Without the microphone. Or a stage, actually. Well, the local library* isn’t a concert hall, after all – but it did host a supportive and quite cosy open-mic kind of event this Tuesday evening. In an hour long get-together, poetry enthusiasts and poets were invited to share their favourite poems in an encouraging and accepting environment. It was an interesting and enjoyable night and I’m glad I went along.
Leading up to it, I wasn’t sure how many people would be there or if other poets would read their own work too; I was concerned that it would just be me, my friend Zoe (my constant literary wingman!), the librarians and the four walls...but I needn’t have worried. Around 30 people from mixed literary/writing backgrounds came, and there was a comfortable atmosphere from the beginning, with everyone taking their seats around the circle and chatting over tea and coffee.
After a wonderful start from Bath Spa MA alumni and published poet Ellie Evans** (she read so well, we were all jealous!), we were off. The opportunity to read was offered to the circle, and the first brave volunteer accepted. Of course, my main reason for attending was the chance to read my poems to a real, live audience (no snoring in the back row, now!), and I waited till I heard a poem which mine would follow on from well, before taking the pseudo-stage.
The time is here for me to share one of my greatest fears with you: I hate the way my voice sounds, and am always nervous about what people will think of it. It’s odd, as I don’t have a problem with standing/sitting in front of a group of people and having to speak or read aloud; and it isn’t even about reading words on a page and worrying that I’ll stumble or mispronounce. It’s all about the Zummerzet flavour. You see, I am (as are many of you, I suspect!) Somerset born and bred, and I fear that the country-bumpkin stereotype of West Country people will be applied to me before I’ve had a chance to prove it wrong. Now, my rolling rrrrrs do betray the Zummerzet in me, but if you’ve ever seen (or hid from) my reversing, you’ll know there’s no way I could drive a combine harvester! As soon as my Zummerzet-shame rises, my local pride quells it – I love dialect; believe it should be preserved, protected. For me and other Somerset-ians, snow ‘pitches’ on the ground; but for my Surrey-hailing father, it ‘settles’. How boring! Quick Google-research shows me that for dialects from other areas, snow ‘lies’ in Scotland and ‘sticks’ in the North West of England. This local flavour should be celebrated, championed. But now I’m getting rather off the point...
To get back to it, then, while I didn’t mind sitting there in front of people and reading, I did mind what my voice sounded like, what the audience thought about it, and what it would do to my poems...and I felt myself flushing, heard my cadence waver and wobble, and so committed the cardinal sin of not looking up from the page when reading out (your voice and expressiveness gets swallowed up by the paper, you see).
But I was brave and I did succeed: I read Arson (see recent posts for an explanation of the poem), and took a risk with the recent and under-exposed Murder, We Wrote, which comes from my early-writing-influences sequence, and is about authorship and community inspired by the TV show ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (but without the murder, I promise!).
Because I never looked up, I’m not quite sure how they were received by the audience circle – but Zoe reassures me that they went down well, and that she noticed Ellie, the published poet, nodding during Arson... Everyone was supportive of each other, applauding after each reader had finished, and welcoming the next poem to be introduced.
I enjoyed hearing each poem read by all at the event, and this aural experience really made me think about Voice; about how vocal presentation enriches the creative work. Ellie Evans read her work with such expression, flavour and colour that it was impossible not to see the scenes she spoke of. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to notice that she seemed to be reciting them and not reading from the page; and this talent of recitation was echoed when another audience member spoke aloud a favourite poem from memory. Certainly, practice helps; I should imagine that Ellie has given many readings and presentations of her work, as published authors do. She often made gestures, and looked at people as if in conversation with them, and I realised that familiarity with your own material comes not only from creating it, but from presenting it too.
A volunteer from the circle read his chosen poems (not his own work) so well too, using the same colour and texture as Ellie. Inflection and cadence of voice shows meaning, as does pace and rhythm, and makes what’s happening so much easier to understand – just like when writing. And suddenly my fear seemed rather silly – I have such a distinctive Voice when writing, why should I worry so when performing the same work? My actual voice may well be high-pitched with a pinch of Zummerzet, but it can be used to get the best out of the words that I’m reading. The more I focus on this, the less scared, inhibited and wobbly-voiced I will be. I just need to put this into practice...!
I came away keen to attend the next ‘Poetry Liaisons’ on the 13th March – and you’re welcome to come with me, listen to others’ favourites, and maybe even partake in a little poetry yourself.
*Midsomer Norton Library is the one in question, and hosts a number of literary-based events, both in office hours and out; their recent initiative ‘After Hours’ is for the community to get more use out of the facilities and space – so if you’re interested, have a look at: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/leisureandculture/Libraries/eventsandactivities/Pages/AfterHoursInitiative.aspx
** She read from her collection The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess, which is published by Seren and is available on Amazon. If you’d been at the event, you could’ve bought one from her direct and maybe even got it autographed; but if you’re like me, payday has just visited but is equally spent: after direct debits, accounting for bills and social outings, I don’t have any spare cash at all, and so couldn’t purchase a copy direct from Ellie. Come next payday, I shall be buying though!