So, I was reading Alex Iamb’s fabulously acidic post down the page just now, and it got me thinking: how many poets really, truly, honestly, genuinely (cue sound of thesaurus snapping shut) perform with the audience in mind? How many of us do that? I mean, as Alex said, there’re poems we keep on the page because we know they have to stay there, and there’re poems we feel good about letting loose on real people – real people who’ve paid real money. But how many poets are self-aware enough to draw that line in the right place? How many poets have a real understanding of what an audience wants to hear?
I know I don’t, for one thing.
But now that I’ve got that conciliatory, self-deprecating remark out of the way, please ask yourself:
If you were an audience member, would you want to sit through a twenty-minute, four-part dissection of a relationship involving some poet, who you’ve only just met, and someone else, who you’ve never met at all? Her hair smelt great! I loved it when I kissed him, because it was wet and slurpy and he had this awesome full beard. But then he/she betrayed me/him/it and everyone else got bored, right?
And if you were an audience member, would you want to sit through twenty minutes of someone telling you, really really wild-eyed and hard, to do stuff you already do, or not to do stuff you already don’t do? Don’t drink and drive! Don’t buy intensively farmed meat and eggs! Do acknowledge the existence of climate change! HEAR ME ROAR, YOU SNOT-NOSED BUFTON TUFTON TORY PONCEWANGLERS YOU NEED TELLING YOU DO oh I didn’t realise you were of the left too oops shit oh balls.
And if you were an audience member, would you want to hear someone ruin a perfectly good set of words by doing it in this rubbishy sing-song voice NO-one USes WHEN they’re TALKing?
And if you were an audience member, would you tolerate someone saying stuff so damned quickly all you hear is ‘ation in the ation and the ation for the imity and the anity and the itis for the esis and the osis and I’m done cheers mate cheers mate’?
And if you were an audience member, would you, having heard one ten-minute-long poem and then another ten-minute-long poem and then another, want to sit through… yet another? Or would you be praying for that poet to shut the hell up and let someone else do some damned haikus, or something, anything but this?
What I’m not saying – and this really isn’t what I’m saying – is that all love poetry, or political poetry, or highoctanefastfastfast poetry, or looooooong poetry is bad. Although, let’s be honest, that singy-songy voice thing is, yep, pretty much always terrible.
What I AM saying, though, and this goes for promoters as well as poets, is that range is good. It’s a tautology, but a good mix of poems and poets is good. If a poet who focuses on our darker, more serious corners turns out to be hilarious as well, then yay. If a poet who seems to be mostly about shouting and knob gags turns out to be thoughtful, too, then hurrah. Hurrah! Hurrah hurrah hurrah!
So there endeth the lesson. And if I’ve just spent the past 550 words preaching to the converted, then I do *sincerely* apologise for being a big, smelly hypocrite.
Niall Spooner-Harvey won the Farrago London Slam Championship in his first apearance in poetry competition ever in November 2004, and in his third, he won the UK London Slam championship. His book, Only Not Walking was released in July 2006.