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 an 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.