Happy National Poetry Day!
Damian loves and supports poetry and so do we! One poetry project he has actively supported is The Love Book, a brilliant collection of classic and contemporary love poems that vary from Shakespeare to E.E. Cummings to Maya Angelou coming together in a book as well as in an app. And it is my utmost pleasure to take us all back to The Love Book event I was extremely lucky to attend at Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 12, 2014, four years ago: Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory read Great Love Poems. Yes, four years ago! Time flies!
The Love Book is the brainchild of wonderful Allie Esiri, who explains why she chose to do this project in the book’s foreword:
“It’s not easy to write a foreword for a book about love. The hardest thing is avoiding the cliches. They are everywhere, like drunk uncles at a wedding. Love is blind; love is all you need; love is all around; love means never having to say you’re sorry; love, love, love; let’s do it, let’s fall in love; love is a many-splendored thing. It really is one of the most abused four-letter words in the English language.
But this is precisely why love needs a book of poetry.”
Allie Esiri organized several poetry events at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2014 and one particular highlight was Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory reading a love story constructed through poems from the Love Book. And, YES, it was SOLD OUT!
Now I have to note this was all happening before Fan Fun with Damian Lewis came to life. I was no Damianista yet. I was a relatively newbie in Damian Lewis fandom, totally a Brody widow at the time, traveling to Cheltenham to see him alive and well 🙂 I vividly remember Lewisto putting me in a cab to the airport and telling me not to come back without a photo with Damian. And I was off to Cheltenham!
The reading took place in Times Forum, a huge 1400-seater, and I sat in the stalls. You know stalls are not tiered, so your view may be blocked if some tall guy sits in front of you, in particular if the actors perform in a sitting format on stage. There was a giant screen so everyone could comfortably see the entire performance; however, I really did want to see Damian and Helen on stage. Luckily, it turned out the couple would stand on opposite sides of the stage and read. Hurrah!
Allie Esiri came to stage first and introduced Damian and Helen. The crowd was totally psyched and more than ready for this very original event where Damian and Helen would take turns reading love poems ultimately constructing a story about all different stages of a relationship. Love blossoming… emotionally and sexually… marriage… the secure feeling of being married… decline of a relationship… maybe things are not as good or spicy or sparkling as before… a break up… a death… memory of love once lived but lost…
And they just STORMED it on stage! They were witty, they were sexy, they were playful, doing accents and teasing each other — they were having a good time on stage! Helen even commented: “If you can’t have fun at a literature festival then when can you?” 🙂
We had a truly FUN moment when Helen read Tennessee Williams’ Life Story in southern accent. Before reading the poem, she apologized to the audience in case there were people from the southern states. Well, being a resident of North Carolina, I believe I qualify as someone from a southern state and I certainly vouch for Helen’s accent. Bravo!
And the huge, enthusiastic applause Helen received led to a sweet back and forth tease between the couple.
Damian told us it would be better if we did not clap after every reading which would create competition between the two of them.
Helen: “Yes, otherwise, there’ll be arguments in the car driving back to London.”
Damian: “One spontaneous eruption of applause to you, God I hate the M4.” (turns out M4 is the road they take to drive back to London.)
Helen: “I can sleep while he is driving.”
Gotta LOVE her!
Damian received his HUGE applause when he read Robert Burns’ A Red Red Rose in Scottish accent. He seemed to be particularly happy about it since his Scottish father-in-law was sitting in the audience 🙂
Helen gave Damian SOME LOOK after reading Carol Ann Duffy’s Mrs Icarus:
“I’m not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he’s a total, utter, absolute Grade A pillock.”
Damian: “At least she resisted from saying the poem directly at me.”
Gotta LOVE him!
Helen had tears in her eyes when she finished reading the last poem, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55, and, believe me, she was not the only one with tears in the room. She very graciously thanked for the flowers and said she hoped they have not put us off poetry… What? You two have just given us a brilliant hour full of LOVE. You have made us laugh. You have made us cry. You have made us feel LOVE. What else can we ask for?
Hmmm… maybe you could sign copies of The Love Book for us? 🙂
Oh yes! The wonderful reading was followed by the trio signing copies of The Love Book so everyone could take a piece of this magical event home with them. Here is my precious copy.
Damian talked about this book signing on Desert Island Discs: “We were at the Cheltenham Literature Festival recently and we sat and signed books. And I could have been her (Helen McCrory) assistant. Clearly, they’d all seen Medea and they all loved Peaky Blinders and I don’t think they knew who I was actually. It was quite nice… for a bit .”
Now… I would have believed you, Damian, should I have not been there. But I saw all those fans cooing over you at the signing! You were definitely as much the center of attention as your beautiful and talented wife. And, I had my heart in my mouth thinking I could have a JLaw moment when I meet you for the first time…
…but I am proud to report I miraculously kept my composure when you said “of course, come on over!” to my photo request — I believe I was the first to ask, because Brits are polite unlike me the crazy Mediterranean — and even when you said “I may have a little surprise for you later on down the line” upon hearing I was determined not to watch Homeland ever again after Brody died. Funny that I only knew I was going home with a photo at that moment and had no idea I would kick off Fan Fun only a few months later!
Ms. Esiri was very kind to share with me the complete set of poems Damian and Helen read at the event. I am so grateful for her time and generosity. You can find the list of poems the couple read in the order that they read them right here.
Esiri’s next project A Poem for Every Night of the Year in which she compiles 366 poems, one to share for every night of the year, has received the Independent Bookshop Week Children’s Book Award. And she brought her new project A Poem for Every Day of the Year to the National Theatre on November 10, 2017 with special guests, including Helen McCrory, Joanna Lumley and Simon Russell Beale, for a fabulous evening of readings. And look who was in the audience as Helen was reading from A Poem for Every Day of the Year! These three big smiles at the after-party make me smile big!
Allie Esiri is organizing yet another wonderful event at the National Theatre on November 16: Women Poets Through the Ages. The poems which will mark this year’s centenary of the Representation of the People Act that for the first time gave some women the right to vote in the UK, will be read by Joanna Lumley and other actors that will be announced soon. Tickets are available here.
Please take some time to check The Love Book Facebook page and follow @AllieEsiri on Twitter. Note that you can always hear Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hiddleston, Emma Watson and others reading poems on the Love Book app available on iTunes. And, you can hear them now doing a beautiful jamboree of love poetry. Please enjoy!