Three readings in quick succession:
1. I took part in the voXboX ‘quiet slam’ – participants got marks taken off for ranting, shouting etc. In other words, not like an average slam at all. Each poet had two rounds to strut their stuff. My first round poem (from my book) totally bombed with the judges, but in the second round (two new poems) I did very well. I’m not sure what I think of slams. They’re OK in the performance circuit where they are part and parcel of that whole scene. But the idea of poets competing live for approval and popularity from audience or judges makes me a little uncomfortable.
It could be argued that this is no different from sending work to magazines or publishers and inviting them to judge it – those approved get in and the rest are locked out… But the public nature of performance and the real-time reaction of audience/judges might tend to encourage more of a desire in poets to do only the approved thing and tailor poems towards instant accessibility and immediate entertainment rather than subtle layering.
That said, I enjoyed the evening. voXboX is a lively event with a good atmosphere, and I thought that many of the poems were good. The winner after a third final round was the excellent Colin Donati – deservedly. He is one of the best poets around at the moment in this part of the world.
2. In a church hall situated in a fairly tough, very un-middle-class area of Edinburgh, Andy Philip and I read from our books and Alan Crocker played flamenco guitar. We had an audience of about 40, the vast majority of who had never been to a poetry reading before. Many confessed to me afterwards that they’d come not expecting to like it much, but had been genuinely surprised. It shows two things.
Firstly, that people often like poetry when they come across it, even if they think it’s going to be ‘beyond them.’ Poetry isn’t dead, it’s more a too-well-kept secret. We have to get it ‘out there’ because, when we do, new audiences emerge.
Secondly, you don’t need to dumb down poetry to attract an audience for it. You don’t need to serve up really simple poems for people to relate to them or otherwise engage with them. I’ve always felt that and I now have the proof. What Andy and I read could have fitted just as well had we been reading at the Scottish Poetry Library or any other literary event. This evening was a real success.
3. ‘Poetry at the…’ featured Robert Crawford, Gerry McGrath, JL Williams and Julia Rampen. They were all excellent. I did my MC thing. It was another varied but high quality evening. The crowd was much smaller than I had expected, a dip from previous months, and I don’t know how to explain that. I know that some people who habitually come were away, ill, or otherwise engaged, but that’s always the case with any event.
This does illustrate how precarious a live poetry series is. A small crowd for one evening is OK, but similar numbers over three months or so would be simply unsustainable (in a financial sense). Anyway, the audience seemed to enjoy the readings very much. The next date is Sunday 14th June with a cracking line-up: Katy Evans-Bush, Allan Crosbie, Andrew Philip and Ivy Alvarez. My only problem with this one is to decide on which order they should read. I’ll probably have to toss a coin or draw lots.