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."


  1. That's lovely, Liz, and having heard you read to much smaller audiences - even with your hair up sometimes - I am quite sure you were equally brilliant in front of this vast one. I wish I could have been there (alas, was unavoidable) as everyone I know who was, has said it was fabulous. Congratulations. Did your sons enjoy it?

  2. Thank you for writing this Liz. You were marvellous. Professional and poetic. Perfect. And your voice is entirely your own, and sounded beautiful with Carol Ann and Gillian. Anna ��

  3. Hi Sandie - just catching up with Blog things! Thank you for your lovely comment (and yours Anna). The best thing about the reading for me (among many fantastic things) was that my sons were there and enjoyed it. Lovely to think about it again three months on.