I am taking a break from writing brand new blog posts over the summer.
Instead of posting new work I am going to give readers the chance to read material from the archives of this blog.
Starting on Monday, a new-old blog post will appear here every two days, twenty of my favourites from the last four years.
See you all in September, and happy holidays.
Though I am reading from it, the book is nowhere to be seen.
As well as normal people, some poets are in the audience. Poets I admire, poets I love, poets I have worked with.
I catch the eye of one of them. He smiles at me with kindness, then shakes his head gently. I am certain I am the only person in the room to see it. Another poet, famous for his taciturn grumpiness, quietly gets up to leave, right in the middle of my second poem. I look around for help, but there is no one.
Half way through the introduction to my next poem, I find myself telling the audience the most flagrant lie, all in the service of looking for a laugh. The lie goes down well, I notice. I will use this again, I think.
A poet I love deeply walks into the room half way through my next poem. This is not just any poet. It is my mentor. A poet I have trusted with my life, opened my heart to. She also leaves after half a poem.
Little pools of sweat are making their presence felt in crevices behind my knees, and in full view on my top lip. The next poem I read takes twice as long as it usually does, not because of the jokes I tell leading up to it, but because it is now twice as long.
The poem after that has been cut in half. The poem after that is now a blank space.
Voices are now competing for space in my head. Actual voices: schoolteachers, my grandmother, even Prince Philip. One of them has pulled out a sheaf of paper and is making large ‘X’ marks across each page in thick red marker pen, at which they toss it onto the floor in front of me as I continue to read. It is my CV, the lines of which slowly disappear up the page, as though chased by an invisible delete button, leaving only the red ‘X’ behind.
I am on my last poem. I grip the lectern, take a sip of water, and breathe. ‘This will be my last poem,’ I say. I choose not to invent specious lies to introduce it with. I merely say the title and begin reading. Two thirds of the way into the poem I discover a word I do not remember having used before. I press on regardless, suddenly aware that the poem means much more to me than I had first imagined. It was about one thing, I had thought, but is about another thing entirely. Even though I have made the mistake of finding my own poem interesting, I am confident I have read it perfectly.
‘Thank you,’ I hear myself say to the empty chairs in front of me.
……and there was me, thinking this and all other varieties of anxiety nightmare were exclusive to myself. But yours has a redemptive ending. Mine do not. Have you tinkered with yours in the interests of Art? I merely ask.
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The empty row of chairs isn’t that redemptive… I’m working on it….
Unfortunately, poets judge poets and the more smug they are about their own poetic prowess, the harsher they judge; they have lost the delight of the naïve in the sparkle of the dew. There is profound sadness in this.