A poetry reading and a monster is born

My brain haemorrhage gave me two things that I imposed on an audience last night – a stammer and a new habit – writing poetry.

They were very forgiving, the people who had gathered in the upstairs room above my local pub for a poetry event where I decided to read my work out-loud for the first time to a live audience.

They weren’t there to see me of course, the excellent and well-known John Agard was topping the bill and showing that poetry really can attract an audience. He was brilliant with his own particular form of mordant, low key yet high octane showmanship reading verse which keeps a bitter and sharply observed world-view only partially concealed under a cloak of comedy.

He surveyed the room, with that art of apparently coming face to face with everyone individually with a mischievous twinkle in eyes that were also threatening – warning us that life is a serious business which has to be taken with a laugh.

The poster advertised the evening as a mix of celebrity poets and open mic but it ended up that I was the only one who volunteered my services for an event already packed to bursting.

It would have been easy to withdraw, to have retreated to the private world which has been my habitat since my illness which is now approaching its first anniversary. I rode it though. Yesterday was one of those steps on the ladder when I knew that I had to start climbing out of my hole.

Yesterday was the second day in a run that I had been out and about on my own. On Wednesday I made my first unaccompanied train journey where I fought feelings of agoraphobia in a personal bid for freedom. I repeated the journey yesterday and capped it with that small step onto the stage.

It was as a self-proclaimed charlatan that I stood there for the first time reading my own work to a live audience. I was the only poet there who hadn’t been invited to attend and I was far from confident that my speech impediment wouldn’t sabotage my debut.

I was fine, the stammer behaved and the audience responded not only with generous applause but with a rapt attention which carried me through and proved to me that poetry has to be performed to fulfil its nature.

It showed me too, if I needed reminding, that there is nothing I like more than standing on a stage performing in front of an audience. I had forgotten how magical those moments are when you make your own silences and hold them in an act of mass communication. Conflicting emotions surged within me as usual, nervousness and a shyness that no one believes, fought with the unashamed thespian and appalling show-off that is my public persona. It was obvious which was the winning team. I loved it.

They have asked me back in November with a bigger slot. Would it be unseemly if we did a high five? Don’t leave me hanging there!


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