Friday, 14 November 2014

I Steady My Nerves

It feels liked a dream - I've wanted to be a poet since I was eight, and on Monday I read my poems to an audience of approximately 450, and to Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, with whom I shared the stage at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury.

I'm not quite sure how I managed it, both the being asked to read by Anna Dreda, who is Wenlock Books and Wenlock Poetry Festival, and the standing on the stage in the spotlight.

I didn't have an ambition to read with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke - that's because it didn't enter my head that it would be a possibility.  And I have never been to a show at Theatre Severn and thought, "I'd love to read my poems from that stage."  It wasn't a case of, as Abraham Lincoln put it: "I will prepare and some day my chance will come."  (We all know what happened to him in a theatre.)

I suppose the advantage of that is that the whole experience, from Anna suggesting it to the final echo of applause, was, for me, what Raymond Carver describes as Gravy.  Do you know Carver's poem Gravy?

Realising my luck, I wanted to honour the trust that had been put in me.  I wanted my sons, who were listening to me read for the first time, not to be embarrassed by me.  I thought hard about which poems to read.  I tried combinations out loud.  I asked my sons if it was okay to read poems in which they feature.

When I'd decided, I printed them in font 16 so I wouldn't need to negotiate my glasses (which I usually leave on the top of my head).  I glued the pages into a book, wrote notes for myself.

At about 4pm on the day, my inner child wanted to tear up all these ideas and start again.  I felt a sense of despair.  My poems bored me. I felt the need to write new ones.  "Who do you think you are?" asked my inner critical parent.

Fortunately, my inner adult has quite a loud voice, and she told me that I needed to stick with my decisions and get into my frock.  And my inner, nurturing parent said, "It'll be fine."

My younger son said, "I'll make you a cup of tea."

My eldest son said, "You look great, mum."  "How should I have my hair?" I asked his girlfriend, "up or down?"  "I like it down," she said.  "You look like a poet with it down."

Later, backstage, I listened to the growing murmur of voices in the auditorium as it neared 7pm.  The quality of sound piped into the green room was one of anticipation of pleasure - like a flock eager to be fed, but not ravenous.  They'd already had a chance to enjoy a wonderful variety of poetry being read in the foyer - it sounded like an audience that had been warmed.  The mood in the green room was relaxed, positive, encouraging.  I drank half a glass of white wine.

I won't describe the reading.  If you were there, you had your own responses.  You were part of an audience which radiated attention.  The mood on stage was one of mutual respect and support.  Throughout, I felt as if I was amongst an extended family of friends and relations who were saying, "Go on.  Go on, then.  Do your thing."

Saturday, 1 November 2014

I Run A Temperature

I like idioms.  I haven't quite figured out why, but to me, they make complete sense as culturally acquired language.  They can be smooth and seamless, they can cause a stir  - they include metaphor, simile and cliche, often without owning up to any of these.

One idiom I've been running this week is a temperature.  Or the temperature has been running me, more like.  It's okay, I'm getting better, and it was sporadic and never very high, but it's stopped me in my tracks.  Or rather in my bed, my own bed, which I've had to make.

I've had to abandon all sorts of plans.  Two poetry readings.  My longest-serving friend's 50th birthday.  Most of some animation workshops I'd been looking forward to.  It's not been a big deal in comparison with what many people have to put up with, and amazing friends have brought me soup, made me tea, offered me chewing gum, cut me some slack, and have generally bailed me out and stood in for me: Anna, Nadia, Barry, Lucy, Cathy, Ian, Helen, David, Iolo, Kathy, Hilda ...  but I'll be glad to get back into the swing of things.

As I'm not contagious, however, I've ploughed on regardless a couple of times: to the graduation of a year's worth of social work students yesterday, for example.  I wanted to be there by hook or crook.  It's irreplaceable, that moment of witness, so I'd have been feeling even more out of sorts if I'd missed it.

I know the drill of graduation.  Its medieval pretensions, its echoes of Hogwarts - in many ways it's not my cup of tea and I worried about causing a scene by fainting -  but despite feeling washed up, by the end of the ceremony I was over the moon.

It'll take me a while to get back up to speed, but in the meantime, I am glad, that amidst the physical discomfort and psychological uncertainty that illness brings, I pushed my luck, and saw the Class of 2014 on their way out to take the world by storm.