At the reading the jokes between poems didn’t quite work the way they should have. I could see the audience starting to laugh but not quite getting there. Smiles, hands over mouths, but no roaring storm as there can often be. Why? Stand-up comedians will tell you that no two audiences are ever the same and that the smallest thing can make all the difference. Dog in the room. Woman in a big hat. What you need is the crowd in a dense slab right in front of you. They should be relaxed. Among them should be a giggler who’ll set everyone else off. Drink beforehand will help. So, too, will a sense of being there because they’d chosen to rather than because they’d been sent.
What was different about my lot? They’d paid to come, chosen to come, wanted to come, had bought the books, read them, got me to sign a stack. Fine. But they were all sitting in a line, wider than deep. Felt exposed. Didn’t gel. So it goes.
I was in Liverpool, at the Bluecoat, first visit for a year or two and how the place has changed. We might be proud of our newest European Capital and its world-beating waterfront down in Cardiff but Liverpool’s revitalised skyscrapered dockland with its acres of space and feeling of the future knocks us sideways. You can see why it was they who got to be Capital of Culture in 2008 and not us.
My event had been curated by Gladys Mary Coles, operator of Headland Books. She proudly presented me with a stack of her latest. Headland walks the line between the established and the brand new. The books are well produced and reasonably priced. She’s just published David Woolley’s Pursued By A Bear and will be doing a collection by the silent for too long Sally Roberts Jones next. Among the pile I received were sets by Brian Smith, Sue Moules and Norma Jones, these last two poets in the same volume. Headland like the idea of double collections for those starting out.
Best of the bunch, however, was Headland’s anthology celebrating twenty-one years of the writing centre at Tŷ Newydd - The Listening Shell. Everyone in the book has either taught there or been taught there. National Poet Gillian Clarke, who doubles as Tŷ Newydd President, provides the foreword. The poets who follow demonstrate the range of Tŷ Newydd’s interests, the quality of what it does and the place it occupies in literary Britain. There’s work from Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, David Constantine, Philip Gross, Robert Minhinnick, Oliver Reynolds, Alicia Stubbersfield, Fiona Sampson, Sheenagh Pugh, Tony Curtis, Adam Horovitz and plenty more. Headland. £7.95. Order yours now.
An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail. #172