Friday, 23 September 2011

Festival Review 3: Busking Verse

Stanley Holloway reading pretty fast.

I cannot quite speak to the Poetry Workshop or even Superheroes and Evil Geniuses because I only looked in on those at the beginning, but might ask the presenters of the latter to render their own account. I can however say something about the Poetry Busking.

Imagine this. For the first time the Tour of Britain is passing through the town centre on the same weekend as the farmers' market both of which happen to coincide with the Saturday of the festival. Mr Martin Figura, ex-army Major, is dropping ranks to be our Sergeant Major. The crowds are already gathered round the stalls by the Market Cross and are beginning to line the streets. The mastermind behind the gathering is WRAC Thrower, and although she cannot be with us on the occasion, she is sending psychic signals from her secret bunker. I am not sure whether we have a complete Dirty Dozen but if not, we are not far short. Operations begin just outside the Library by way of preparation and the infiltration and occupation of the the market is soon enough accomplished. Then the poetics begin.

Among the great works orated to general notice (or should that be to General Notice) is Jabberwocky and Stanley Holloway's monologue, Albert and the Lion. This being the day of the great cycle race we have two poems about bicycles. It is a varied programme, the microphone carrying to at least four stalls back, while the world shops or stops. I perform some three pieces including John Crowe Ransom's Piazza Piece, seeing we are in a piazza. The weather holds though thunder is forecast. I don't think anyone minds the poetry. It's a free show and you can always move on.

There is about forty minutes of this before we move into the pub, our next venue. But that's not such a good move because people don't follow in. The race is almost upon us now. Eventually Sergeant-Major Figura tells us to stand at ease and dismisses us. We need a firm hand and are only obeying orders. Mission accomplished.

Putting aside the military puns, the whole thing is fun and is clearly worth repeating with different poems next year, though probably the Saturday before the festival rather than during it. We don't collect money or sell things but could hand out programmes and publicity.

Clearly, the occasion is not one made for complex personal lyric or experimental verse. It is, by its very nature, a touch declamatory. Comic poems and recitations are good. The better known the poem the more the audience will respond. Something needs to be familiar - if no more than a first line. A strong voice, a good sense of timing, a certain dramatic content all help. No need for costumes though. It is the ordinariness of the readers that works. They are just people getting up reciting things, more like a flash mob than an army really.

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