Previewed poets

NATIONAL Poetry Day has gone, but the biggest noises in this year's Poetry in the City Festival are yet to come. This week sees visits from three "name" poets -- Benjamin Zephaniah, Brian Patten and Ian McMillan -- as well as a dense programme of events featuring Notts writers and performers.
Perhaps the most well-known of all is Benjamin Zephaniah, dub poet, children’s novelist, Rasta, activist, and OBE refusenik. He's the featured poet at an event on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of open-mic night Black Drop -- a serious coup for an all-volunteer set-up with no outside funding.
Zephaniah has an international following (he was in China while this was being written) and an energy and enthusiasm that can sometimes overshadow just how radical he is. That's less likely to be a problem here. He'll be supported by favourites from Black Drop's monthly events.
Brian Patten, who reads at the Council House on Thursday, has developed a double audience. There's those who might have discovered him as a Liverpool poet, with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, and followed him to later books like Storm Damage and Armada, which display the same wit and emotional kick.
Then there's a younger audience who know him as the author of Gargling with Jelly and Juggling with Gerbils, books that helped change schools poetry. "Poetry used to be something you would threaten children with," he said. "Now you'd be more likely to say, 'If you're bad, you can't come to the poetry reading'."
Growing Up Before Your Very Eyes aims to unite the two crowds. "It's a journey through a life, really," he says -- starting with a few poems for children that also have adult appeal, and heading on through adolescence and middle-aged rebellion. It also includes unpublished work. (Patten reckons he probably has enough material for a new collection, although it's not happening at once.)
Then there's the physics-defying Ian McMillan. They have yet to discover a particle that can be "in residence" at so many places: his portfolio includes Barnsley FC, Yorkshire Television, UK Trade and Industry and the entire East Midlands (he's our laureate).
It makes sense in every non-physics way. He has charm, style, a big friendly Barnsley accent and a wicked sense of rhythm. He also has a genius for quick-turnaround topical verse -- "It's kind of a bizarre skill," he told us -- and is shortly to appear on Radio 4 with a poem on the death of Ronnie Barker.
His Big Family Show, here next Friday, takes that a step on. "I read poems and tell stories," he said. "And then as a climax, using my flipchart, I ask the audience to help me create an interactive Nottingham epic." He supplies a line, we supply rhymes and he heads off in some unexpected directions. It's for his benefit, too. "I'd get bored just doing the same thing," he says.
If you'd care to mark Poetry in the City by helping to create a poem, this is your chance.