Shouting at the poets

Greetings. I’ve been out for a bit of culture yesterday. I went, along with a number of other local poets to the MK Poetry Kapow held at The Madcap Theatre. A bit of a surreal start whereby I, being punct(uation)ual was told, as a performer, to turn up by seven PM unlike the cowardy-custards who form the audience who should turn up no later than 7.30pm. Rule-following, plan-ahead-good-boy computer programmer that I am I turned up by no small effort at 06:45 pm. This freaked out one of the organisers who, was horribly and totally out of control slightly on edge with nerves. After much hinting and eye darting I was told to go downstairs to the bar and wait to be summoned.

The plus side was that a glass of red was priced at 2 pounds (an absolute steal) and was made even more satisfying by the fact it was served by a very lovely but wholly uncharismatic man who gave off every indication that he was not happy serving wine to poet types and was essentially behind the bar as some kind of penitence for crimes that do not have a name. Bless.

The bar area gradually filled up with fellow performer poets along with members of the audience-in-waiting. Lots of discussion ensued with chats on subjects which included Gilbert and George (inspirational), e. e. cummings (my absolute poetical hero), Benjamin Zephaniah (and how he frequently annoys me) along with other similar rarefied topics. We were a mixed bunch. One guy insisted on wearing a baseball cap despite the fact it looked oddly incongruous with his expensive shirt and pressed trousers. He dished out a little diatribe on traditional poetry and said he liked “poems that are direct and plain speaking“. More on him later.

The evening proceeded well, some indication of upcoming artiness was evident in the fact that the evening’s MC had green braids in his hair and matching shiny wrist shields (I Googled for an example image and failed to find any which makes me think they have another name – just try to imagine a Roman Centurian’s breast plate…but for your wrist…and a shimmering green metallic colour). The first half consisted of some standard fare along with a fair chunk of free verse. The first guy on stage was a first-time performer and looked exactly like a terrified rabbit caught in the headlights of a fast-approaching Porsche. Others followed with lesser or greater experience. Just prior to the interval MMT came on with a fellow musician and performed a couple tracks as Corn (Korn??) [Edit: The Road to Corm – the low key nature of their presentation confused me a fair bit] I’m still not entirely sure what went on during their performance and I’m slightly worried by the fact they repeatedly told us their latest CD was on sale at the rear of the theatre. For those of you who are fans of (cruelly absent) Andy Kaufman you would have appreciated their performance but in particular the finale of the track where the guitarist played out shredding his guitar lying on his back, dying fly stylee, on the floor in front of the stage with his head under the first row’s chairs. Andy would have been so proud; I swear I saw the ghost of Tony Clifton laughing in the wings. Genius.

During the interval (and prior to the first half) we had been invited to go up on the other stage – the room has one each end – and write on the walls and floor which had been papered especially for this event. The exact invitation was “write something, from you or someone else, or draw something, anything you like“. So we all did. The guy with the hat wrote, in large letters, about how poetic forms were stifling or something similar.

The second half began musically with a brilliant performance of folky blues guitar. I always feel a pang of pain when I see such laconically superb performances like this and get an urge to rush home and pick up my own guitar and wear my fingertips to the bone trying to perfect sufficient numbers of finger-plucked barre chords.

After a number of other performers my name was called up…I was on.

Introduced as Alex Sykie I explained when I arrived at the microphone that my real name was not Alex or Sykie and that I chose the name because I didn’t believe that anyone would read poems by someone called Ian Barker. (Crowd laughs politely). I then said “but then I thought that was a bit pretentious and besides, no-one could ever pronounce, spell or type ‘Sykie’ correctly so I created another web site: titty titty bum bum dot com….and now I get blocked by every spam filter on the planet” (crowd laughs and claps – hoorah, it worked).

