Tuesday, 17 July 2012
by Sheilagh Dyson
I am hardly the best qualified to be writing on this week’s theme of ‘preparing for a poetry event’. My glib answer is that I put on lipstick, check I have enough money for my tea at the excellently hospitable Number 5 café, find a seat in same and prepare to be entertained – by others.
To date, the triumphant tally of poetry readings to which I have contributed in a vocal way is precisely nil. This is not through any reluctance to perform in public, nor some maidenly reticence on my part to plying my wares in an open forum. On the contrary, down the years I’ve been no slouch at speaking up and speaking out, loud and long, about issues that concern me. But this is a new world to me, one in which I still have to find my feet, take a few risks and have the confidence to put myself on the line, as my colleagues in the Dead Good Poets do so impressively and, seemingly, effortlessly each time we get together.
To this end, I’ve been reading up on the myriad advice available (as ever) on the internet to those shrinking poetry violets like myself who are yet to make their reading debut. I’m particularly taken with ‘One Night Stanzas’ which advises:
1) Say yes, put your name down, make yourself do it. Make a commitment you can’t get out of. Do it when you’re half-confident. Don’t wait until you’re fully confident, that happy moment will never arrive.
2) Be prepared. Know exactly which poems you’re intending to read and stick to them.
3) Put yourself on first, when nobody’s tired, bored, drunk or desperate for a cigarette.
4) Enjoy yourself. Make eye contact with the audience. Smile!
5) Enjoy the audience. They’re on your side. They appreciate how hard it is to write a poem, never mind get up and read it in public.
6) Look forward. Remember that this is the last time you will feel so nervous. Next time will be a piece of cake.
Less conventional advice found included:
1) Drink beer. (It’s a thought!) But not too much.
So, will I be taking my own advice? Soon, but not yet. Not next Friday. Maybe the time after. But I know someone who might take the plunge. I turn to my husband, Dave. Look Dave, it’s easy. Just put your name down, then you’re committed. Choose your poems, get yourself on first, you’ll enjoy it, they’ll be on your side, it will never be as hard again. Drink beer!
I will finish, not with a poem this time, but a quotation. Irish poet Eavan Boland, asked what she has learned from writing poetry, had this to say:
‘That reading and writing and sharing poetry has power in it. Poetry is often misunderstood by those who’ve never really dealt with it — people think it’s archaic and serves no purpose. This isn’t true. Poetry is what language was made for. Get struggling students to write poems and their literacy scores will sky-rocket, as will their social skills. Get a poet to write your advertising copy and see what happens (a lot of companies have begun to do this – look how many TV ads are written in verse these days.) Poetry is not old-fashioned, doesn’t have to be self-aggrandising or dull. I’ve learned that none of the rumours are true. Poetry is seriously hip, and what’s more, it’s a long way from being dead.’