What’s in front of me this afternoon is a reading. This is what I do. Poetry readings. Down the years I’ve got reasonably good at it. I’ve worked out how to manage an audience, how to pitch the voice and ensure that those at the front don’t get shouted it while those at the back can still hear. I’ve learned some of the things the great striders of the stage down the years have recommended:
Look your audience in the eye. Engage with them.
Try to stand in one spot.
Project the voice.
Know what you are going to read before you go on.
Keep it smart, short and sharp. Leave them wanting.
If people arrive late ignore their interruption.
If they yawn or leave early do the same.
If someone heckles you attempt to sell them a book.
Try to be entertaining.
I’m on as part of the Made in Roath festival. Shelagh Weeks has fixed it. I’ll be reading with Amanda Rackstraw and Sian Preece. I guess they’ll be on first. Organisers usually leave me to last as I make a noise and can get people to laugh. Well, I used to. How on earth am I going to manage this with my confidence completely blown by the rampaging prednisolone? I feel about as sure of myself as a autumn leaf. And about as ready to take on the world. I could drop out. Make an excuse. I could, couldn’t it?
But I don’t like to do that. Something in my professional nature prevents me.
The reading is to be held in Havelli’s Restaurant half way along City Road. 4.00 pm. Sunday afternoon. Most of the Made in Roath Festival is open galleries – the artists of the entire extended neighbourhood all open their studios to the public on the same weekend. They sell things, give things away. People tour the district in droves. The reading is an enhancement. Given its timing – after a day of gallery viewing and before the evening’s musical finale - it should be low key.
And in the event it is. The audience is small. They sit at their tables drinking tea and coke. I’m on third, as predicted. Amanda is marvellously on the button and very entertaining. Sian reads a short story and has the audience all full engaged. Then it’s me. I’m on my feet, wearing my black corduroy suit with my set list in my hand. I stand there and mentally wobble. Shelagh introduces me. I can’t do this. Whereas normally I would bang straight it, engage the audience with something immediate, then tell them a joke, then roar on, this time I start to flounder.
But deep inside, somewhere below the missing confidence and the prednisolone-addled desire to run away, is that old part of me that simply wants to put on a good show. It’s an auto pilot. I turn it on. There’s two of me out here now. The one that wants to lie down and the other one doing the reading. The one doing the reading is in charge.
I do it. Maybe I don’t tell many jokes and I certainly don’t try anything new. I keep it short. I stick to my set list. I manage to stay on my feet. Then I finish. There’s applause. Life is still possible. We go outside, all three readers, for the obligatory photograph. Smile into the sun. Done it prednisolone. Done it.
In the photo at the head of this posting that me on the left, Amanda Rackstraw centre and Sian Preece right. Photo by Sue Ashwell.