Saturday, May 14, 2011

No, Poetry Is Not The New Rock'n'Roll

It is about time I got my blogging in order and started to write something at least semi-regularly again. I haven’t felt much inspiring me to write prose recently (although I have been writing poetry), but I always feel that actually doing something germinates further creativity.

Also, it’s about time I wrote something about my mini-tour with Andrew Philip through Cambridge, Norwich and London, and my near-secret gig at Keele University. While I’m tempted to suggest there was something rock’n’roll about it (it was a tour, after all), I’m more thinking of my own experience of the rock’n’roll lifestyle than the universally accepted one of drugs, sex and other hedonisms. My own musical career took in the sights of tiny bars, mainly around Glasgow and Edinburgh but occasionally further afield (one memorable night of delightful hostility in Cumbernauld, for example), where we’d play before a mostly bemused ‘crowd’ for a while and then have to lug our own equipment – amps PAs, drum-kit and all – home to our tiny rooms.

Poetry is a little better than that. There are no drum-kits involved and people are only there because they’ve chosen to come, not because they wanted to get quietly plastered in their favourite bar and have instead been interrupted by a bunch of guys howling over a hail of distorted indie guitars. But the very fact that people have come willingly, and have often paid for the privilege, increases the pressure to appeal. With a band, you can always drown out negative energy by sheer force of volume. A poet doesn’t stand a chance.

Not that either Andy or myself had to contend with stage invasions or anything like it. This, to an extent, is disappointing, but it shows how little poetry resembles real rock'n'roll, and maybe just as well. You can read Andy’s commentary on the tour here (1) and here(2) and here (3), and I’ll try not to repeat much from his version. We began at Cambridge with CB1, a well established event with a fine programme, organised by a flawlessly efficient committee (or it so it seemed to me), in The Punter, an aptly named venue. The audience was generously attentive, the open mic before our sets was good, and we both sold a fair number of books, which doesn’t always happen at readings. Andy read some of his poems off-by-heart, which worked well. If I could be bothered to learn my own poems, I'd do the same, but I doubt it will ever happen. I read some poems from the book and some new ones. It all went well.

We then did a lunchtime reading with Josh Jones at Norwich in the back room of a bar, The Birdcage, dominated by a large mirrorball. The women’s toilets were at the back of the room and anyone with needs from the main bar had to walk right between the audience and performers to get there, which I presume was a terrifying experience for anyone who had to go. Two old ladies were sitting in the bar and Josh asked them if they wanted to come to the reading. “No, we don’t like poetry,” they said, although one of them did visit the toilet and may have had to suffer a line or two. Of course, the readings again went well, and again we sold books – thank you, kind people.

In London, we found this little South American carry-out place near The Wheatsheaf (the reading venue), where I had the best tortilla I have ever tasted in my life – chicken, avocado and other veg, and a fantastic sauce. All for a fiver, too, with freshly squeezed orange juice. Wish I could remember the name of the place, so that I could recommend it. At the reading Simon Barraclough was such a fine MC! I should have taken notes on how to MC a poetry reading properly. Great to meet Liane Strauss and hear her read mainly from her recent Salt book, Leaving Eden, and also a fab, fun poem “We’re all fine” from a new anthology called The Art of Wiring, which I presume is available from Simon (?).

I’ll have to leave the Keele reading for a separate post, as I’ve run out of time, but I do reflect on how easy it would be to turn into an alcoholic if you were doing this all the time, rushing from gig to gig, festival to festival. You’d either have to subsist on a nightly diet of orange juice and cola (which, I suppose, could be as unhealthy as excess alcohol in the long run), make a decision to return home immediately after each reading without talking to anyone beyond the usual thank yous, or else make a decision not to live for very long. However, a three-date tour over two days was a great experience, and I look forward to repeating it. I’d love to do a short tour of Ireland in 2012.

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