Sunday, 5 June 2011
Reflections on PBS reading
Yesterday's post was a bit rushed, so a little more here. The event was supported by a host of our best known poets. I don't want to go through the whole list of thirty-two, the order and cast list changed till the last minute. The point was everyone read for three minutes and gave time for free. Those reading in the first half were in the Green Room, hearing those reading, and mostly there was respectful silence and a desire to listen. Here and there chat bubbles up, but I think it's a sign of respect to listen, and most of the time people did, and applauded in the poet just returning from the stage. The second half was probably similar though since I read in the first half I was sitting among the audience in the second. Who knows, poets may, in their heart of hearts, be autistic, spoilt egotists positively raging for absolute undivided attention of infinite length, but they don't generally behave like it and, frankly, I have never known them so. No divas on show this night either. Case much exaggerated. Of course it is a solitary art in the composition but at best it is not simply an intense study of the poet's own human heart, but of the language too and this requires much more intense concentration. I don't know of a single poet who has no humility before language, and language is not the self, it is the air we live in. Other people's air.
The atmosphere then was very good and the poets are together. I know many more who would have come or would perform at another similar event. There is talk of one in the north of the country.
The audience of about 300 came prepared to join, spend and offer. It's straight after work on a Friday night at an event with minimum time for publicity. It's not in an accustomed place. It's a very good and very enthusiastic audience. And we could multiply that over the country 10, 20, 30 fold. There is a sense that a fight is going on and that this fight is, in some respects, a fight for the official soul of the country. The poets represented a wide range of the mix of the country, and they and their audience are amongst the most articulate people. There will be plenty more articulacy here before we're done.
I have absolutely no concerns for poetry. It was there at the very beginning and will be there at the very end. It will survive everything and the worse things are the better it will survive. Which is not to excuse the hypocrites who would do it down at every turn, who spout on about bums in seats but when they arrive at a packed Festival Hall for the Eliot Prizes do nothing but whine about how a lot of people seemed to know each other. We can't be having that. And we can't ben having these small publishers who underpay themselves and work long hours to make the stuff go round, especially round those circles the big events, like the Olympics for example, don't concern themselves with. And we can't be having organisations like NAWE who realise that having creative writing in universities suggests the need for some an intelligent overview. Nor can we be doing with apparently lesser festivals or other bodies that propagate the poetry that's on the page and stays in the heart.
No, the money must be spent on fast food, fast culture, fast party people poetry, fast professionalisation of quickly introduced and quickly dropped government policies in languages that no-one actually speaks. Short term grandiosity is what is wanted.
Well, they'll be forgotten. Who knows, most of us poets individually will probably be forgotten too, but some won't and even the forgotten poet's words leave traces in lives and language that will last and be treasured. I see the Facebook page in memory of that fine poet Matt Simpson continues to flourish through individual dedication. So it goes on and will go on long after this or that fly-by-night policy is forgotten.
I had the pleasure of walking back to Kings Cross with Charles Boyle, about whose poetry I had recently written but had never really met or talked to. We both recalled with fondness the time when we were reading to our children and how sad we were when they didn't need us anymore.
The night train packed with people part drunk, part utterly exhausted.