Seeking to extend my poetic repertoire beyond AFC Wimbledon’s ‘When Dave went up, To lift the FA Cup, I was there, I was there’, I dropped in at a verse reading at the local Arts Centre. ‘Arts’ should have been a warning that it wouldn’t be an occasion when Betjeman was on the bill, but ‘hope springs eternal’ (another of Pope’s verses on the lips of every Wimbledon fan).
Hopes faded faster than at lottery checking time as the performers appeared, their sombre black matching the misery of the poems they mumbled. Free verse was the medium for their message, presumably because there are a limited number of rhymes for ‘death’, ‘depression’ and ‘oppression’. After all, the last two cancel each other out.
The only way of discovering when a dirge had finished was by an extra long pause. I was reminded of waiting to see whether an intercessions leader had finished or merely dropped the script. The parallel was completed by the cries of ecstasy from poets in the audience – ‘meaningful’ – akin to the ‘Amen, brothers!’ at an old-time Gospel meeting.
A modern Anglican note emerged when a poet howled to the moon about the dangerous excitement of ‘gay love’. However, the via media was restored when a poetess, obviously a season ticket holder for The Vagina Monologues, decided that her thoughts on male oppression required a decalogue rather than a monologue.
I’ve never had an especial regard for the late Hermann Goering, but as the evening wore on – and wearing it was – I began to have sympathy with Hermann’s desire to reach for his revolver when ‘culture’ was mentioned. However, I decided that trying to see how many verses I could remember of Eskimo Nell was a better alternative. Could I remember as many verses as there were folk in the tiny audience?
If it is the case that people don’t whistle tunes any more because there aren’t any good tunes today, surely the reason why poetry doesn’t gain audiences nowadays is because modern poets talk to themselves rather than to the world. Another parallel with today’s church?