IMG_0006

I get to the reading on time.

I find a place near the front, so I can get to the stage without having to clamber over people. I introduce myself to the venue staff and go in search of a drink.

I am not nervous. I have done this before. I have rehearsed, to an empty room. I have timed myself. I have prepared a set list, which I secretly check I still have.

No one comes up to me. I sit in silence, with my drink and my books. I am ready.

§

Or.

§

An old friend is at the reading. We have not seen each other for a long time. I did not know they were coming to the reading.

There is so much to catch up on! We go to get a drink.

I want to be in a place of silence. Instead I am doing this.

§

. . . I wasn’t always—

§

In ten minutes I will be giving my reading.

Secretly I want to be elsewhere, backstage ideally (there isn’t one), or at home, under my duvet.

I notice I am doing a lot of laughing. Words seem to be pouring out of me, filling up the space, using up oxygen.

I am not in love with myself. Even though I have done this before, I am extremely nervous.

I have left my set list at home.

§

I have left my set list at home.

But it doesn’t matter! The crowd are loving me. They laugh in places where I did not know there were any. I love it.

For an unrehearsed reading, it is going pretty well. Perfectly, even.

I open my mouth and great wit is to be heard in the proximity of my words.

But I am reading —I have read— without love. For myself, or for my audience.

I have heard their laughter, but I have not listened to them. . .

I cannot even hear myself.

§

I do love giving readings.

I also love silence.

§

Sometimes, I wish I

§

A man I do not know speaks to me after the reading.

A woman I do not know speaks to me before the reading.

The man gives me a sheaf of poems.

The woman tells me she has cancer.

§

I am flowing urbanely from anecdote to poem to applause.

It is a great reading.

No one knows how terribly it is going except me.

§

I am reading out of my skin. There are four people in the audience.

§

I leave the venue.

On my way out, a poster for the reading catches my eye.

My name is there, in small lettering.

I wonder which Anthony Wilson gave tonight’s reading, the one on the poster, the one who is leaving, or the one who I will find at home waiting for me.

§

As I return to my chair, it is everything I can do not to throw up.

§

My fellow-readers are amazing.

Each of them reads beautifully, with grace and kindness, out of a place of silence.

I am humbled even to know them.

§

I return home

. . .

Silence

The perfect poem