I've read in two places this week, and the contrast is fascinating. First is Linda Chase's Village Hall, as part of a Poets & Players event. Quiet, full of nice people who were very nice, and with more of that nice folk music. I enjoyed it, and the standard was reasonably good. There was a good group poem that was pretty interesting. One chap recited a ballad and we had a song from a young woman playing a wind organ. I read one poem, In Hitler's Bath, which I guess was semi-abstract. Because it was about Lee Miller, someone asked questions about it, and generally it went down very well. We had tea in little China cups and biscuits.
The other was the Trof, a bar, between lots of singers and a couple of other spoken word artists, including an interesting black poet whose accent sounded African. There was much more noise, and the whole thing was much less polite. Everyone was younger (students mainly) and there was a DJ playing everything from Kraftwerk to Kate Bush, ending up with The Fall's Hip Priest, still out-rocking the opposition twenty-odd years on. I read some of my more "performable" poems, and got a heckler. Then someone said I was better than Ted Hughes! Nice...
Two illustrations of the context where poetry can take place these days; it can either be treated with reverence as a kind of secular religious practice. The Village Hall is usually used for Tai Chi, so the metaphor is appropriate; we even had to take off our shoes. Or it can be thrown into the lion's den of noise that is a student bar. Somehow, through it all, the poetry comes through. Maybe I'm schizophrenic or something, but I enjoy both. I'm not so keen on slams, because of the competition element (capitalistic as it is) but I like the fact that both kinds of venue exist.
As well as reading in public, I've been rediscovering another neglectorino: the 40's poet Lynette Roberts. It seems that the 40's as a poetic era is being finally rediscovered, and I do wonder what it is that's prompting this. There's something in the air, perhaps. A lot of these poets seem to be writing out of an emergancy, a sense of not doom as such but certainly of big events that the individual couldn't control happening elsewhere, or even in front of their faces. There's a poem in the new Carcanet Collected Poems about a bombing raid on the East End of London, for instance.
Perhaps our own sense of emergancy: the Iraq War and its aftermath, 9/11, the London bombs last year etc, have made poets and readers look to the 2nd World War to see how poets then responded to the times. Whatever the reason, it's good to be able to read Burns Singer, Lynette Roberts and Nicholas Moore again; to see a full collection of WS Graham etc.