19 Jul 2016

For Talking Out Loud.

13th July, 2016.

“They look like a comfy pair of shoes”.
“Yes, and so clean”.
“And shiny”.
“I bet they’re new”.
“Do you know you can buy a pair just like those down the market for about ten pounds? It’s the brand you pay for you know”.

I am seated in a cave two or three “floors” below street level, in one of Nottingham’s most noted pubs for performing arts, and I haven’t yet spoken one word. The cave itself, carved out of the sandstone, is a characteristic underground feature of many buildings in the city centre. Above me is the one time Victorian Music Hall the Malt Cross, a venue I’ve variously written, dated, and drunk in, often watching local musicians perform as I did so. Somewhere in this pub’s files they have, at their request, copies of sketches I’ve made here. But I’ve never performed here. Indeed, I can’t remember the precise date I was last on a public stage of any kind. Tonight, that’s about to change. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster announcing the venue’s Spoken Word Open Mic Night and thought, “Why not?” So I’m here, to both test my mettle and the worth of the words I write.

Painting is very different. I send the paintings out beyond my walls to be judged by others within their walls. In return I get a slip of paper which simply reads either “rejection” or “acceptance”. No further explanation than that. Tonight I am presenting my words to strangers for the first time, face to face. I put my name down at the door, number 14 on the list of tonight’s performers. If my words prove to be no good at least my shoes have been a big hit.

When I was a student in Liverpool, poets like Adrian Henri and Roger McGough were not yet widely known across the U.K. The Merseybeat groups of the sixties had all followed the Beatles south, to be replaced in the seventies by the Mersey Scene, predominantly one of poetry and improvised music. So it was not uncommon to both sit alongside and experience such talent in the local pubs. I certainly cannot pretend I was ever a member of that in-crowd, but it was an inspiring atmosphere for a young student to witness. Tonight reminds me a little of those days. The sandstone benches along the walls are rock hard, but the people are supportive, in good spirits, and raring to get started. Importantly, they are all listening attentively to each other’s works.

I’ve spent much of the day rehearsing out loud in my studio. I reckon of the dozen or so acts which precede me I must be on a par with a good percentage of them. One notable exception being number 13, a youthful, passionate performance in rapid contemporary rhyme and without notes. Not an act I would have chosen to follow. Nevertheless, one pint into the evening, number 14 “Ian” is called to the front…

I am expected to read two poems. I'm happy to say both go down really well. The audience laugh with me at my brief introduction to “The Gift”, how my 30+ years as a teacher was rewarded with a simple book token, before they then become totally involved with the poem’s pathos, catching them off guard. Similarly, the “four and twenty seagulls” and “balding braided doorman” of “Skeggie Day” elicit giggles of appreciation, before the poem’s sombre conclusion makes its mark. I like this well established literary device, mixing opposing emotions in the same piece. (“It’s getting better all the time. – It can’t get no worse”). I shall be using it again. Probably in this venue.

Read “The Gift” on THIS LINK.
Read “Skeggie Day” below OR the video on THIS LINK.
See my Malt Cross artworks on THIS LINK.

 Skeggie day.

Railcard trip to a Lincs coastline,
“Which way are we facing?” Going back in time.
A day beside the seaside, the rain did not stop play
On Skeggie day.

Snakes and ladder fingers
On the backseat of the train,
Slipping her the whiskey,
She slips it back again.
Her kite strings got in the way
On Skeggie day.

Under the Boardwalk, Up On the Roof,
Identity crisis, asking for proof.
Photographing footprints
All along the beach,
So close to the salty edge,
But always out of reach.
Walking away
On Skeggie day.

Shakin Stevens ashtrays, the bandstand had no band,
Just Betty Boop mementos for a Jolly Fisherman.
He thinks he’s on a promise, a saucy postcard date,
But Betty left too early, and the Clock Tower’s always late.
Shakey fades
On Skeggie day.

A penny for the arcade
Soon comes to push and shove,
As four and twenty seagulls
Abstained from making love,
Swoop down on deep fried chickens,
Their favoured fast-food prey.
Don’t Take-Away
My Skeggie day.

The tin skinned street art lady, trapped in her pantomime,
Waves secret hand-sign signals, that passion is no crime.
She pays for rusting tea breaks
With small change from her jar.
Her day job is a statue, by night she works the bar.
She has no time to play
On my Skeggie day.

The cinema on High Street is showing “G.I. Blues”.
They haven’t changed the program there since 1962.
A balding breathless doorman,
In braided uniform,
Has a look of recognition,
Thinks he’s seen me there before.
Checks the tickets at the kiosk,
Checks himself out in the glass.
Checks the sidewalk for a certain girl
Who’s way outside his class.
Perhaps a lack of judgement?
It’s not for me to say.
I leave him to his fate.
On Skeggie day.

Returning to the station, the train is running late.
The driver’s in his swimwear, been on a heavy date.
I take my seat inside the carriage,
Take a moment to reflect,
Take a selfie of the station sign
Not finished with me yet.
In the pages of my sketchbook
The sketches from my trips
All draw upon the good times,
Plus all the empty bits.
I’ve said too much already
There’s nothing left to say
About Skeggie day.

Now plastic Disney figures
In fairgrounds long shut down,
All chat about the Summers
When I still came around.
There’s no-one left to heed now
Their wind metallic voice,
They stand there for no reason,
They do it out of choice.
Before a wintry snowman took them all away
On Skeggie Day.

All text copyright Ian G Craig.

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