Shakespeare once said, ‘All the world’s a stage’. Well, at least it is at the Auction Room bar in Bedford at 7.45pm on a Wednesday evening.
With the 400th anniversary since Shakespeare’s death fast approaching, I felt I should do something to commemorate the somewhat dying art of poetry, of which he was a fine artist. So off I trotted to Bedford’s premier poetry circuit, with my Mum in tow, (as no one else fancied it).
Ouse Muse invites a plethora of both veterans and amateur poets, to pour out from deepest depths of their hearts, unrivalled emotional comedy, love, and depravities (in some cases). In a room full of fixed eyes, buried deep in the knitted brow of the expectant stranger.
What to read, what to read.
In a room with an average demographic of 55-75 years, and being the only person under 36, what better way to lower the tone than with Larkin’s This be the Verse? Seems deftly appropriate, wouldn’t it be nice to shake up the modest and safe pretentiousness hanging over the room like a bad smell?
What an infallible idea. Physically shaking, there is nothing to distract attention away from me – crappy, nervous me; not even the microphone and the biting, sweary words of good ‘ole Philip Larkin. There’s something scarily exposing about poetry and bearing your creative soul naked on stage.
I had sung live; that was tough, but that was with the help of a big band; a pub of drunk people who would listen to anything – young, old, rough pub-goers. This was different. These people were old, well-educated. These oldies were sober, they would laugh only if it was funny; praise only if it was good. Yes I am a student of Literature, however I am no poet. People often think these to be synonymous facts – I can assure you, they’re not.
But I must bide my time. The poets begin. Lovely things about mysterious landscapes, unrequited love, trauma on the news in the wake of global terrorist hysteria, the death of Maggie Thatcher, the murder of a revoked love interest, the deconstruction of an implied sexual assault, prevalent in popular children’s nursery rhyme, Oh Sir Jasper. Nice.
I’m glad it takes this weird turn actually. To follow a poem about making friends in an elevator with a person wearing yellow socks at the multi-storey carpark in Bedford town centre with;
‘They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad’
wouldn’t be fitting now would it? Decorum is key to this game my friend. The game changes with guest poet, Gareth Stuart Farmer, English Literature lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire. If any of you are familiar with formalism,
I might not have understood a word but I was certainly enjoying myself; it took my mind off of my imminent poetic debut.
I make my way to the stage (well, the corner of the room with the funny yellow sponge-headed microphone, and the makeshift Ouse Muse poetry club backdrop). I feel like Christopher Marlowe. After being stabbed through the eye in a tavern brawl.
In my head, open mic poetry has always remind of this:
But it’s rather more elevated and thought-through. I was slightly disappointed to be honest. And as fast as I can type this sentence, it’s all over; quick as a flash. I don’t even remember reading out three poems. (Yes, I decided to read three in the interval, and being as unprepared and disorganised as I am, picked a further two, unread, Larkin poems – Toads and Age), and managed to offend 90% of the room in the process. Including Gareth with the line,
‘Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, lob-lolly men, louts’
and all the fossils with a poem about the inevitability of death, and the sensation of being dragged to the earth by weeds wrapping around your lifeless body; and yes, even Mum with my opening line about the dysfunctionality of the family unit.
Looking back I should’ve really listened to Mum when she said, ‘are you sure you don’t want to read the nice one about springtime? That’s a nice one, why don’t you read that one?’ If there’s anything I’ve learnt from this process, it’s to always listen to your Mum.
Speaking to the founder of Ouse Muse, Ian McEwen, and no, not the Ian McEwen; I realise that poetry is not in fact dead.
‘I know our demographic is slightly older, but we really want to reach out to the younger generation; the people in their twenties too. We’ve had twenty-somethings before but when they arrive and see everybody is in their 50s, 60s, 70s… they do get slightly put-off.’
Poetry is for everyone, and I’m a firm believer that anybody can appreciate the art; even Mum who sat there with a mixed expression of content, naivety, and blankness, bless her.
I’ll definitely get more involved in the poetry circuit; when I’ve got the balls to I’ll read my own poem too, one-day. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of open-mic poetry; it was certainly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had – worse than singing live. But it’s best to
‘Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
Or line the crowded
With other impetuous
Fools.’ (Alice Walker)
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrab’ (Lewis Carroll)