Monday, 12 April 2010

One afternoon not long ago I attended a poetry reading group. This is what happened.

My eyeballs felt like they were floating somewhere near my forehead as I looked back down the aisle that I couldn’t even remember walking up seconds before. I clutched the folded pieces of paper with their neatly printed and spaced words. One or two of them had hasty pen marks where last second changes were made.
“This was a real dumb idea” I thought to myself,
Hang on, hang on .
Let’s go back a bit so this makes a bit more sense.
Some time in October I paid my first visit to the Local Art Gallery called the Hut, something I’d been meaning to do for ages but somehow also managed to put off.
This little Gallery has had Fern Tree Gully grown up around it in it’s 60 odd years of existence and is a cultural treasure of the Dandenong foothills.
This time I had a reason to visit. Our daughter wanted to join an Art Society to learn more about painting and The Hut offered such courses, since it was a lovely Sunday afternoon we thought we would finally make the visit. The volunteer ladies who greeted us were incredibly helpful and gave us lots of useful information and the Missus and I had a look at the latest display of art that was showing. I even bought the incredibly cheap “History of the Hut” for $3.
Anyway – there is a story and a point here – we left to go somewhere up the mountain and later that afternoon drove back past the gallery and there were people everywhere making their way into the building.
“Did I miss something when we were here earlier?” I asked the wife
“Obviously”, she replied “Didn’t you see the sign for the Poetry and Writing Afternoon?”
I didn’t answer because :One – I didn’t and two: my mind was already ticking over as I thought “What a great review that would make for the paper”
So later when I got home I dragged out the local paper and found the add promoting these meets and as luck would have it, the last was the next month coming.
I told the Missus about this idea and promptly forgot but she didn’t and reminded me on the day the next meet was what I planned to do.
Of course I hadn’t planned a thing and decided there and then that the only way to best review a writing and poetry session was to become part of it myself. It said that everyone got 5 minutes on the flyer they had so I automatically took that to be an open mike at the end of some more serious and professionals types who would lead the show. and there’d be no room for a “newbie” like me.
Oh how wrong was I.
I arrived at the Gallery about 3.20 PM for a half-past start and there already was only a few seats empty. Alex, who was running the show, met me almost on entry to the main hall. Alex was also MC and made sure everything runs to schedule.
He asked me if I it was my first visit and if I was reading?
Right there was my escape but Alex was so pleasant and enthusiastic I just nodded and patted my pieces of paper that I had hastily shoveled into my back pocket.
Alex looked pleased and put my name on a white board that had a list of names running down it in three lines. I was smack bang in the middle of the second line, about 12th in turn.
I sat down in the last row and made myself comfortable, the heat from the previous week has abated and it was quite pleasant in the hall and stayed that way for the whole afternoon.
I observed the crowd and they were a cross section of age group and sex and everybody seemed quite pleasant and enjoying each other company.
In no time the board of names was full and at 3.30 the show began.
Now I now poetry and prose reading isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but it is a lot more popular than people let on and it covers a massive range and styles.
It was obvious which of these people had worked the audience before and more so the ones who hadn’t.
A few of the first timers must have imagined their poetry would be accepted more readily or that their delivery would be more masterful.
Often I’d see a look of confusion as a self predicted “Killer” line went passed the crowd and splattered on the wall behind them.
A few stumbled but all were greeted with polite applause.
Others just mumbled into their pages of words and left with their eyes staring at the floor.
But for every miss there were massive hits.
One older lady in her 70s did a reciting of a personal story many years ago in her life about lost love that was flawless.
Her delivery , diction and tone were something to experience just to be shown how it should be done. A young girl who was sitting next me recited some clever poems for children that involved saying phrases backward.
Without going into great detail there was bush poetry, humorous poems, cautionary tales and even songs.
Everyone had a different style and delivery. The crowd was attentive and even without a microphone the mildest voices could be heard clearly.
There however was one disturbing thread and I found this also true with some of the writing here on Red Bubble.
There was an unusual amount of poems relating to sexual abuse on a personal level. This carried a bit of sympathy and even shock value the first time but when it was almost 15% of the days reading suspicion seeps in and I wondered if this was an attention-seeking device.
