Queer voices in poetry have not always been given the same amount of space as other poets and writers. Thankfully two brilliant and engaging voices are present this evening at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to read from their new collections and undertake an insightful discussion. Jay Bernard has recently released their (Bernard prefers to go by the pronouns they/them) collection Surge, meanwhile in 2018 Edinburgh poet Iain Morrison released I’m a Pretty Circler.
The event is being chaired by Scottish Poetry Library Director, Asif Khan, and begins with a reading from Iain Morrison. I’m a Pretty Circler is divided into three different sections (or circles) and he begins with the first poem in the book. In relation to is a poem that begins with strong and attention grabbing language and continues to be a more subtle and restrained work. It is a great way to begin and sets the open and thoughtful tone of the event. Morrison continues with poems, Don’cha Don’cha and Little Requiem Mass. The poetry is evocative and clear and showcases a subversive and engaging queer voice.
Bernard reads a selection of poems from their book Surge. We hear renditions of Ha-my-ca, Peg, Pride and Proof. Bernard reads with passion and intensity. As with Morrison their collection can be seen as divided into three sections. The first looking at the New Cross Fire of 1981, the second section delving into queerness and the final a take on the Grenfell tragedy.
During the questions and answer session discussion veers into reflections of working class culture – both poets attended Oxford and Cambridge Universities as people from less privileged backgrounds. Bernard states that: “I went in with the attitude that working class people have been shafted. Now I’d advise my younger self to not do it, but at the time I needed to go.”
The conversation goes onto mention class and race within the context of sexuality. Morrison saying that “I am entitled to talk about class as someone who is gay and there is a rich queerness in working class culture.” Bernard adding: “Queerness has within it the idea of playfulness and performativity. I can no longer talk about queerness in the terms of going to pride, who I fancy and other typical queer things”.
With Surge And I’m a Pretty Circler Jay Bernard and Iain Morrison have released two diverse poetry collections that showcase two important queer working class voices.