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When I originally asked for a volunteer to organize a spin-off of London Open Mic, it was simply meant to be a new series of readings by our former features, the difference being that it would be in the Chapters South bookstore. Andy immediately answered the ad, and, on the way to Chapters, I worried that few strollers in the book shelves would bother to come over and listen to poetry unless we added some other kind of entertainment value. A clown, for instance. Well, in the store’s Starbucks we sat down with Chapters’ events manager to discuss seating, etc, and within minutes Andy’s creative engine burst into life. It was wonderful to see. He instantly created an entirely new kind of poetry series, one that pairs one of our more-established former features with a younger-but-exciting emerging poet, thus ensuring the event would not be just one long droning reading but would be divided into unique sections in which the two poets play off each other in multiple exciting ways. Here’s how Andy describes it on his event website: “A month in advance, the pair begin collaborating on an evening of alternating readings, response poems, renga, duets, live interview, writing exercises, arguments, and general poetic tennis (net optional). Their episode is the culmination of this collaboration, a unique blend of dialogue and performance sparking in the gaps between two poets.” (From Couplets, a collaborative reading series. https://coupletsreadingseries.wordpress.com/) After seven episodes, Couplets has now established itself in the city as something not to be missed. I love it and have never heard of another series like it. London’s Poet Laureate, Tom Cull, who appreciates it as much as I do, thinks there’s a good chance it may be the only event of its kind anywhere.
Watch the slide show
Andy’s poetry is no less unique and creative than his series. It’s not easy poetry; it certainly has depth and layers in abundance. It’s the kind you would want to read a number of times back to back. I knew this before he took the stage, so I was curious how he would deal with this, if at all. There are poets who insist that a poem is perfect in itself, that it should never come with an introduction, either in a book or at a reading. Which, to me, is irritating because there is a massive difference between reading a poem read from a book and listening to one read aloud. In a book, you can reread it, or any of its individual lines, any number of times; you can slow down to better digest it, or even press the pause button; you can refer back to previous bits from later bits; you can look up a word in a dictionary. And so on. But in a reading, you only have one chance. And during that chance, hopefully you won’t get distracted by how the poet reads, or your glass of wine, or any of a million other things. Andy’s particular hocus pocus definitely requires focus focus focus. So I was pleasantly surprised when he not only introduced the poems, but really got into it. In his deceptively casual and calm manner, Andy prepared us for each reading with a description of how it came about, the process he used in its creation, and what he was trying to accomplish in each poem. So, when he began to actually read (that one and only time), we were fully prepared. Even then, of course, the poems went by far faster than they would have if read on a page, but at least we got some things from them that we would otherwise have missed. AND we got a lot that we hadn’t expected—from the introductions.
I was so enthralled by the intros that it never occurred to me to jot down the juicier bits. But to give you a taste, here are a few clips from Kevin Heslop’s wonderful interview:
“Am I concerned with keeping my readers comfortable? Quite the opposite, but I’d like to keep them around long enough to make them uncomfortable.”
“If I’m not surprised by a poem as I write it, and then again after I’ve written it—if my palpable design upon it is actually achieved—I’m bound to hate it … Poetry, especially your own poetry, should surprise you so deeply and consistently that you keep suspecting that you’ve been on the wrong side of history. … That said, I often feel like I’m moderating peace talks between surprise and convention. … My personal sympathies lie with surprise, but I’m always asking it to demobilize, to stand down, to rein it in a bit for the sake of readability.”
“…form is an independent layer of poetic quality. Any moderately good formal poem should, to my mind, have enough integrity and interior movement (enough other things going for it) that a reader needn’t be initiated into its form to appreciate how (or at least that) it’s working.”
Andy’s rule: “Bring enough to a poem that it can begin writing itself, and then be a good editor. When the poem starts being too surprising, course correct by setting it up for a joke.”
Read the entire interview and three of Andy’s poems
The rest of the event consisted of our open mic section preceded by a few announcements: to wit, that yes the open mic will definitely continue into it’s 6th season after yours truly resigns as organizer in June. And April Fool’s Day will see the launch of our Basic Poetics Study Group, in which group members take turns each month being instructors on particular aspects of poetics. I will be the April Foolish instructor, getting a discussion going about line breaks.
The open mic section was it’s usual very lively self, with five-minute views into the poetic (and otherwise) lives of some fifteen unique individuals. The styles and content varied enormously, as always.