Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Night At The Leopard

So it started here. Properly started here, I mean. This is where things changed from ‘sitting in front of my computer idly throwing lines together to make what I think is poetry’ to ‘sitting in a room above a haunted pub reading one of those poems out to a group of people who know a lot more about the art form than I do’.

And, mercifully, I didn’t make a complete arse of myself.

Admittedly, I didn’t contribute a
lot to the discussions on other people’s work either – after all, who was I, scribe of less than a dozen poems, to question the writing and decision-making of people who could name-check poets I may never hear of? But my contribution was well received and stimulated some lively debate as the members of the group sought to understand a little about the novice sitting before them, and the choices I made in coming up with ‘On Stage’.

At this point, the question arises: how did I end up in this room above a haunted pub?

In trying to find a way into the poetic world via the internet, an inevitable portal is the Poetry Society – a charitable organisation founded in 1909 to (in their own words) “promote a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”. At £40, a year’s membership is an expensive undertaking purely on a whim, so the national network of local groups (called ‘Stanzas’) seemed a less financially onerous place to start.

Staffordshire Stanza meets in Burslem – one of the constituent towns of Stoke-on-Trent, and fortunately close to me given the size of the county – in a first floor meeting room above The Leopard pub. A quick search online narrates some of the pub’s history, so there is little need to recount it here. For now, let’s just say it’s a fitting place for a group of poetically minded individuals to get together (especially if they happen to like real ale too).

ng swapped a few introductory e-mails with the head of the group, John Williams, I duly turned up at the Leopard on Tuesday evening. It is hard to know where to start in describing the room itself – a myriad of chairs jostled for position around a large central table, various stains adorned the even more varied upholstery, and at-a-glance-unremarkable pictures decorated the wall (clung to it desperately, even, given how faded some of them appeared). The floor, meanwhile, sloped at odd angles, only adding to the sense that, if it were able, the room would probably write far better poetry than any of us ever could given what it must have seen and heard over the years.

I include the visiting professional in that as well. My inaugural attendance coincided with one of the Stanza’s occasional guest speakers, on this occasion David Horner, and hearing him read a selection of his poetry was inspiring and entertaining in equal measure. His swooping vowels, soothing cadence and engaging delivery brought his work to life; his enthusiasm to then stay and listen to the work of everyone else was even more impressive.

say those three hours at the Leopard opened my eyes would be an understatement. Not just in the advice I received on my contribution, or the remarkably vehement discussion about whether every line of a poem should start with a capital letter or not, but in starting to grasp the true difference between seeing a poem written down and hearing it spoken.

o, in hearing the suggestion that a poem might have to be read fifteen times before its intentions and meanings become clear (perhaps influenced by Nick Hornby’s advice that a difficult-to-read novel is not worthpersevering with, the attitude I have adopted so far in my limited poetry reading is to be grabbed by the first few lines or not be grabbed at all, and it will be interesting to see if that changes over time).

d, perhaps most profoundly, in realising that poetry doesn’t have to be comic or irreverent for me to get something out of it.

en my turn to read came, I had the misfortune (for want of a more appropriate word) of following a remarkable poem about Dylan Thomas (called ‘The Kingless Crown’). It was a proper poem and no mistake – full of imagery, allusion, and a skilfully woven blend of biography and the author’s own feelings. The delivery was captivating, and immediately made me regret not selecting something more substantial, even though I thought – and still think – that reading ‘On Stage’ was about as perfect an introduction as I could have hoped to give, on a number of levels.

Would I have enjoyed ‘The Kingless Crown’ as much if I’d been alone and come across it on the next page of a collection I happened to be reading? Almost certainly not, for most of its content meant nothing to me – only in discussing the piece and understanding the author’s inspiration did the appreciation come to dawn on me. Sure, it sounded good as he read it – sounded great, and passionate – but I still didn’t understand it.

uch has always been my problem with art in general. As was made clear in a recent trip to Bristol and a wander round one of its galleries, if something is impossible to properly understand without the creator standing next to you explaining their thought processes to the last detail, is it truly successful?

hat question is the best reason I can come up with as to why I like to write a ‘simpler’ (again, for want of a better word) form of poetry, because you can interpret it if you wish, or enjoy it purely for enjoyment’s sake. Perhaps this means my chances of any sort of success are limited, for it is a disposable sort of work that people are inclined to enjoy but then forget (interestingly, I was still hearing ‘The Kingless Crown’ in my head a few days later – not for its content, as such, but purely because of how it was delivered).

t then there is that age-old question of commercial versus critical success…

I f
eel a touch confused (and also seem to be rather getting ahead of myself!). Putting over-analysis to one side for a moment, I want the poems I write to have an impact, be it in a humorous pay-off, or with some sort of emotional ‘punch’ beneath the veneer of irreverence. Maybe that’s because I feel it’s the only way I will impress other people, rather than just trying to please myself with a finished product (particularly one that is hopelessly trivial!). But does it mean I should write a poem with the thought of it potentially being discussed at the back of my mind?

Probably not, for no good art has ever been created that way (has it?).

The ho
use move is largely done, and there’s a list of nearly a dozen poem ideas I want to try and write, so now is the time to just get on with it. And I possess every intention of getting along to the Leopard each month, because the thought of talking more with real people (rather than trying to reach unseen across the vast virtual world of the internet) about the process of creativity, even in a purely poetic context, is exciting. The wealth of knowledge and experience in the nine people I sat with on Tuesday was unrivalled in terms of anything I have yet found online, and I look forward to developing the confidence to contribute more to the discussions, particularly if their willingness to tolerate (and perhaps nurture) my naivety continues.

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