Go and See is a project from the partnership, Apples and Snakes and Punch Records that allows West Midlands Poets to attend spoken word events. For information, have a look at our projects page.
I don’t really like or understand performance poetry and had no interest in going very far to see any. I’ve tried to like it but just can’t get very enthusiastic about it. The Impress Poetry Garden Market was not performance poetry, strictly speaking, it was, mostly, a poetry recital. Bohdan will deny the poetry recital/ poetry performance distinction exists and perhaps he’s right. But he’s not.
Anyway, seven poets had fifteen minutes each and read four or five poems each. One of them was a Performance Poet, Ira Lightman who regularly pops up on Radio 4 with Ian MacMillan and who has apparently modeled his look on the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) and he was by far the most entertaining – it is his job, after all – but the rest were normal book-holding poetry-reciting poets and, unfortunately, none of them looked like incarnations of The Doctor. Perhaps John Wedgwood Clarke looks like a young Sylvester McCoy, but that’s a bit of a stretch.
Now, I already had the prejudice that in Performance Poetry the performance matters more than the poetry – and, oftentimes, there isn’t any poetry involved, but the performance entertains anyway. (Ira Lightman did do at least two ‘readings’ which involved making a sequence of loud noises, I can’t call them poems but they were definitely performed very well and were entertaining.) I wanted to see if the non-performance poets could capture the attention of an audience with nothing more than the actual poems. Without stage-presence, or wild gesticulations, or actorly charisma, or sexual magnetism, or a cool outfit, or comedic interludes. The answer is no, they can’t. If you’re on a stage you really do need to perform, at least a little bit. Standing there and reading doesn’t cut it.
The proof of this is that the best poet by far at this event was Lotte Kramer, who is described in the event’s programme as a ‘holocaust poet’ and whose poems were about growing up in Nazi Germany. I couldn’t really hear half of what she read and I don’t think any one else could. What I did hear, though, sounded like the kind of poetry I like: meaningful but not sentimental, clear, plain, light on adverbs and adjectives, and light on metaphors and similes. But I had to go to the nearby Inpress Book stall and flick through her collected poems to confirm to myself that the poems being read were brilliant. Of course, I don’t expect a 73 year old woman to bounce about on stage like Tinchy Stryder spitting rhymes but if she had, I would have been entertained.
In conclusion, I came away with my prejudices more or less confirmed. Having said that, Ira Lightman gave them a bit of a knock with his last three readings but these were so weird and impossible to describe that I’m going to pretend they didn’t happen. (I changed my mind: here’s a quick attempt at describing them: first he read a poem in a high-pitched cartoony voice. The high-pitched cartoony voice was meant to convey in sound that this poem appears as a circle on the page. The poem seemed more-or-less meaningless. Then he read a poem in his normal voice that also seemed to be more-or-less meaningless. Then he explained that these two poems intersect one another in his book and did a final reading in which his normal voice was constantly being interrupted by the high-pitched cartoony voice because the normal poem had, sort of, crashed into the circle poem. When he got to the diameter of the circle poem, the high pitched voice dominated and then started to shrink away again until the normal voice did the last few lines on its own. Read like this the whole thing seemed a little less meaningless. Does that make sense?)
The other poets, some of which you can follow on twitter if you like, were Melissa Lee-Houghton (@MleeHoughton), John Wedgwood Clarke (@jwedgwoodclarke), Kim Moore (@kimmoorepoet), Hannah Lowe (@hannahlowepoet), and Rhian Edwards. They were all fine – just not the polar opposites Ira Lightman (@iralightman) and Lotte Kramer who are both barn-stormingly-good in completely different ways.