After the obsequies
28 June 2005
Iíve never really been sure about performance poetry, in exactly the same way that I've never been sure about oral storytelling. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy performance, because of course I do, and I love listening to stories; but these are voices from another culture, one that insists on the merit of immediacy, the unique moment, the shared experience. In a phrase, you have to be there. Whereas me, I always want to assert the primacy of the written word, the imperishable moment, the intimacy of reading, where the relationship is created individually in the privacy of each readerís head. In a phrase, it doesn't matter where you are, because you're always alone with a book.
All of this preamble is by way of finding something to write about that is not death, because Iím afraid this weblog has become a little monothematic, and I could so easily let it slide into a simple unrelieved threnody; and today would be a day to do that, because today we saw Keith off. Once again - as for Julia, as for Peter, as for Joe - there were crowds, too many for the venue; and the people who spoke were amazing, and there was some wonderful music, and all of that. And I might have used convalescence as an excuse to slip away early afterwards, and didn't; but was glad to be offered a legitimate reason later, something else to go to. Traditionally, when the friends of your youth are scattered, you all meet up at weddings and reunions, and then later it's always funerals, and you remark on it poignantly at some apposite moment, but that's not supposed to happen till you're fairly well wrinkled. My generation was knocked out of kilter early on, we spent our twenties and thirties going to far too many funerals; recently, though - since 1996, largely, when anti-retrovirals and combination therapies really started to bite back - Iíd thought we were pretty much on track again. Now Iíve been to six funerals in six months, and I know it's just a statistical anomaly, it doesn't really presage the start of another epidemic; but I feel like I've just slipped back twenty years, and I do not want to do this.
So, a choice came along, and I took it. There was a poetry reading, the kind of event I tend to go to anyway. Not only to show support, I actually enjoy them, but tonight half the city's literati were saying goodbye to Keith, so that was another good reason to go, to do that visible-support thing on a night when attendance might be down; and Iíd already started drinking, because even when enlivened with all the trimmings (ice and lemon, whoo golly...) fizzy water does lose its glitter as a social option, so it was probably quite wise to slip away before I undid all my convalescent virtue.
To the Lit & Phil, then, where I sipped yet more virtuous water and spoke to yet more old friends, and maybe it wasn't so different after all, just the same part of another wood. And then the readings started, and the first set might not have been a reading after all, because she was introduced as a performance poet, and my heart didnít exactly sink (because, as I have said already, I do enjoy performance) but I did feel lightly disappointed. Iíd always rather be read to than recited at, because then you hear the poetís own voices and choices first but know that you can form your own relationship with the words later, because theyíre right there on the page and theyíre not going away. Performance, who knows? It could all be improvised, it could be busked from a few casual notes, it could very well not be available on paper. Performance is transience, which is the opposite of writing.
As it turned out, though, Kate Fox might be billed as a performance poet, but she was launching a book. This made me happier (thoí I did still want to squabble with her publisher when he said that there was a CD tucked into the back, because "if you want to get the best of Kate, you have to hear her". I just think that's wrong. Of course a poet's own voice can lend a charm to their work - but that's the point of reading solo, it's charm-free and what you're left with is the real thing and no adornment, nothing to hide behind). And then we actually got to the work, and I was happier yet, because I enjoyed it utterly. And then Fiona Ritchie Walker read, and she was fab too, as she always is; and then there was a break, and first thing Kate said at the start of her second set was that Chaz Brenchley was in the middle of the front row, and she only knew me through my weblog, and please could I give her a mention?
So I have.
© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.