I introduced my first poem by saying that I prefer to write figurative poetry and that as a result I get a lot of people misunderstanding what I mean in a poem since they can be read on many levels. “An example of this is the next one which is almost always described as cute when in actual fact it is about creation, man’s insignificance in the general scheme of the universe, global warming and how our misuse of resources will be the death of us” (crowd: deathly silence). “It’s called Cakes and Insects“. (Everyone in the audience perks up at the mention of cake).

I began to read the poem and everyone went quiet. After the first verse I’d got into the swing of it and worked out how loud to speak into the microphone and how to wrestle with my notes and add illustrative gesticulations without dropping the whole lot on the floor and looking like an arse. When I reached the end and said the final words they all started clapping. It….felt…good….

When the applause died down I then looked out into the crowd – not easy to do, the spotlights were blinding me – and asked if the “poet in the hat was still here” – he wasn’t. I explained about his comments of hating traditional poetic forms and that I do write free verse too but also like more rigid styles like iambic pentameter but especially the more quirky ones like the villanelle. I then read them my own version of a villanelle for Milton Keynes: Welcome to my city.

By far the biggest laugh of my ‘set’ was when I explained that it is fashionable amongst rock bands to do cover versions of songs and that as a result I had written a cover version of a poem. I said “now if you do guess, part way through, which poem I have covered please don’t tell the person next to you so that they can have fun guessing“. I then theatrically paused, cleared my throat and began:

I wondered lonely as a cloud“.

Cue copious raucous laughter from the audience. I paused and said “shhh, don’t tell them” and beamed before continuing from the beginning with “Lonely as a cloud“. Big round of applause and much giggling. I then made the mistake of asking them if they wanted a serious-but-good poem or a cute one. Predictably they chose cute so I read “mum and dad“. Time was running short and I finished with a bit of a joke about my final poem resulting in me being described as gay “…so I said to him what do you know, you’re only seven. Still I’ve been married twice, I’ll try anything once” (laughs filter through from behind the spotlights) and then I read “Broken“. At the end I bowed my head and leaned forward into the mic, said, “thank you” and walked off the stage to smiley faces on top of clapping hands.

So, I was done; it was all over in a flash. There were so many more poems that I could have read but time was short and I was annoyed by the lights which were pitched in a way that meant I could not really see anyone’s faces (I had to look down most of the time because I was getting spots in front of my eyes and since I can’t recite from memory I *have* to read).

But I did enjoy it!

In July they are having a big street festival and all being well I will be performing in the main theatre district which would be really good as I would probably get a lot more time to pick my own choice of material plus I can interact with people more easily. They are also holding another event at Madcap again and I intend to go back with some fresh work plus the chance to air a few that deserved to be read but couldn’t see the light of day.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention; at the end of the evening they read out some of the stuff on the walls; including two of mine. One was a briefly poetical paragraph (which, typically, I can’t remember) and the other was a drawing I did representing perspective: a dot with an arrow saying “your problems“, a medium-sized circle with an arrow saying “how much cake you can eat before being sick” and a BIGGER circle and an arrow saying “how much cake you eat when you come back drunk from the pub“. My artist mother would be proud – I drew something mum!

…and now, today, I am off to do some programming for the cosmetic surgery ‘industry’ – how quickly we can dip our souls back into the pool of the mundane financial necessity.


21 thoughts on “Shouting at the poets

  1. Love your blog. Had a look at your poems – they’re very good. I don’t know a lot about poetry but reading them, they sound like the style I tried to do when I was an angst ridden teenager and failed.
    Good luck with them anyway.

  2. Lisa – thanks, you’ve always been my supportive special fan. šŸ˜‰

    Moochy – lol – angst-ridden teenager, that just about sums me up (although I’m getting far too grey and middle-aged to pretend to be a teenager any more). I think the secret, if there is one, is to just write whatever comes naturally to you and stick by your guns. Many people hate my poetry – but a lot more seem to like it and a smaller sub-section love it. I write poems to be read by other people and for me to perform and it also fills some kind of weird psychological gap I seem to have so in that respect it serves many purposes.

