There have been moments when I’ve stopped doing readings, more or less, and even stopped attending them (with occasional exceptions made), mainly so there’s no danger of me writing for a live audience and all the instant satisfaction that requires. Not that all poems at a reading have to be “instant”, but I don’t want any pressure to knock off stuff that goes down well on first hearing. A poem, for me, needs to have enough of an instant hit to encourage readers to read it again, but the re-reads are where poems can be best appreciated (or can fail!). I apply the same standards when reading poetry collections by other people and have never yet reviewed a book I’ve only read once. At the moment, I am reading loads of poetry and attending live poetry readings and (coincidentally?) suffering from a dose of writers’ block. At some point next year, I may have to become a hermit again, curb my reading to a few favourites, and write like mad.
That said, I do enjoy the act of live performance and, last night at Sofi’s Bar in Leith, I had the opportunity both to read a set and to hear a variety of diverse poetic voices. Rachel Amey, a performance poet with a political, feminist angle, who performs her work from memory, was on top form - thoughtful, provocative and engaging material. The open mic featured seasoned readers Colin McGuire (organiser of the event), Roddy Shippin and Claire Askew, all of whom read with their accustomed poise and skill, and also the guy behind the bar (I don’t know his name) who was reading, I think, for the first time and did very well. Sofi’s always comes over to me as a friendly, welcoming place and the event attracts both the normal ‘poetry audience’ and people who go to this event because the bar is local to them. The readings take place in the main bar, not in a function room, and not being shut off is one reason people who don’t ordinarily go to poetry readings have begun to make it a monthly habit. A few people opened the door, realised poetry was happening, and walked straight out - their prerogative, of course, and poetry isn't for everyone any more than antiques roadshows or One Direction albums. A crowd of joggers stopped to receive glasses of tap water and then jogged off again, another regular occurrence each month. Perhaps they found extra sustenance in Colin's poem about pancakes?
I read an unusual set, beginning with poems from my back catalogue that weren’t in my full collections but which I didn’t feel ashamed of writing. Below is my set-list with the years each poem was published:
1. Do You Remember Henry Healey’s? (1999)
2. Designer Birthday for Little Brother (2002)
3. The Actress (2005)
4. The Clown of Natural Sorrow (2002, 2005)
5. Shopping List (2009)
6. Hangover (2011, 2012)
7. The Packs (2011, 2012)
8. Blade Runner (2012, 2013)
9. Locus-a-Non (2013)
10. The Dull Bulbs (newish, unpublished)