Sunday, June 3, 2012


Tony Harrison gave an incredible reading last night in Ledbury as a curtain-raiser for the forthcoming poetry festival. He's been doing readings for about 50 years and clearly knows how to judge these things perfectly. Not too many poems, just enough context and a relaxed but precise delivery. It helps that the poems are so good, of course.

The post-reading discussion in the pub included reflections on some of the really great readers we'd seen, and some that are not to everyone's taste. Sometimes the voice is the clincher, rich and commanding or reedy and indistinct - it makes a big difference to how the poetry comes across. The general consensus, however, was that rattling though poem after poem with head down and minimal acknowledgement of the audience is not the way to go.

But how polished does it need to be? Some very good readers are also very scripted, with every comment on the poems carefully worked out in advance; others fumble around looking for the next poem they've decided to read, which they're sure is somewhere in this book...

And do you have to follow the famous 'I'll just read two more poems' rule? Nearly everybody seems to do it and it does make audiences relax. It's as if the poet is saying, 'look, I know I've gone on a bit now, and you are probably finding it hard to concentrate, but just hang on in there for two more!' That's assuming the penultimate poem isn't their latest experimental verse epic, of course.

I've read very little in public, which I'm sure is why this is starting to preoccupy me now. There will soon be a launch for the pamphlet and - fingers crossed - a few opportunities to read here and there, and maybe even sell a few copies. Most poetry gets sold at readings, so this kind of showcasing is a key skill for poets. I think I'd better spend the rest of this rather damp Jubilee Weekend perfecting my poetry-reading persona. This fellow seems to have some good advice...

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