Thursday 28 February 2013

What makes a good audience at a poetry reading?

So...what does make a good audience at a poetry reading?

Well, I remember my days at university when I did a lot of amateur dramatics (my partner would probably claim I've never given up!). My friends and I would always agree that we knew as soon as we walked on stage whether there was a good chemistry that night. If so, the performance grew accordingly.

Bearing in mind that you can see the audience's faces (the whites of their imaginations!) when giving a poetry reading, plus their inevitable sighs of boredom, emotion, frustration or satisfaction, frowns or grins, I find that feeling is multiplied these days. As soon as I get up on stage (or sometimes even beforehand when sitting in the audience myself), I just somehow immediately know what atmosphere awaits. As a consequence, my reading improves or slips.

Last Sunday at Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth was a perfect example.They're an extremely welcoming group, not pretentious but very keen, attentive but never sycophantic. I enjoyed myself and so was able to give more enjoyment to them. What's more, Maggie Sawkins, the organiser, provided a Q & A session for the audience as soon as the reading itself had finished, thus enabling people to engage me in conversation and break down any possible remaining barriers.

I've read to packed houses elsewhere where a connection just couldn't be established, but I far prefer a small but perfectly formed bunch that really get involved. There were about thirty people at the venue on Sunday and I sold a dozen books, leaving with the sense that I'd managed to share my poems. I do hope they enjoyed them afterwardswith the added reference of how I read them aloud.

Now that really was a good audience for a poetry reading!

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Reading in Portsmouth on Sunday

Just a reminder that I'll be reading in Portsmouth this coming Sunday thanks to Tongues & Grooves. The details are as follows:

Sunday 24th February from 8 p.m.
The Gun Room, RMA Tavern, Cromwell Road, Eastney.
Poetry from Matthew Stewart.
Music from Sue Apicella and Paul Horton of The Jelly Rollers.
Entry fee: £4.00 (includes free entry to raffle).
Open Mic - arrive early to book.

I'll be reading from both Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes and will bring a few copies along to sell on the night. I'm really looking forward to this one, especially as it will be the first chance for my mother to see me at one of my readings!

Friday 15 February 2013

Kim Moore's If We Could Speak Like Wolves

Kim Moore's Smith/Doorstep pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves, was one of the most striking first books to appear in 2012 on the U.K. poetry scene. She writes with a very distinctive music, which is extremely unusual for a poet of such a young age, all within the framework of implicit narrative being driven through acute observation.

Michelle McGrane is featuring her verse today over at Peony Moon. There's an excellent selection up, giving an enticing flavour of the delights to be found inside If We Could Speak Like Wolves. It will be worthwhile following Kim Moore's poetic progress closely over the next few years. I'm intrigued as to just what avenues she might explore.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Spain in a mess

This blog rarely enters the dodgy realm of politics, but I just can't ignore the current situation in Spain. The national picture is perhaps best summed up by a recent BBC article on how corruption is rife at all levels of society. It's very much worth a read and you can find it here.

The story in Extremadura, however, is even bleaker. Down here in Spain's poorest region, all the national problems do exist, but they are also compounded. On a nationwide basis, the housing boom has come to an abrupt halt, waiting for an economic revival. Nevertheless, in Extremadura, that revival is inconceivable to us on the ground. The boom was fuelled by E.U. subsidies that have inevitably run out and are being diverted to other member states. We're now left with the ruins of a house of cards and few resources to rebuild the local economy on a stable basis.

There's a whole lost generation in the area, men in their thirties and forties without education who worked on building sites and made a lot of money a few years ago. Those few years seem a long way off! People have been surviving on their savings and their parents' pensions, but the endgame is now stepping up a gear. Row after row of boarded-up shops line the town centre of Almendralejo and units are for sale throughout the industrial estate, yet this is just the start. The problem's now gone beyond bickering politics, as the very fabric of Extremaduran society is starting to come asunder. I shudder to think what the next few months may bring.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Lydia Fulleylove

Lydia Fulleylove first came to my attention when her poem Night Drive was shortlisted for the 2010 Forward Prize. It was the Saturday poem in The Guardian on 25th September that same year and you can read it here. Night Drive is an exceptional piece, one of those rare poems that manage to carve themselves into your memory forever. Fulleylove's use of language is all the more intense for its restraint.

However, she's far more than a one-hit wonder. Fulleylove published a pamphlet, titled Notes on Land and Sea, with HappenStance Press in 2011, and her collection shows just how important the sea around the Isle of Wight (where she lives) is to her poetry. What's more, her experience in working as a tutor on creative writing projects in prisons, schools,etc, also shows through, as in her poem Visit, which you can read on her website here. It evokes an inmate's longing for the sea, and it really struck home with this reader.

In the context of the respect I have for her work, I was delighted when Lydia Fulleylove approached me last year with the suggestion that we do a reading together. I'll be travelling over to the U.K. later on this month to read alongside her at Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth (see here for more details). Suffice to say, I'm very much looking forward to seeing and hearing her make those terrific poems come to life!