I went to an event last night at the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. American poet, Elizabeth Gold, who has recently moved to Edinburgh, was on the bill. I’d heard her read a few poems before and had been impressed by them. I enjoyed meeting up with her and her husband. I also met a very nice Bulgarian poet and writer (who writes in English), Kapka Kassabova, whose new collection, Geography for the Lost (looks really good!), has just been published by Bloodaxe, and who had come to cheer on Elizabeth.
The venue itself was OK – haphazardly-arranged candlelit tables, movies playing on a side-wall with the sound turned off, a bar selling home-made snacks, a strange mixture of smells: food, alcohol and sweat – it brought me back to my student days and the place was indeed full of students.
Other than Elizabeth’s set, the event itself was abysmal. In fact, it reminded me of how bad things can get. It was like the worst of performance poetry without any attempt at performance. The lowest point of the evening came when a young man announced he would read a story, which “wasn’t too long and wasn’t too short either.” It’s usually a mistake to draw attention to the length of a piece, particularly when it turns out to be fifty minutes long, particularly when it’s crap, particularly when you only have enough material for a two-minute vignette.
I could forgive the others – they got up on stage, read their poems for five minutes, and sat down. Fair enough. They had nothing to say, but at least they didn’t take long to say it. I’ve been there myself, perhaps sometimes I’m still there. The boring guitarist played for longer, but it was possible to talk quietly during his set, as he was amplified and easily audible over conversation. It was like having live mall music. Or perhaps traffic noise through an open window. But the story was excruciatingly bad.
Louise Doughty, says something along the lines of how the problem with most stories written by beginners is that nothing happens. Of course, the longer nothing happens, the worse it gets.
Elizabeth read well. It wasn’t the ideal venue for her, but her poems worked well and she even drew a good round of applause. She read her first ever published poem, about a killer spider, from a 1998 Notre Dame Review, which I confess I read on the page around the 35-minute mark of the aforementioned story. Maybe I missed the story’s high point!
I caught the last bus home, but a fight broke out at the bus stop, which involved three men and several women who were with the men. A quite beautiful Spanish woman and I stood there in astonishment as fists flew and bodies fell around us. We just had to remain motionless and hope that none of the participants would notice us and take a swing. Luckily the bus arrived, and we both got on in one piece. It was one of those nights…