Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Where do I begin....when do I begin?

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.’



Lindsay said...

A woman after my own heart. I haven't performed my own piece (I've read others') since the birth of the DGPS three years ago. I suppose I shall have to remedy that, even if it is prose that I read (I don't really write poetry) so, I will if you will ;)

Ashley R Lister said...

Sound advice.

I think we should have a theme of poetry virgins at a future event - encouraging unperformed poets to take the mic.

Excellent post!


Shaun said...

I like that idea Ash, if only for the hymen we could put on the poster ;)

This was an excellent post Sheilagh. I still remember feeling nervous about going on the stage... it gets easier though. I just need to give one bit of advice to you (and Dave). If you are going to put your name down in the first section- when nobody needs a drink, smoke, chat etc- you need more than one poem with you. The very second you walk off that stage for the first time, you're hooked. Poetry = performance crack- and you'll need another hit straight after.

Great post.

Louise Barklam said...

Sheilagh, I seem to re-call someone, in the not too distant past saying "Feel the Fear, and do it anyway!" (or something along those lines). Lol.

Lindsay, that goes to you too hun. Remember our chat the other day. Lol.

I think everyone is absolutely petrified the first time. I was, and still shake like a leaf whenever I get up, but forcing myself each time gets easier.

But Shaun is right, you will need more than one poem. Take the plunge and feel the effects of his analagy!!

Great post, really enjoyed it!

Sheilagh Dyson said...

Dear friends - thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. I have got to stop being a scaredy cat and take my own advice.
Lindsay - like you, poetry doesn't come easily to me. I'm much more comfortable with writing prose, but now you've laid down a challenge.......
Ash - a poetry virgins event is a great idea to jolt some of us into belated action.
Shaun - thank you. You make it sound addictive!
Louise - yes, I did say that, didn't I? Me and my big mouth!
Thanks again for your kind thoughts. Sheilagh xx