Thursday, 23 November 2006

Poetry Live

Poetry Readings are a great way to experience poetry. Hearing a poet live can and should add to the experience of the poetry. If you’re a poet yourself it’s a great way of meeting more poets and developing an audience for your work.

The poet who I most like to hear live is Ruth Padel, she has an electrifying stage presence and brings her work to life with great passion. She's also very much an environmentalist too, which of course appeals to me. I really enjoyed Sharon Olds reading recently at the Scottish Poetry Library, she has a very matter of fact delivery and a great confidence in public reading (I wrote a mini-review of the evening on my other blog Alter Ego). This makes a huge difference, some poets hide behind their books when they are reading and the words are all lost in their chins and the audience feels no sense of engagement. I know from experience how nerve wracking it can be to read your work in public, but once you have a certain level of recognition, you are expected to give performances and you might as well learn to do it with style and at least a pretence of confidence!

I'm not well recognised enough to be expected to give readings. I actually choose to do it for fun! (?) My readings have almost all been in performance poetry venues (though I don't think of myself as a performance poet!) rather than in literary venues. There are some excellent performance poets in Edinburgh and there used to be some excellent caberet nights for poets and musicians (I used to love performing at Kin, which was a low key cabaret night and Silencio was interesting too, an evening of glamour and surreal entertainment that somehow never quite lived up to expectation while at the same time always providing a very daunting audience to read to! Neither of these nights exist anymore and Big Word Poetry is too aggressive for me, though it can be credited with kickstarting the whole performance poetry scene in Edinburgh).

Maybe Edinburgh is strange in having two distinct poetry communities - the literary circuit (eg the Scottish Poetry Library, Poetry Association Scotland) where you have to have a serious track record of published work before you're invited to read and then the performance poetry world where you can often just turn up and read, though its dominated by loud aggressive comedy poets who perform their work usually without a book in sight. There are a couple of in between events. Is there this kind of distinction elsewhere?

Thoughts on Poetry Readings for Poetry Thursday.


Catherine said...

It sounds as if you have a lively poetry scene in Edinburgh. I think here there is the distinction you mention - there is a "younger" group called Catalyst which has "poetry slams" - whether they are actually attended by performance poets I'm not sure.
Regarding your comments on my blog, there was a project here to link writers and scientists which resulted in an interesting book of short fiction and poetry called "Are Angels OK?" But I do enjoy finding a well written poem where the writer has a natural understanding of science

Heather said...

I would love to see Sharon Olds read, I'll have to check out your Alter Ego review. Interesting about the performance poets/literary split. I think being a performance poet might be too scary for me!

ren powell said...

Here they've tried several years to have "slams" and 60 year old men show up in suits to read from their books. At the most recent festival a "cool" celebrity novelist read a few paragraphs from his latest book for the "slam". I am on another planet when it comes to poetry here. To be invited to read you have to have a book out THIS YEAR to sell. Sigh. I wish I were in Edinburgh. (ps- Conn - whom I mentioned on my blog was your laureate a couple years back).

Jenny Lindsay said...

The Edinburgh poetry scene is really diverse, that's why I love it here. As the producer of The Big Word, (whose aim is to showcase 'performance' poetry) I have, over the past few months felt the need to make the nights more diverse - not, as you note, just ranty-polemical-stand-ups, but more softer voices such as Jennifer Williams, (ex-promoter of Silencio), Lucy English (who you can catch on March 22nd at our new home of The Jazz Bar) as well as putting on the best of the more typical 'performance' poetry in the UK. Slams, of course, by their very nature are a little 'aggressive' given that they are highly competitive and have never been to everyone's taste! I do hope that you find the time to come check out the all-new Big Word at the jazz Bar, where the emphasis is on a range of voices now, not just the usual stand-up poetry (though i am a big fan of that too!) Or, you should check out Anita Govan's Beatnix night at the same venue. For my part, i really need to get down to the Scottish poetry library a wee bit more! All the best, Jenny Lindsay

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Jenny
Thanks for commenting. I wouldn't be the only person to say they felt Big Word used to be too aggressive, but I take your point. You can hardly describe Jennifer as aggressive....