Thursday, June 29, 2017

Simon Armitage, Tabernacle review – not a review

This is not going to be a review. Nor am I, though it did briefly occur to me, going to do it in a Simon Armitage-like poem, thereby making my comments in the form of his form, a probably more interesting and insightful (I just spelled that 'inciteful') piece of work than what is hereby going to transpire. But, no.

I like Simon Armitage. I recommend you read his poems. His poems are fresh, live, lyrical, steeped in performance but also in the history of poetry. More accessible than many, he carries the faint hint of the frustrated indie musician about him, which is preferable to musicians carrying the hint of the frustrated poet, imho. He's interesting, down to earth, real, speaks with a lovely Leeds plaint, something like a streetwise Alan Bennett, or at least as streetwise as a professor of poetry gets. He's not Leedswise like, say, Mik Artistik, but he was a probation officer once, so you know, he's been about. Got insights from the other sides, if you know what I mean, although his life nowadays is mostly writing poetry, teaching students, making TV and theatre and doing readings for Guardian types, as this one was, on a tour to promote The Unaccompanied, his latest album, sorry, poetry collection. Doing a reading, then a chat with the Guardian books editor and then Qs from the audience.

So he read some poems. Lovely voice he's got, that soft Leeds burr, gentle and fey but not foolish; read some poems and my attention span being what it is, I drifted. Some kept me locked on: the first one, which was more or less a standup routine, worked well. Others, I drifted. I was thinking that the definition of an artist is that they're more interested in what's in their own head than what other people are doing, but maybe it's not the definition of an artist, but the definition of a narcissist; anyway, I had to battle really to focus at times – more Debussy than Chopin. I find a lot of poetry could learn from standup anyway, the thing about standup is you can't lose the audience, even for a moment, you have to keep them with you all the time, because you've got this feedback in standup that's unlike more or less anywhere else, you know when you're losing them because they stop laughing. You have to be tight. Of course if you're not going for laughs, it's not a helpful feedback mechanism, but it keeps you honest, and you can say a lot even while making people laugh, it's not like you can't say everything in the world.

So this is not a review. It wasn't really a show. The audience asked questions and at first they were shy, and then when they had stopped being shy, they asked weird questions. The public are an odd bunch, even at poetry readings, consumed with odd obsessions that come out in their weird questions. And Simon tried to answer them, really, he tried, but sometimes he just didn't, despite trying, because the question was just too bloody odd.

I wanted to ask a question but I was too shy. Well, shy's not the word, but I kind of thought I might just be asking a question that everybody else would already know the answer to and therefore it would be a waste. But never be shy, that's my top tip. Because other people will always be less shy than you, and have stupider questions.

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