I’m quite busy at the moment moving country. I have the kind of life which is largely uneventful, but occasionally, just to jazz things up a bit, I plan exciting bursts of activity, such as moving a husband, cat and life in general back to Dublin the day before I go to read at the most high-profile literary event of my career. To compound the chaos, we have nowhere to live, so said husband and cat will be confined to my small room in my parent’s house until we find somewhere (our cat would fight with their cat, so she has to be contained). Then we will all pile into a car (except the cat) and go to Strokestown, where I will probably find myself standing in front of a small crowd clutching a file of plane tickets and booking confirmations instead of my poems.
And so instead of worrying what I’m going to read at the festival, I’ve been thinking about drugging our cat for the ferry journey, wondering if I can fit all my boots in one massive suitcase and fretting about the birds in our grotty tenement garden, who will have no one to feed them once we leave. We also had a wild hedgehog in the garden, but he conveniently died some time last night.
So, now that I can cross the welfare of the hedgehog off my ‘things to worry about instead of sleeping list’, maybe I can find some room for my poems…how do people choose what to read?
I often find that the poems that go down a storm at readings are the ones that remain unpublished, languishing on the shelf like a maiden aunt…(a maiden aunt who’s great fun at parties, but is revealed as banal and trite under closer scrutiny? If the aunt’s the poem, who’s the publisher? A middle aged man on a dating website? Think I should let this analogy die. Like the poor hedgehog.)
I generally find that my more obscure, abstract poems are the ones chosen by magazine editors, but these are often meet with a wall of rather non-plussed faces and I don’t get the nice little chorus of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘hmmmmms’ that constitute applause in the poetry world.
Then there are the poems that have been succesful in competitions; these are generally the kind of poem that won’t have been picked by the magazine editor, but that are still a little too knotty for readings. They’re harder work, requiring a performance to do them justice. I can usually manage three of four of these before I feel I’m losing people (or confidence).
Finally, there are the shorter, pithier, more sparsely written poems (the split-personality high-kicking maiden aunts from earlier). These poems work very well at readings, because poetry read aloud always sounds more impressive and meaningful. You can imbue every word with a sense of mystique and newness. Nouns have their own inherent beauty which stems from their associations rather than from the poet’s writing alone. This is why the simpler poems work so well at readings – you can read them the way they sound to you, emphasising the elements that make the poem sing for you, without overloading the audience with imagery and metaphor. Yes, the performance aspect gives the poem an unfair advantage (like the dim party lighting which does wonders for the maiden aunt’s complexion) but isn’t that the point of reading aloud? To convince an audience of your brilliance? To have them walking down the street with your book in your pocket before they get a chance to be irritated by too many uses of participles, indefinite articles, adverbs etc?
So roll on Sunday. If I can manage to make the audience lose themselves in a dreamy world of aer lingus timetables and stena line terms and conditions, I’ll have done my job. It’s all in the nouns.