I’m a member of Write Out Loud, an organisation that promotes the reading of poetry aloud. ‘Member’ is a strong word: all that is required is to show up and read. No fees, no forms, just a love of poetry and a working mouth. The Stockport group meets every second Sunday of the month at Stockport Art Gallery, upstairs.
Upstairs because the Art Gallery Art Group meet downstairs every Monday. We don’t mind, because it means we only have to pay 25p for a brew in the break, instead of the 50p that is charged at other times. Poets tend not to have much money; especially unpublished poets.
The WOL sessions are billed as ‘open mic’, meaning anyone can join in; but there’s no actual microphone at our sessions. We sit in a circle amongst great, not so great, and, frankly, pretty naff at times, art, fighting the dreadful acoustics as we ignore each other’s work, interspersed with polite clapping and rhubarbing, while we wait for our turn to prove that no one else in the room has talent like we do. Though that may be just me.
Last night’s session was a little different. There was a real mic; and an audience. Dim lights. No tea. I knew the Art Gallery was running a festival of sorts and I knew WOL had agreed to run a public session, but it didn’t occur to me that it might be an actual, formal thing, even though I had formally put my name down to read. What can I say? I’m a poet: I’m too busy thinking about words to ever listen to them.
I arrived last night to discover that I was to read two poems, eighth on the list, before a microphone. Gulp. Double gulp. Several gulps, fortunately, because there was wine instead of tea (no charge) and my spot was after the break so I had time for a little Dutch courage.
I have always wondered about the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ so, in order to give me time to think about where my next paragraph is coming from, I Wikipediaed it. I might have known: it is of Dutch origin. Or Dutch gin, to be precise:
In 1650 Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch doctor, created Dutch gin in an attempt create a diuretic medicine. This was then used by soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War by English troops and was an instant success for its warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effects before battle. Because of the effects of Dutch gin English soldiers fighting in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century apparently called the drink “Dutch Courage”.
Feeling slightly Hollandaised in my Netherlands, I got up in front of the mic, read my two poems, and sat down again. Aren’t you proud of me?
Every recital teaches you something (my last one taught me how to shout over a heckling, dancing audience); this one taught me to choose my poems carefully if I don’t want to bore people. My second poem was a fun poke at a A Tale Of Two Cities, into which I have shoehorned every Dickens title I can. That’s great for an audience of, say, literature graduates or old people who got a real education before the Sixties; not so great for a bunch of twenty-somethings who pass their English exam by being taught certain passages only of a Shakespeare text, never having to read the whole thing.
To be fair, however, I’m only surmising the audience didn’t like it – I never actually looked at them the whole time I was up there. I have the same problem when I read the lesson at church: I have no idea what the building looks like from the front, because I only see the words and the carpet. I can’t believe I once dreamed of being an actress. Though many of them do appear to spend their time looking at the ceiling these days, so I’d probably fit in.
We had more than double our numbers last night, and several children. A boy of eleven read a wonderful poem that he’d written about being a pirate; and it was better than some stuff I’ve heard by professionals. He was the youngest to read, and his grandmother the eldest.
It was an enjoyable night, and I’m thinking of moving to Holland as a result. Their courage is way better than ours.