As part of the Oldcastle Writers Group I went to the poetry readings at Cavan Library last night. For date purists, Tuesday 11 May.
It caused me to wonder why we attend these events. What do we gain from them as both audience and writer, and as guest reader?
By far, the main content of meetings like this is poetry. Although anthologies go on sale they are not mainstream and readers seek them out. It is an opportunity for a guest to read their work as they want it read and a place to sell their books. Touring venues, as they often do, they are also in a position to appreciate the strength of the turn-out or not and to monitor trends globally, nationally and locally. I bet most of these guest readers have good and bad stories to tell about appearances in different places.
On the Edge is in its third year and it shows by the professionalism. A neat room, with a semi circle of chairs for the audience; a table with bottles of water and glasses for the professional readers; and a lectern with microphone. It started and finished on time, and a strict regime was maintained for the open mic session with readers limited to one page of poetry or prose – there were about eighteen readers. The whole time was dedicated to writing: no stops for refreshments or fags. I liked that and a lot more was achieved. There was a substantial audience, about twenty-five people. Kate Ennals, a poet, is the curator and has made a magnificent job of it.
So, as an audience, what did I get from it? Well, it is an opportunity to hear work being read. To listen to the rhythms, the pacing, the emphases, the content and to see how each writer approaches the business. Often, the reader gives a little background to each poem and with the context fresh in the listeners mind, the poem may obtain greater appreciation. I say may, because only the handful of poems read out have this benefit but it serves to flesh out the stranger on the lectern reading the poem and to put that image and knowledge to good use when reading the poems in isolation.
The professional poetry readers were Evan Costigan and Jane Clarke. Their work was quite different and each writer brought their own unique quality to it. Poets frequently expose themselves in their poetry admitting depth of emotion that might be frowned upon in the everyday: or demonstrating their own flaws on a particular subject. But in the world of poetry the licence to let loose and be yourself is there and with the audience is the understanding that this will happen and no judgement required. Both Jane and Evan did justice to their beautiful poetry leaving me with a sense of wonder, or an acknowledement of a truth, or a deeper understanding of a conflict.
As children our first introduction to stories was through voice. Of course, radio presents such stories but they are written to be heard and there is usually a time limit because of the attention span. In the confines of an event such as the Cavan meeting, the audience is captive and cannot wander off to switch on a kettle or multi-task to finish the ironing or hammer in a rawl plug or continue with their knitting. Sitting in a comfortable chair for an hour or two with a book (or e-reader) is a sole pursuit and the reader can dive into the other world created on the page. When listening, therefore, the rhythms and pacing are important to maintain audience interest, as the bards of old understood, but there is also the anticipation of hearing a story.
Alan McMonagle is pictured left and his book, titled Psychotic Episodes, has stories that are quirky and humerous, but peopled by characters that somehow don’t fit into the mainstream. His reading was well-paced and made for easy listening. The story he read about a childless couple looking after their five year old nephew, Patrick, generated a sense of dread expectation in every word; humour at the ineptness of the couple; and sympathy for their situation. And the question at the end for me was, where do they go from here?
I think short story books are rare and in this collection there are nineteen intriguing stories. Once the stories have been read, the title begins to make more sense.
Three of us went to the event and two of us read. My friend Caro read her gem of a story The Pram with her usual dramatic flair. As happens often, it went down very well and the audience laughed at the right times. It is a wonderful short story told through the eyes of a ten-year old girl, Rosie, a witness to the Easter Rising.
After dithering over which poem to read, I did an about turn and chose two of my 100-word stories instead. Apparently this length of fiction is called a drabble – horrible word for an intriguing and challenging form. This was the first time I’d read these in a public forum. I’d learned and paced the telling of the story so the audience could relish the words and have time to process the tale and the gaps. (Oooh, get me!) The first one, Validation, seemed to be the most well received. Alan McMonagle liked it and said so in his signed dedication on the fly of his book that I bought. Without my having to prompt him either. I was much gratified. Maybe I’m doing something right.
I met up with some familiar faces and retired to the pub for half an hour afterwards for more chat and readings and coffee. On the back of the chat, I bought Ruth Leonard’s poetry anthology Being when I returned home and will write a review on Amazon soon. Freda Donaghue award winning playwright attended too and I will be going to the Ramor to see her latest play Wish you were Here. I’m looking forward to the next On the Edge, in August, and any others in between.
Congratulations to Kate for putting together such a great evening; and to the professional writers for sharing their work; and to the open mic readers for their bravery in putting themselves out there.