  3. woooo hoooo well done. Sounds ace. Your poems are really good and you do deserve a great crowd. Good for you. x

  4. Glad you enjoyed yourself. ANd great that you got possitive feedback. Just goes to show you are good. Its nerve racking waiting for feedback isnt it when its something so personal to you. I know what its like when i am showcasing my paintings and waiting for someone to say they like them or even understand. I have to ignore the funny looks that some people give. I put it down to them just not understanding art.

  5. Genius. šŸ™‚
    (That’s you I’m talking about there).

    Knowing your material, staring into the lights and connecting with everyone behind them.
    I feel the call of that, definitely.

    It’s been a few days – do you find yourself newly enthused and bubbling over with new ideas?

  6. Mike; thanks – I might let you touch the hem of my garment later šŸ™‚

    To be honest I just go mental anyway with ideas when the mood takes me although in the last few days I have started to have a think about how I would do things differently. I’d like to do a bit more of a multi-media thing with movie clips and pictures flashing up whilst the poems are read out because with quite a few of them I have some very definite mental pictures that I would like to try and put into reality as a kind of poetry-plus-visual-augmentation kind of thing. This has always been my intention and for a long time now I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a few YouTube videos of this style but I’m so busy with my “proper” work that I just can’t put enough time aside to do it justice. To do the job half-cocked would be worse than not doing it at all.

    I don’t mean to be pretentious (although I can see frequently that I am) but the whole point, for me, of writing poetry is as a form of artistic expression. I can’t paint, I can’t draw and try as a I might I’m never going to be a musician – but I can write; the words are in me waiting to get out. It’s not about whether it’s good or bad it’s more about doing it…because I can.

  7. Sounds like you not only had a great time, but that the audience loved your work too – I think a lot of people struggle to do both most of the time.

  8. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed it and that’s given us some more pointers for what to think about changing/ improving (you wouldn’t believe how much debate went into the lights during the setup – or maybe you would!).

    Would you mind if we link to this review on the website?

    Thanks again for a storming performance and very much looking forward to seeing you next time.



  9. Fay; Oh hello! (Lurkers from the Poetry Kapow – now I’m scared of the power of the internet).

    Yes Fay, feel free to link to the entry. People will be a bit weirded-out to read the rest of the blog too but hey, I am just a literary tart… šŸ˜‰

  10. I like the header image…It doesn’t take a genius to work out the left hand screen…. but the right hand is proving more difficult! ;o)

  11. Sadly I can only see the ickle version of the header image so I can’t quite make it what it is. It *looks* like the main screen of one of my programs I write for the time recording industry (boring, but true). The spec of the right-hand PC on which it is running passes for geek porn: it is a dual core PC running Windows Vista 64 bit and Microsoft virtual PC hosting several virtual servers including our company’s development Wiki and support issue tracking app (Linux based – Linux rox), a subversion server (also on Linux) and a specialised LAMP server for testing thin-client stuff.

    I bet that’s not the answer you was looking for! šŸ˜€

    Needless to say you guessed correctly about the left-hand screen.

  12. Me? A geek? That would require me to have a far more in-depth knowledge of Zefram Cochrane or Monty Python sketches. No, I’m just a very naughty boy. Ni.

  13. Don’t be fooled. Remember the Atari game that would only play Pong? That’s all that *really* does. šŸ˜‰ (I got jokes, as they would say in the US)

    When does the quad core arrive? hehe

    Geek porn. I like it.

    I am still trying to figure out what picture that is on that lovely person’s blog on the left-hand screen. Hmm..

  14. Hi Ian,

    thanks for the review, you were great! Sorry about my being a bit stressed-out at the start of the night, it had been a long and emotional day! Funny how when the lights change and great performers like yourself grace our stage, it suddenly all feels worthwhile.

    Hopefully see you at the next event!


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