I was tempted to hand out the local Police station number or ask them to change the name of the afternoon to the Sexual Abuse Support Day. I know this is a major problem that was even more rampant in less unenlightened times but I was a bit concerned at it all.
The boards first line of readers seemed to flow quite evenly and I thought I’ll get this over with quick smart and then for some reason time started to stand still and with 2 people still to read before me a break was called and the audience all went for afternoon tea.
This was a godsend because by this time (nearly and hour an a half into proceeding) I had foolishly forgotten my drink bottle and was parched. It also gave me a chance to talk to some other people who were reading and they gave me good advice and encouragement when I told them I was ready to run for the door I was getting that nervous.
After a refreshing cuppa and cake it was back to business, I managed to sneak a cordial for my continuing drying throat and it started to look at my ancient poems I had printed off my computer after lunch in an attempt to find something worth reading. I chose 3 silly ones and one serious and in my head reckoned they would take about 3 minutes to read which included embarrassing pauses in between to let the audience know I had finished one and was ready to start the next.
Well the moment came. Alex stood up and introduced me and to welcome me because it was my first time.
Polite applause.
Cue back to the opening paragraph.
I’ve read in public many times before but in all those times I’d at least prepared or at least knew my audience.
This was reading stuff I thought was good to total strangers, who probably thought different.
After the scattered applause died down I fumbled the papers and realized I had no order in which to read. I quickly decided that blitz them with funny and leave them teary eyed with my classic heartbreaker Binalong Ave
To my surprise the first two went marvelous despite my waiving voice full of nerves.
The mob (as I saw them now) laughed in the right places and even applauded twice.
Then I went straight to my heartbreaker and people laughed at the first line before they realized the joker had turned serious. My intro didn’t help which went something like:
“.Ah.. this is about my growing up place and….ahh . my ..Mum ..who doesn’t live there anymore” or some gibberish like that.
When I finished I was greeted with that stony silence I was dreading before someone realized I had finished and started the obligatory polite applause.
I looked at Alex to see if I could read my last poem and he waved his hands and whispered we were running over time.
Banished, from hero to zero in 45 seconds.
I left the podium and made my way back to the back row still wearing my glasses which I only use for reading and nearly tripped over the girl sitting next to me.
A few people commented on my work saying I did well.
Which was par for the course because everyone was super supportive I can’t emphasis this enough.
After me came two people who were regulars who dribbled on about absolute bullshit, one recited someone else’s song and tried to start a singalong and another lady tried to teach us how to beat the system and get out of credit card debt by emailing the CEO of the multinational company who issued the card.
Both pointless and in the later highly unlikely. Neither were poems or prose just soap boxing.
What pissed me off was the fact they both went twice as long as my slot and bored me shitless.
I could of read my last poem and vindicated myself.
Later when I went outside to make a call because the afternoon was running way overtime and I was going to miss a pick up for my son another gent come out to congratulate me on what he thought was great work, it just so happened to be that his work was one of the ones I admired as well because he wrote with a rhyme and timing not really preformed a lot at today’s meeting.
He asked “Why was I cut short?” and I told I wasn’t sure but I wished they’d done the same to some of the others and he wholeheartedly agreed.. He said his first visit was last month and there was that many people it ran till 7.00PM.
I reckon they smelled that I was not a “true believer” a “Rat in the ranks” to expose their true dealings.
What I can report is that poetry and prose reading is very strong in the my local area if my visit is anything to go by and with such a great venue and supportive crowd and attendants you really can’t go wrong and I advice anybody with the slightest interest to a burning passion to give it a go either as a spectator or participant. It cost next to nothing and you’ll meet like-minded people and who knows you might even surprise yourself,
Oh, by the way. Poetry still hasn’t won me over.
Originally submitted (in an abridged censored fversion) as my monthly article for the local paper  becuase I can express myself a lot more freely on the Blog.
Reference:
RB Poetry Guide
Poetry -Why I hate it.

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

There seems to have been a lot of poems about sexual abuse.

If it isn't your thing, then don't come to the Hut.

(And it's great your daughter is taking art classes there.)