Poetry Unplugged

Last night I went to The Poetry Place for the second time- my first journey there, about a year ago, was simply to scout it out, and I had a bit of the yummy veggie food they serve (a quiche, I think,) and kind of scurried away again. No events were happening at the time.

The Poetry Cafe
The Poetry Cafe
This trip was to attend Poetry Unplugged, the regular Open Mic night of The Poetry Cafe, an outlet of The Poetry Society.
I have read in the Lipscomb Library and the Martin Science building of my Alma mater, and I have just written about reading in the gorgeous Playfair Library at Old College. Yet I admit to feeling somewhat nervous, just before we got going!
Lipscomb Library
Lipscomb Library
It was the jangle of the unexpected, the not knowing.
There were about thirty people there, and about twenty had signed up to read.
The first guy who read was a bit odd; he singled me out (by chance, I suppose, and/or because I was new,) and wrapped my name into a ‘poem’ about Long Island.
It was fairly convenient, in my opinion, because by the time I was called to read (fairly early on), everyone already knew my name! With only five minutes in which to introduce myself and mention Darwin’s Microscope, I read about three poems, but they were very well-received.
I do think it is good when the poets you think are good also like your work. I think poetry is something one can become better at, but only if one is talented to begin with. It is an elitist attitude and I do not waver- I think the same with ‘talent’ holds true for any art form- music, dance, visual arts. There must be inherent talent to hone. Or what? Or it is a waste of time? No, the arts may be hobbies, enjoyable and relaxing, or emotional outlets. I cannot claim to paint or sing, at least not well!
Speaking of talent, upon first impression, about half of the poets I heard at Poetry Unplugged were very good. I think that’s an impressive percentage! I’ll mention a few whose names I caught and who have information online: Ernesto Sarezale was talented and entertaining; he’ll be at the Camden Fringe festival and obviously is very involved in the London performing arts scene. Guy Jackson was more of a storyteller than a poet, with quirky but funny stuff, and a fantatic storytelling voice. It reminded me of Monty Python.
Two young women, Toni and Grace, were wonderful, each coming from totally different backgrounds but each with rhythm, power, and emotion in their words, ebbing almost into song at some points. One young man hands-down made me think of Shakespeare, or at least how Joseph Fiennes plays him in Shakespeare in Love.
Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare
Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare
I realise that ‘writing like Shakespeare’ is probably one of the Cardinal Sins of modern poetry, but this kid was good. I mean, really good. Beautiful. And though the style was Shakespearian, the words were made modern and they worked. Another young and tender lad read a fantastic poem about giving a narcissist a broken mirror. Again, very well done.
There were a few crazies, a short bout of yelling, and a minor mouse incident, but otherwise a good evening- and hey, it’s poetry, you’ve got to have some oddities…

Playfair Library Poetry Reading

I’d like to thank Tom Bristow, from The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment – UK (ASLE-UK), and Lilias Fraser, from The Scottish Poetry Library, who coordinated the poetry reading.
Playfair Library, Old College, Edinburgh
Playfair Library, Old College, Edinburgh

On Thursday 10 July, I took a train from London, King’s Cross, to Edinburgh Waverly.

It was a gorgeous ride, much along the sparkling coast, and a good deal of which was taken up by listening to the kindly chatterings of a 75-year-old lady on her way to Inverness to see her daughter and grandchildren (twins).

I hope I can remember more of what she told me- showing slight symptoms of dementia, she repeated herself more than once, so you’d think I would remember…This is one story:

Mother used to feed us goat’s milk, straight into our cups. …When the war came, Mother decided she had to sell the goats: Nancy, a brown goat, and Betsy, a black goat. The next day, Mother heard about the bombing of the particular town where the goats had been taken, and was overcome with worry and grief for the fate of her poor goats.

(Again, I wish I remembered, for example, where the lady herself was from – somewhere in southern Scotland- and where the town was that the goats had likely met their fate…)

Anyway, that evening I arrived at the ASLE-UK conference to attend as a delegate, present a paper on Melville’s Cetology (the study of whales) in Moby-Dick, and, most immediately, read poems from my forthcoming book, Darwin’s Microscope.

Dome of Old College
Old College, Edinburgh

I was privileged to be one of three poets to read that evening in the magnificent Playfair Library of Old College, Edinburgh.

My first and only poetry reading before this was for the presentation of my final year honours poetry project at University in 2007 (Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in VA). I read in the Martin Science building, adamant to physically represent the combination of poetry and science that I feel my poems embody, by reading the poetry in the Science building.

The two other poets who also presented their work included the enthusiastic Helen Moore and Jerry Loose, who made it in the nick of time! I think the reading was a great way to kick off the conference, which comprised an intensely academic few days- having that bit of creativity mixed with the academics, as well as a great series of short films called ‘Eco-Eye,’ was refreshing and as a ‘Study of Literature (and the Environment!)’ should be. Oh, and the University is actually paying me for the poetry reading- my first gig where I make money as a poet, hooray!

On a final note, this conference made my second trip to Edinburgh and I must go back to spend more time there…it is a gorgeous and accessible city, practically empty once you’ve lived in London for almost a year, and I hope to return, perhaps to give more poetry readings!