At the reading

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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

22 comments

  1. thoughtshaper

    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.

    I love this line. I just wanted to tell this Anthony Wilson that I felt your panic, your disconnection and your love of silence. Therefore I suspect I can tell the Anthony Wilson at the reading that it was worth it. Only I wasn’t there. Only I was. Now. Because of this. Isn’t writing wonderful?

    Like

  2. currankentucky

    It’s funny isn’t it, how we have the need to be identifiable? Do animals but as much thought into their beings as we do? Its only since becoming ill with ME and losing my life I’ve realised just how important it can seem to be somebody. Whether its a wife, daughter, husband, brother, runner, knitter… I lost all my labels and became me, just me. Thanks for another wonderful post to make me think even further!

    Like

  3. Cosmic Cookie

    Ah, Anthony, you have revealed our poets’ secret…the exhilaration of writing is quite different from the exhilaration – when it comes – of performance. I loved the reality of the almost casual afterthought: “There are four people in the audience.” Thank you for this wonderful poem.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you. This is about secrets, you are right. I’m aiming for what everyone knows but no one is talking about kind of thing. I think Raymond Carver said that. And he should know. Thanks again for stopping by.
      A

      Like

  4. jaynestanton

    Tonight, I read your wonderful blog post, from ‘I need to be in a place of silence’ to ‘Silence/The perfect poem.’ Then I listened to BBC 3’s The Essay series on iPlayer. I think Michael Symmons Roberts and Michael Longley would agree with you. Then, listening live to Don Paterson’s ‘tough love’ letter to a young poet: ‘Don’t be concerned with finding your voice; shut it up so you can listen.’
    Thank you for sharing your various selves, Anthony.

    Like

  5. evelyneholingue

    I wasn’t there, but through your words it is easy to visualize the venue and feel your emotions. Beautiful poem that resonates with anyone who has ever done a reading. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Like

  6. Ríonach Aiken

    This is such an honest and accurate post. A poem that speaks my experience and helps me to smile at my selves more kindly.

    Michael Longley said ‘If I knew where poetry came from, I’d go there.’ And yes, to read from the place of silence, when it happens, is magic.

    ‘Beneath the blue oblivious sky
    The water sings of nothing, not your name, not mine.’
    Machado/Paterson

    Thanks Anthony. Great post.

    Like

  7. roselle angwin

    I love this, Anthony, and I love that you bring all of yourself to the feast – subpersonalities too. Thank you. Interestingly, three of the blgoposts I’ve written over the last week or so are all about silence. Seems to me good words and great music can help our entry into that deep place. Rx

    Like

  8. Pingback: At the reading by Anthony Wilson | Rebecca Gethin
  9. Connie

    I love this poem and the ways in which it weaves together silence and identity. It’s easy for me to lose myself in the noisy demands of life, and your poem and its lovely accompanying image remind us all of the beauties and importance of silence and listening – to ourselves and to others.

    Like

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