I had to write a follow-up to my previous post after having a brilliant time yesterday evening at The Torriano Meeting House, Kentish Town, London NW5. Lisa Kelly the incredibly friendly and kind organiser of poetry readings (or at least one of the organisers, I’m not quite sure who organises what and who’s in charge which makes everything all the more relaxed and inviting) got in touch and invited me to read about six months ago after she’d read a poem I wrote about Stephen Lawrence, published in The Morning Star. So the date’s been in my diary for a long time but I’ve been so busy recently, what with my newish part-time job, running And Other Poems (my poetry blog) and being Mum to two young teenagers, that I hadn’t properly thought about what I was going to read or practised much at all. It helped that I read two poems at an Open-Mic last Thursday, at Words & Ears in Bradford-on-Avon, so this was a little bit of preparation.
Lisa asked me to read for about 15 to 20 minutes so I printed off 14 poems on Saturday night and started to work out which ones I’d read (I thought that between 10 to 12 would be the right number) a reasonable reading order, putting shorter poems and longer poems together, deciding which to start with, which to end with and what I’d say in brief introduction for each one. I went up to London on Sunday morning and I had hoped to be able to spend part of the three hour train journey reading through the poems and doing more planning and prep. but, unfortunately, the train was not only packed but also peopled with the world’s loudest humans so I struggled to focus and ended up feeling thoroughly irritated and increasingly tense.
Still, I arrived at my sister’s house in Peckham before 1pm so I thought there’d be some time later in the afternoon to calm myself and look through my poems again. But, the truth is it got to about 5pm and I hadn’t really done much preparation at all. All the while I spoke and listened to my sister I carried that horrid, nervous, knotted stomach feeling, felt dry-mouthed, incredibly anxious. Why the heck did I agree to do this, I asked myself and who on earth is going to want to listen to me? I went up to the room I was staying in and looked through the poems again while my sister looked through her bag of herbal and homeopathic remedies, reading aloud various symptoms to see if she could offer me something to calm my nerves – feeling you’re about to break down, feeling you’re falling, racing heart – the list of symptoms were just a jumble of words. How about a glass of wine? suggested my sister. No! Somehow I managed to choose 12 poems with two I probably wouldn’t read but had in reserve in case there was plenty of time left. We set off for Kentish Town. Conversation was minimal.
But I needn’t have worried! The Torriano Meeting House is such a welcoming venue. They meet weekly to hear poems and the audience is supportive, encouraging and kind. It’s true that when I got up to read and looked out into the audience it seemed that a few people looked thoroughly bored, cheesed-off, irritated or angry – but this might simply have been their normal expressions ( I hope!?). I’ve sometimes catch sight of myself in shop windows and mirrors and I’m surprised at how furious I look, even when I’m feeling light-hearted and merry inside. There is no point feeling sensitive about the expressions on peoples’ faces I decided and read my poems regardless. Afterwards there were plenty of kind comments and compliments which proved that people had really listened and liked at least some of my poems. How uplifted and encouraged I felt!
The Torriano is a simply arranged venue, intimate, unfussy and quiet – exactly the right kind of place for poets who just want to read aloud without giving some kind of grandiose performance. It was a pleasure to listen to someone sing a song about church bells in Wales, there was a wide range of good poems from the floor, including interesting poems from Fiona Moore, Lisa Kelly, Stuart Mckenzie, Josh Ekroy and Isabel Bermudez and I was pleased to discover the poems of Stephen Elves who read a set of poems after me.
My sister enjoyed herself. She freely admitted that she hadn’t really anticipated that she would and I thought she’d gone beyond the call of sisterly duty to come along to support me but I was glad she did. Back at her house in Peckham we finished off a bottle of wine and ate a late night feast – I was suddenly starving.
It was a completely happy experience; I’m so grateful to Lisa for inviting me and to the audience for being so supportive. I also managed to buy Linda Black’s illustrated book of prose poems, The Son of a Shoemaker published by Hearing Eye which gives its address as 99 Torriano Avenue – the same as the Meeting House. I had no idea about the history of this reading series and publisher but there is more information here. You’ll see that there are some exciting names coming up and I’m very proud to be able to say that I read at The Torriano!