I went to a couple of events this week that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not in a nasty way, but nevertheless, it was slightly discomfiting. I went first to see Simon Armitage in hallowed surroundings of the baronial hall at Chet's. He was stood at the front, reading from a lectern and looked his usual slightly bemused Northern bloke, reading from his new book, Seeing Stars. He read well, but the whole event had the reverential air of a church service, with everyone else the members of the congregation listening respectfully to the man in the front giving us his wisdom.
I didn't object to the poetry, which was, as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says about earth, mostly harmless. Quite amusing, in fact, with a slight frisson of soft surrealism here and there. Pretty much Armitage as usual. But a part of me wanted to get up and shout "Summer is in the trees! It is time to strangle several bad poets!" not because the reading was bad, but just to puncture the atmosphere. No doubt everyone would have been polite and they wouldn't have dragged me outside to beat the crap out of me, which is what happened to George Fox when he interupted the sermons in church!
Afterwards, I went to Paradox, hosted by John G Hall because Lauren Bolger was not well. There, with the addition of alcohol and the fact that it was in Sandbar, the atmosphere was much less reverential, and there was music too. In fact, I performed myself. I found myself feeling much more comfortable in that atmosphere. A bit worrying that, as I think I probably drank too much. On the whole I enjoyed the poetry too: and predicted that there was a new San Francisco Rennaisance happening in Manchester. Somewhat over the top, but like I say, I'd drunk a lot.
Then, last night, I went to Pass On A Poem, which again had the atmosphere of a church about it. Only now, it was more like a bible study: here we all are reading these sacred texts out to each other. Not that there weren't good poems: Hopkins, Lowell and a rather fine rendition of The Hotel Brown Poems by John Ash. But again, it was this idea of poetry as almost a substitute faith.
I didn't stand up and read Kenneth Koch of course. I'm far too polite and English for that sort of thing. But I felt like it.