Last Friday’s reading at The New Venture Theatre was something special. It was a very strong bill for starters – in Brighton and the surrounding area (I’m including Hove, Lewes, Seaford) we are blessed with an extraordinary amount of poetic talent, as the launched volume, Poetry South East 2010, testifies. And giving a reading (or performance, depending on venue and audience) is one of those things I enjoy beyond pretty much any other part of being a writer. Including even writing itself. But Friday was spectacularly good, enjoyable beyond pretty much any other reading I’ve given, with the exception of a couple of big-audience events I’ve done (I really like 200-750 people, when they’re warm).
I love that sense of connecting with people, sharing something meaningful with them. I love that the more I do it, the easier it is, so that now I only have to breathe deeply, let go of any tiny flutter of fear that might surface as I am being introduced, relax completely and connect with the words. The work is already done – the words are written, I only have to speak them, one human being to another, just as I am. And something happens on stage. A magic. That thing performers go back and back for.
Some of the things that get said to me after a night like that – I just want to engrave them on my body parts, carry them around with me, remember them on those days when it all seems a bit of a grind. The only strangeness is that you can’t really share it with anyone. When you get back home, should you want to explain to someone who wasn’t there, you realise words aren’t adequate. It’s a high that’s yours alone.
Thirteen years ago, my first public reading was a support slot to Simon Armitage in a room above the King’s Head in Lewes. I wasn’t ready for such dizzy heights. Despite hours and hours of honing my set and practising in front of the mirror, when I walked out in front of a hundred expectant faces, I went to pieces. I shook so much I couldn’t keep the paper still. My nerves were therefore both visible and audible (since the rustling paper could be clearly heard in the mike) and the audience became edgy (on my behalf). With my voice quaking and cracking, my nerves mangled and mumbled and rushed the words so badly that no-one really heard the poems. It was a dreadful experience for audience and poet alike. Afterwards, someone patted me on the back and said, not “congratulations”, but, “Never mind”. I realised then that writing is only half the work, and vowed to get better at reading in public.
Nowadays, I find there’s nothing in the world as pleasurable as delivering my work in person. It’s a pleasure I would like to share. A couple of days ago I started putting together a three-hour workshop to help writers overcome fear of public speaking. With some nifty tools to reprogram the subconscious, the journey from reading Hell to reading Heaven can be made in hours rather than years. Wish I’d had this stuff in 1997! Details will be posted up on my creative writing course site in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime Universe, a message from your biggest fan: Loving the readings. More, please.