I went to a very different professional poetry reading last night: John Hegley at the Cambridge Wordfest. He’s at the extreme performance end of the spectrum, singing many of his poems with ukulele accompaniment and coaxing the audience to sing the refrains. It’s at the border of poetry and stand-up comedy – he even used some of the techniques of my favourite stand-up Stewart Lee, like singling out individuals who laugh at the funny bits, and his throwaway delivery is similar.
It was a masterclass about what works on stage, but it didn’t seem like the poems would repay re-reading. The rhymes were often clever, but much of the humour came from breaking the rules of formal poetry, like destroying the meter at the end with a long rambling phrase that doesn’t rhyme. His repertoire of styles seemed limited also – about half was free verse, and lots were list poems. Where he did have extended blocks of rhyme and meter it seemed a bit flat.
So I didn’t buy the book, but it was a fun evening and £12 well spent. I’d be happy if I could entertain an audience half so well. Shame I can’t play the ukulele. Or carry a tune.
At my writers’ group this month we had a practice poetry reading. I was the only one who took this to mean performing them from memory, but I do think it helps. It lets you make eye contact and really concentrate on communicating. I also stood up, because I have puny lungs that tend to run out of air halfway through a sentence and I know from flute-playing days that standing helps. I felt a bit of a prat, but it did give me confidence that I’m capable of doing a reading, as long as my nerves don’t interfere in a more public venue with strangers. Not guaranteed.
I chose to perform 2 of the ‘funny’ ones, because I wanted to see whether they got any sort of laugh. One did and one didn’t really, which isn’t bad going. I would assume that funny poems would get a better public reception in general, but of course the audience for poetry readings is so specialist that it may be counter-productive to upset their expectations.
I wanted to experiment with self-promotion of the poem on my last blog, Romneyreagan. It was turned down by the only online journal I thought might be interested in it, and the clock was ticking on its timeliness. So I registered with Buzzfeed and posted it: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mcleanmary/romney-poetry-7udh
In theory, it goes onto the live feed and the editors pick up anything interesting. I think. I couldn’t actually figure out where in blue blazes the live feed was, and then before long it all disappeared anyway as Storm Sandy took out the main server. Cute poems about politics were clearly pretty low on everyone’s agenda this past week.
Still, maybe if I write something in future that really has a chance of tapping into the zeitgeist it might be worth a go. Any tips from people more tech-savvy than me?