Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 24 May 2015


Poetry Reading

Poems disappearing in words –
nothing there but voices.

Excerpts from other people's lives –
empty as a found photograph.
25 June 1980

I went to my first poetry reading on 25th June 1980. I would not go to another one for thirty-one years give or take just over a week. I had been invited which was the only reason I went. An editor, unbeknownst to me (I suspect Carl MacDougall since he gets a namecheck on the commemorative booklet), had submitted some of my poems to a competition. I didn’t win but my poem ‘The Medical Student’ (#513) got Third Eye Centrean honourable mention as they say. There was to be a prize giving ceremony at The Third Eye Centre in Glasgow which is now the Centre for Contemporary Arts. I went there when my friend Marion McCready was publishing her first book on 17th June 2011. That would be my second poetry reading then.

In 1980 I knew no other poets. I corresponded for a while with a guy in Bristol who was a big fan of Ginsberg but the correspondence dried up after a few weeks. He hated that I numbered my poems. I hated that he thought he was Ginsberg. I never wrote to another poet until I went online in the mid-nineties.

I hated that 1980 poetry reading with a vengeance. I spoke to no one and no one spoke to me. The poets who were invited to read were, as far as I was concerned, all full of themselves (not that I was lacking an ego back then) but I couldn’t relate to any of the readers. I remember thinking that this was exactly the kind of thing that would put someone off poetry. It felt pretentious and elitist. I didn’t hang around afterwards. I think I wrote the poem on the bus home.

What is interesting is that I find myself drawing on yet another old poem in the novel I’m editing:

Once, in the middle of the pavement, he’d stumbled on a passport photograph of a young woman and had nearly been ploughed into the ground whilst trying to pick it up by a harassed nanny with a pram before her and an irascible three-year-old anarchist in tow. He still kept the picture tucked away in his wallet even though he had no idea who the woman was and didn’t find her especially attractive; her washed-out hair added years to her; he wondered if she had a thyroid condition.

Ginsberg never read in the Third Eye Centre which opened its doors in 1974 but he did read at Scottish Arts Council building on Blythswood Square (where my poem ‘Heat’ (#530) was set) on the 10th August 1973 and the CCA has posted a grainy video here and here. The full Third Eye Centre archive can be found here.


Kass said...

Strong feelings make good writers. "I hated that 1980 poetry reading with a vengeance."

Jim Murdoch said...

Hate’s a strong word, Kass. I didn’t hate it. I felt uncomfortable. I had no expectations but I didn’t expect to feel like I was invisible. And that’s how I felt. I didn’t want to be welcomed with open arms but I thought I might be acknowledged. And I wasn’t. And I let that hurt me. And I didn’t want to go through that again. So I didn’t. Not until Marion published her book and I decided to make the effort. And it was an effort. But at least she talked to me and introduced me to a couple of others so it wasn’t as painful but I still left as soon as it was over. Well, I said my goodbyes and got my hug. Hugs always help. As far as the reading went at least this time I was familiar with the poems—her set anyway—and that made a difference. What I hated about that first reading was the fact I was getting one shot at each poem and then it was gone. Marion and I talked about the difference between poems on a page and the same poems read aloud and about how the poem when recited becomes as thing in itself separate from the written word. As I’m writing this I’m watching a recording of David Gilmour live in Gdańsk. He’s performing ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ but it’s not quite the same as the album version, the definitive version, it’s an interpretation of the piece. I remember the first time I read Larkin read ‘Mr Bleaney’ thinking, That’s not right, but even he admitted that his reading was only illustrative of how it could be read not how it should be read. He said, in an interview in The Paris Review, “I don’t give readings, no, although I have recorded three of my collections, just to show how I should read them. Hearing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much—the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end. Reading it on the page means you can go your own pace, taking it in properly; hearing it means you’re dragged along at the speaker’s own rate, missing things, not taking it in, confusing “there” and “their” and things like that. And the speaker may interpose his own personality between you and the poem, for better or worse.”

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