One Poem, Three Audiences

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a fundraising event featuring open-mike slots. I’d gone along under the assumption that the stage was reserved solely for musicians, and there were a number of talented ones there. But after a chat with the organisers, I discovered it was open to anybody.

If you know me, you’ll know I’m always willing to perform. This, however, would be a tough crowd because a music audience is different from a poetry audience.

Your average pub rock group expects to encounter some external noise, like audience chatter or the noise of the till, but three or four instruments with amplification can easily compete against that. By contrast, a poetry audience knows to be silent because the performer has only words to convey; even with amplification, it can be hard to talk over a noisy audience.

I drew upon my experience to pick two suitable poems, and they received a better response than I could have hoped for, even with a lot of background chat. One of the poems was a humorous and surreal piece about personified biscuits; I’d picked it because it seems to appeal equally to poets and non-poets.

The following night, I performed the biscuit poem at a dedicated poetry night with an open-mike element. While the audience did hold a respectful silence, they were harder to excite than the pub group crowd, perhaps because many of them had heard it before.

While drafting this entry about the two aforementioned evenings, I was then unexpectedly invited to perform at another gig.

I sing in the church choir on a Sunday, and the organist was organising the music to entertain their Wednesday Club. Most of the choir performed solo songs, but I was asked to perform a couple of poems. I turned again to – you guessed it – the biscuits.

This time, I was uncertain how it would be received. I knew the audience would lend me their silence, but not whether they would consider it appropriate for the event. But I needn’t have worried, as I heard some great feedback both on the night and at the next Sunday performance.

There is no foolproof way to tell how an audience will react. However, by performing often enough, it’s possible to gauge which pieces to perform – and sometimes it pays off incredibly well.

The Joy of Nonsense

Last week, I said I was organising three live events over the next month and that there would be more about those in this entry. On reflection, I think this is better done as a reactive post, as I can then talk about two of the final performances. So that will definitely appear next week.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pub in Stockton-on-Tees called the Thomas Sheraton. Behind the bar was a coffee machine with the label ‘Biscuits don’t live here’.

For some reason, I found this particularly amusing. By the time my meal was served, I’d written a good chunk of a piece that’s now sitting at around 350 words. It’s a surreal narrative about anthropomorphised biscuits are who are fed up with people and are leaving town.

Normally when I look back on work, I’m inclined to remove words from it. In this case, however, I’ve added words almost every time.

But where is the line between a nonsense piece and one that’s simply rubbish? Here’s my view on the matter.

The Bob Dylan track Subterranean Homesick Blues is a disjointed sequence of phrases and imagery. It’s lauded as summing up the counterculture movement of the day. However, even taking into account that many of the references are now outdated, I simply don’t find the lyrics cohesive enough to enjoy them.

By contrast, I thoroughly enjoy the Simon Armitage poem Thank You for Waiting, which is structured as an airport boarding announcement, but the categories of passengers he describes become increasingly more bizarre. Taken together, all the lines poke fun at the class system.

So for me, even a loose cohesiveness or some form of internal logic makes all the difference between the nonsense I enjoy and the nonsense I don’t. Remember this is only my definition, and it’s not wrong to like what everyone else hates, or vice versa.