Ladies and Gentlemen, the Dan O'Connell presents ...
I've been thinking for weeks about this.
Which pieces to choose,
how to draw links between them
to keep it flowing.
Just an hour till I leave
and I'm still looking through the back catalog,
trying to sort what will work.
People tell me it should be easy.
I have so much material,
I should just go pick a couple of dozen poems
and read them out,
but it doesn't work like that.
They aren't just poems,
they're little stories,
and if they don't fit together
the reading jumps around,
and the audience can't make connections.
The line of rapport between me and them
won't get established.
It's almost a philosophical thing
where it doesn't matter that most of the crowd
get to hear me week in and week out
at open mike readings.
For a featured performance
they need to be treated like a paying crowd
who have put up time and money
just to be entertained by the reader.
I owe them something that will reach them,
that they can grab onto
to join me in a journey
that stretches from first piece to last.
I've got it ok, I think. I won't be sure
until after the last piece is read and the verdict is in.
I'll do ten or eleven poems in the first set,
pieces from way back
when I first came to the Dan,
knees knocking and voice trembling,
amazed at my own guts
in putting my name down
on the chalkboard list of 'five-minute open section' readers.
Back in the days when I thought
a good poem was a song in disguise,
and the only things notable
were the absence, on my part,
of any skill in playing a musical instrument,
and ratty rhythms.
I will pay homage
to rough beginnings.
And for the second set
who better than I,
with recent experience behind me,
to do alternating love/not love poems,
with just a few asides
to show a broader repertoire.
Time to go.
It's a big barn of a place,
twenty five metres from front to back.
Thirty or forty people are mingling,
talking and settling,
lining up at the chalkboard
to join the list of readers.
My name is already there today,
at the top of the board.
A few have come to see me,
but most have come, as I usually do,
to put their name down,
read their own work,
to drink and socialise among their own kind.
I'm twitching inside.
Brief waves of trembling wash through me.
Some of it is performance anxiety,
some is self doubt
and a need to prove myself, again.
Every reading is a little like this,
and a featured spot more so.
I join a table,
find myself talking to a woman I don't know well,
rabbit-ing on about myself and my employment.
I don't usually say so much.
Is it because of my tension,
or because she's attractive and seems interested?
I don't know,
but am embarrassed when I realise.
I may have blushed.
The first reader from the list
has been called.
I can only half listen to the procession of readers.
It's tempting to go over
all of the poems on my list for today
while I wait the call,
to sneak in one last mental rehearsal,
but it's too late for that.
Instead, I count them.
How many in the first set,
how long will each piece take,
have I over-estimated the time I'll have to read?
What I've taken in of the open section
isn't too bad so far.
Regular readers, mostly,
who know their way to the stage
and how to address the mike,
or to drag it off its stand
so they can move around freely.
These are the performers.
My style is to anchor myself at the mike
and just read,
doing what I can in a storytelling voice.
I'm glad there's a lectern.
I've found that placing the poems down
and then leaning on the lectern
lets me achieve a level of intimacy
that's much more difficult
if I have to hold the pages, while reading.
Justin is the MC today,
a lovely, dreamy, boy-man
with a gentle soul.
He creeps over to me while someone is reading,
consults about when I'd like to be called
for the first set?
I don't know,
whenever it seems best.
Would I like a break before, or after, I go on?
Probably a mistake,
as some folk only arrive after the break is taken,
but, oh well.
I'm not thinking too straight,
not hearing too clearly,
except for my breathing and heartbeat,
both are loud in my ears.
'Thank you Justin,
thank you everyone.
I first started reading at the Dan about four years ago
and I thought that in the first set I would ... '
It has begun, and I'm doing a little opening patter,
something to establish a link between us all
as poets of the Dan,
introduction of my themes to give them a clue
as to where we're going,
a chance to make my voice work
while I find the microphone range,
the place to put my pages,
a comfortable relationship with the the lectern.
I can't really see the audience.
Often I can't feel them,
but pretend that I can.
Look up and gaze out,
as though establishing eye contact,
make sure they feel involved with the reader.
The first piece is difficult to read
and I'm a little tentative, but not too bad.
The second piece is easier,
and I'm away now.
The poems are mostly light fluff
and I am reading more slowly than usual,
giving emphasis to pauses,
allowing uneasy rhymes to work through timing
I can sense some interaction and interest.
This is a good thing.
More patter between pieces.
It's important to bring them in,
to let them feel a sense of intimacy with the reader:
a story of why the poem was written,
how I tried to develop, or change, style while writing it,
what was happening at the Dan, back then,
how they came to be a kind of family to me,
even those I still don't know.
Finish the set with a flourish,
a duet with one of the female poets on the scene.
A light piece with a touch of undertone.
Much laughter on stage,
much laughter in the audience.
'Thank you, Lish, for reading with me,
thank you everyone. I'll be back later.'
Off to the break.
I can feel myself shaking.
The cigarette, wobbling in my fingers,
is the proof.
People are talking to me,
saying what a good set it was,
really enjoyed that third piece ...
I'm nodding and responding,
but don't really take any of it in.
There is another bracket of the open section
and new people have landed at my table.
Loud and raucous and drunk,
shouting comments at each political reference.
A distraction that grates.
I count the poems for the second set,
and wonder about time.
Sometimes the set gets cut short
as there are so many people on the board for the open section,
and the place has to be emptied for a band that comes later,
'Thank you, again.
For this set, I thought that I'd read some pieces about ...'
Some of these are difficult poems emotionally.
They recall good times and bad,
a lot more personal than the first lot,
they're only words on a page.
There's no privacy when you're a poet.
I read slowly.
Alternating through love,
I can sense the crowd are still with me,
and I've started to enjoy the contrasts in the poems.
Makes me laugh to reflect, in the middle of a piece,
on what a tumultuous life I've been leading
this last couple of years.
I share this with my circle of intimates, the audience.
They laugh, too.
Finally, it is done.
About twenty poems in the bag.
'Thank you all
so very much, for listening.'
For a little while, I am numb.
The session is finished,
and stragglers are milling, talking about the feature,
about other features,
about poetry and romance, and life.
not rushing home, as I usually do,
but staying to soak it in and savour a little,
I feel at home with these people now.
I have read for them,
and they have been entertained.
I'm starting to feel euphoric.
My mouth has taken over,
and I have become a comedian, philospher, raconteur,
and forsaken my more usual role,
player on the fringes.
It's grand to be a poet,
after the reading is done.
Copyright Frank Faust, 2003