Introducing Poems

I was reading Sally Jack’s review of Word! in Leicester and wanted to pick up on a couple of things she mentioned. I agree with her on both points.

Firstly I’m pleased that Sally Jack picked up on Word!’s strengths: that it represents different genres of poetry as if they are on a spectrum rather than adding to the false page/stage divide and that exposure to different genres and standards (from newcomer to established poet/performer) encourages and provides inspiration to do better. She makes the point that the imagery used by some of the poets demanded the poems be read as well as listened to and the best poems work both read aloud and silently.

Secondly I agree with her comment, “It does not always instil me with confidence to hear in an intro that the poem was just written that afternoon.” It may be true, but it leaves your audience thinking:

  • It can’t be very good.
  • The poet is trying to head off critical listening by saying in advance that the poem’s not very good.
  • How much respect for the audience does the poet have?
  • Knowing that Word! has no difficulty in filling the open mic spots, why does this poet feel obliged to read something dashed off this afternoon which may not yet be ready for a wider audience?
  • Why should I pay attention to a poem dashed off in a hurry rather than doing something more useful such as finding the right money for buying a drink, checking my phone for messages, drafting a poem of my own?
  • It may be one of those extremely rare poems that went through numerous drafts over a lengthy period of time in the writer’s head before it got put down on paper so it arrived fully formed and polished, but why mention it was only written that afternoon?
  • Why be apologetic about a poem about to be read?
  • Surely when it was written is totally irrelevant to the poem?

The last question gets to the heart of the problem: the poet has taken attention away from the poem and focused it on the poet. It may be that poet was the only poet who could have written that particular poem in that way, but Word! isn’t about poets; it’s about poems.

Word! runs at the Y Theatre, Leicester on the first Tuesday of every month:

3 February – Penelope Shuttle with Kathleen Bell
3 March – Rosie Garland with support from Pam Thompson
7 April – Adam Horovitz with support from Sole2Soul
5 May – ‘Jarman in Pieces’ by Project Adorno
2 June – Salena Godden with support from Bobba Cass

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3 Responses to “Introducing Poems”

  1. poetrylobby1 Says:

    Very useful information, im sure to utilize all of it !

  2. Robin Houghton Says:

    A very good point Emma. I think sometimes it’s a nervous tic. Something that they’ve heard other people say when introducing a poem. Or a way of appearing self-deprecating and setting expectations low, in order to get a “WOW! you mean you just wrote that blinder THIS AFTERNOON?” kind of reaction. Not that I’ve ever seen that reaction. I like what you say about not deflecting attention from the poem onto the poet, that’s a very good way of putting it. I’m looking forward to getting along to a Word! event some time, having heard so many positive things about them.

  3. emmalee1 Says:

    Hi Robin

    Yes, mostly it does come from a ‘I’m not sure how you’re going to react to this poem so I’m setting low expectations’ and, like you, I’ve never seen a “Wow, you wrote that blinder this afternoon!” response. Word! is friendly and you’d be very welcome (you’d probably meet some familiar faces from your Leicestershire regional focus too!).


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