Sunday, October 12, 2008

Singing, dancing poets - blame Shakespeare?

An Irish poet once remarked to me that English audiences at poetry readings expect to be entertained in a way that Irish audiences do not. He still recalls his terror at having to follow a series of entertaining poets at a reading in England with his extremely good (in my opinion) but sensitively nuanced poems. He survived, because English audiences also happen to like good poetry. I recalled his experience at a reading I did at the new premises of Smith/Doorstop in Sheffield on 9th October. Poet John Turner wasn't just entertaining - he had backing music and he danced, and sang his poetry. I loved what he did but I was very glad I had been on before him! I blame Shakespeare for this trend in English poetry. Shakespeare, as many a poor student has had drilled into them, always introduced clowns and clown-like characters into his plays - even the witches in Macbeth can be played for laughs (though I am not calling John Turner a clown). Shakespeare was a bloody good showman and he was in the same theatrical company as the great comedian Will Kemp, for whom he wrote the part of Falstaff. So when I saw John Turner I thought of Shakespeare. And I thought of the fact that, thanks to Bill, we more melancholic Irish poets are up against it when we cross the Irish Sea.

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