddell in the coming week, as he will be at the University of Sussex library from 11-4 on 29 November, drawing library themed illustrations. For the chance to see him in action, it is worth being on campus this coming Thursday.
All in all, Waterstones played host to an incredible event, seizing the chance to bring poetry to life in an incredibly visceral sense.
Chris Riddell will be participating in another an event at Waterstones this week, Christmas Late Night Shopping Extravaganza featuring Chris Riddell on 29 November. There will be mince pies, christmas carols and mulled wine on offer, getting you into the festive spirit.
With Waterstones hosting many more exciting events each month, it is worth checking their schedule and attending some of their affordable, yet brilliantly organised, events.