July 2024


As far as I know Byron didn’t go to open-mic poetry events in pubs or slams in libraries.  Let me rephrase that; I’m pretty sure he didn’t do much of that reading in public stuff at all, but I’m prepared to be corrected by a more erudite person. It’s my feeling that performing your own work in public is much more what we poets and writers do these days, the business of sharing with your peers and a wider audience allows us to try out our work and come blinking out of our solitary, writing burrow for a while.

And it is terrifying.

When I work with young people and adults in workshop situations I always talk about three stages of writing for me, which are the first ideas, and then the editing and redrafting and finally the sharing with other people. It’s the sharing that feels very exposing, but over the years I’ve got better at it.  It’s a combination of being prepared [having a set-list if you like] and speaking so that you give every word its proper value and weight.  Fight the impostor syndrome.  Fight any slight note of apology in your delivery.  Be proud of your writing.  Try to stop [in my case] your left leg from shaking.

This is all very pertinent in the light of the next week when I’m reading in Bingley and then at Heart in Headingley.  I’m already thinking of what story I may try to tell in my set-list, the narrative that a series of poems might show.  And then the balancing act of not saying too much between each piece, but just enough.

Byron and Homer were in my mind.  Byron because he was a rock-star poet who happened to live for a while in Metaxata, in Kefalonia where we were recently staying. The bust of him is in the village square. And Homer because all poetry leads back to him, whether it’s the divine Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich or W. H. Auden and his poetry would have been performed to gatherings of people, just as Beowulf would have been, in a pre-reading, oral tradition.

Cross your fingers for me..

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