The days are long now in these northern parts and that makes trips out in the evening much more inviting. Once darkness falls at 4.30pm I find it difficult to rouse myself to go to any of the local poetry readings. I can rarely fight a stubborn reluctance to leave the warmth of home, or to face the unpleasantness of the journey. Going anywhere hereabouts involves a drive along a too-narrow main trunk road where, at night, on-coming lights fox and befrazzle my elderly eyes. There are promises of a dual carriageway one day, so if I live that long it might make a difference. As things are I miss a lot. Anyway, last Wednesday, at the independent bookshop in the next small town along, there was to be a reading and no reason not to turn out. Driving into the glories of a watercolour artists’ dream of an evening sky would almost have been reason enough.
Two poets, both recently published, were reading their new pamphlets. They were an interesting juxtaposition. One went to the same place on a local loch every day for a year and wrote what came to him. The other travels a lot and writes about the places she visits. The woman-who-travels was an irritating reader with a soft voice and a tendency to read to her manuscript. I couldn’t hear her although she was asked to speak up. This, in my opinion, is a grave sin. If people have turned out to listen to your poetry the least you can do is deliver it clearly with a judicious amount of emphasis. No need for actual dramatics unless you are a performance poet, but certainly please put some personality into your work. Behave as if you care what your audience hears and understands. They have made an effort, you should too.
The loch man’s delivery was altogether better. He gave us short, amusing, and pertinent comments before each poem. In other words he gave something of himself and didn’t expect us to be grateful for his pearly words alone. His voice was strong and clear. I bought his book.
Thinking about it afterwards I decided I also bought his book because I preferred his poems. They went deeper. It’s easy to write about a place one is visiting for the first (or second or third time even) especially places audiences back home aren’t so likely to have been in, easy to paint a word picture. But occasionally someone in the audience will have once stood in the same spot forming and absorbing their own impressions of the place.
She-who-travelled wrote a poem about Missolonghi, the place where Byron lived and died. I was there about forty years ago and was interested to hear how it seems to have changed in the intervening years but I missed, in her poems, any reaction or feeling toward the town. It was just another tourist call-off spot with a plaque on a wall somewhere. I wasn’t writing poetry when I was there and it’s maybe too late now, but I hope I can dredge up enough of the emotions it evoked in me being in the last place on earth seen by that wild, passionate and driven young genius who espoused the cause of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.
I can certainly remember the 70 mosquito bites I got during the night. Fortunately for me the mosquitos no longer carry malaria but Byron’s death, probably from malarial fever (followed by a violent cold and persistent blood-letting that may have led to sepsis,) felt very personal as my legs swelled up and itched for days afterwards. From the sublime to the personally ridiculous I know, but of such sensations are our lives made up.