I like poetry. Ever since coming across those lines from A Child's Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson (about the pail by the wall being half full of water and stars) it has had a place in my life - been important to me. But I hardly get to any poetry readings these days. Mostly, this is because of restrictions imposed my neurologically-challenged brain that isn't easily able to give the kind of sustained concentrated focus needed. But I have to admit that my preference is also to have a particular kind of one-on-one relationship with a poem that you get when it is just you and the words on a page. I often hear it said that a poem only really comes alive when it is spoken aloud, and it is quite true that to speak it aloud often tests where a poem is or isn't working; and it is true that when a poet has the gift of being able to deliver their words well, then it is a fine thing to hear them. I know one of whom it is said that he could read from a telephone directory or a Tesco's till receipt and make it sound like poetry (and perhaps, for the duration of his performance of such, it might become so). But there are good, even famous poets who don't do this well, and then I would prefer to meet their work on the page.
Perhaps I am making a virtue of a necessity. However good the poem on the page, one doesn't have the buzz of conviviality that comes from a room full of people sharing the experience. I have recently been in rooms full of people because they were occasions which I couldn't bear to miss: the book launch of a dear friend was one and the wedding of my youngest brother was another. The commonplace business of engaging in conversation in a crowded room, especially where there is ambient noise, has become something I can - almost - no longer do. It does something to the wiring in my brain that is hard to describe, but many PeopleWithME will know and recognise. Clearly there was a time when I managed better than I do now. But for now I will (have to) carry on treading the path of acceptance. Does this sound boring?
I am not bored. I have almost never been bored, even as a temp when typing figures all day on a manual typewriter or sitting in a classroom listening to the depressed geography supply teacher drone about where we got our wheat, cocoa and meat from. I took in none of the facts (I seldom did) but I remember everything about the teacher: how carefully he combed the few oily strands across his bald head, the texture of his tweed-like suit that picked up on the colour of his ginger sideburns, the earnest expression, as though there might have been something hidden in the dreary litany of facts that he would have liked to reveal to us. I remember how dust gathered in the corners of the large classroom windows that you could only open by using a long pole with a metal hook at the end, and the blackboard where there was always the ghost of something written in chalk, even once it had been rubbed out. I must have been paying attention - to something or someone. I still do. And the other day I read Billy Collins who said, while the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly on the windowpane. I don't think the one activity necessarily excludes the other, and however many flies you watch there is no substitute for writing words on paper (or screen). But it did give me the sense, or remind me, that the act of witnessing and paying attention means something and gives power and substance. The pail is still full of water and stars.