In 2003 (I think) I gave my first ever poetry reading. I’d read poems out loud to family and friends, but never at a reading or an event, although I had been to these. On a dark walk home along Longstone Road one night, an author had recommended the Courtyard Readings at the Scottish Poetry Library. So, armed with a notebook and a friendly smile I walked down Crichton Close and asked if I could put my name down.
I’d acted before, and was happy to stand before an audience; I believed in my poems and knew them well. But I hadn’t figured out what I was going to read (I think I had a complete definite, a probably definite and a bit of a woolly conglomeration of possible third poems), and didn’t appreciate that being able to read my own handwriting well enough to type them wasn’t necessarily a level of legibility conducive to fluent performance.
It is always a great event, and I am fortunate enough to be one of those poets who enjoys reading their work. There was a rich array of ages, stages and nationalities. But the fumbling about to find the next poem was something I neither wanted to repeat nor have since. Undeterred, I sought out my next opportunity.
Aware of the lessons I’d learnt in August (know what you’re going to read and print them off), I learnt of Reading the Leaves, a monthly spoken word event in Tchai Ovna, and a plank in my poetic apprenticeship (I believe this is a lifelong thing by the way) which cannot be underestimated. I went along to an event to check it out, emailed Nalini Paul, then organiser, with a sample of my work to see if it would be okay to read.
Next thing I knew, I was on the bill for the next event, and had 15-20 minutes to fill. I remember at the time thinking that my reading slots would grow with time, but this seems to be a pretty much constant duration for a reading, and a very apt amount of time to listen. So I printed off my favourite poems, stood with a stopwatch in my bedroom and read them out loud. 8 minutes. I needed more poems. Eventually, I’d figured out a set which filled my allotted time. A twenty five poem set.
I found my mark, stood there and read them one after another, pausing for interjections like “This next poem’s called….”, “This is a poem called…” and made it through all of the poems I’d selected. Some audiences deserve a round of applause. Pretty soon I was back, and I gradually read less poems, spoke a bit more and generally relaxed.
Reading the Leaves was a great way of postponing the inevitable Friday night inebriation of my mid to late twenties. You got free tea, and though I may have smuggled a hip flask in once or twice, or enjoyed a glass of red before I went down, 10pm was guaranteed to find me compus mentus. Which was a rare occurrence otherwise.
The event has moved from Friday night to Tuesday night, but stayed at Tchai Ovna. In it’s tea drinking early weekend place is the Magic Carpet Cabaret. I read there once, when it was run by Ellen McAteer on a Tuesday night. The heady combination of poetry, fiction and song was a real breath of fresh air. And tomorrow night, I’ll begin another weekend with artisan tea in one of the most perennially leftfield spots in Glasgow’s West End.