19 Jul 2016

For Talking Out Loud.

For Talking Out Loud.

“They look like a comfy pair of shoes”.
“Yes, and so clean”.
“And shiny”.
“I bet they’re new”.
“Do you know you can buy a pair just like those down the market for about ten pounds? It’s the brand you pay for you know”.

I am seated in a cave two or three floors below street level, in one of Nottingham’s most noted pubs for the performing arts, and I haven’t yet spoken one word. The cave itself, carved out of the sandstone, is a characteristic underground feature of many buildings in the city centre. Above me is the one-time Victorian Music Hall the Malt Cross, a venue I’ve variously sketched, dated, and drunk in, often watching local musicians perform. Somewhere in this pub’s files they have, at their request, copies of sketches I’ve made of the interior. But I’ve never performed here. I can’t remember the precise date I was last on a public stage anywhere, but I have done it, even going so far as to sing my own songs. Tonight, that’s about to change. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster announcing the venue’s Spoken Word Open Mic Night and thought, “Why not?” So, I’m here to both test my mettle and the worth of the words I write.

I have always enjoyed writing, and taken it seriously. I have had some bits and pieces published in magazines. But I’ve never yet really put my words to the test. Painting is very different. I send the paintings out beyond my walls to be judged by others within their walls. In return I get a slip of paper which reads either “rejected” or “accepted”. No further explanation than that. Tonight, I am presenting my words to strangers for the first time, face to face. I put my name down at the door, number 14 on the list of tonight’s performers. If my words prove to be no good at least my shoes have been a big hit.

When I was a student in Liverpool, poets like Adrian Henri and Roger McGough were not yet widely known across the U.K. The Merseybeat groups of the sixties had all followed the Beatles south, to be replaced in the seventies by the Mersey Scene, predominantly one of poetry and improvised music. So, it was not uncommon to both sit alongside and experience such talent in the local pubs. I cannot pretend I was ever a member of that in-crowd, but it was an inspiring atmosphere for a young student to witness. Tonight reminds me a little of those days. The sandstone benches along these underground walls are rock hard, but the people are supportive, in good spirits, and raring to get started. Importantly, they are all listening attentively to each other’s works.

I’ve spent much of the day rehearsing out loud in my studio. I think, of the dozen or so acts which precede me, I must be on a par with a fair percentage of them. One notable exception being number 13, a youthful, passionate performance in rapid contemporary rhyme and without notes. Not an act I would have chosen to follow. Nevertheless, one pint into the evening, number 14 “Ian” is called to the front…

I am expected to read two poems. I'm happy to say both go down really well. The audience laugh with me at my brief introduction to “The Gift”, which relates how my 30+ years as a teacher was rewarded with a simple book token, before they then became totally involved with the poem’s pathos, catching them off guard.

 Similarly, the “four and twenty seagulls” and “balding braided doorman” of “Skeggie Day” elicit giggles of appreciation, before the poem’s sombre conclusion makes its mark. I like using this well-established literary device, mixing opposing emotions in the same piece. (“It’s getting better all the time. – It can’t get no worse”). I shall be using it again. Perhaps in this venue.

This night gave me the confidence to consider self-publishing a collection of my poems. Hence, I have refrained from posting them here. Yet.

 All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.