I’m bored of lit events, open mics, spoken word, or whatever they call them. I don’t go any more, or at least I try to avoid them. But for two years or so, back when I was doing my PhD in Creative Writing, I used to go – at the time I thought I should make an effort and get involved. The one event I had almost never missed was called Shindig (with an annoying exclamation mark at the end, omitted here), which took – and still takes place – in a pub in Leicester, off Narborough Road.
I got to meet the poets and the prose writers there. Unless their fingers were trembling during their reading or the voice quivering or something similar that showed internal terror, I grew to mistrust them. How can you stand up there, opening up your soul for everyone to see, without feeling like you’re dying? Most of the poets that I’ve met at Shindig were good people, but I had a few dealings with some of the so-called established poets of Leicestershire and I can confirm that they are little dictators who go about pretending that they love art and fairness – bullshit: they are crackpots, full of injustice, whose only need is to try and dominate you with their arty-farty words. The prose writers were more human, although, naturally, they had their issues, and I’ve only met one real bastard.
Anyway, enough of them. My poet isn’t like them, he’s a loner, he belongs to the margins, he’s a man who hasn’t given up. He had appeared as a guest writer at one of those depressing Shindig evenings, years ago. And so, when his name was announced, Robert Richardson dragged over a chair to the mic, left his rucksack on it, and took his time sorting out his stuff. He made his intro with a tiny smirk, which remained on his face throughout his reading. I liked him for that smirk, I hadn’t seen it from any other poet. Maybe he had that smirk because he didn’t do what your usual poet did, he didn’t take himself seriously, he could see the funny side of the whole thing, and that’s why his fingers weren’t trembling.
When he read out his stuff, he had a sharp way of letting the words go, and his pauses between lines were longer than I was used to hear, heavier, calculated but not fake, and that made them powerful. I didn’t have to listen, curiosity led me. Notepads, sheets of papers, magazines came out of his bag as he read one poem after the other, somehow turning the experience, for a change, into pleasure. He seemed to be a man in perpetual motion, he moved a lot during his reading, even his pauses were moving, even when he stood still and silent I could feel a sparkle in the air and the waves of reaction that came from that haunting smirk. At some point he took out a tiny book and read from it:
THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER
It’s easy to think
you just think
this could be
either right or wrong,
so I think
I’ll have a cup of tea.
And again, from that same little book:
THE YEAR 2000
I switch on
on ‘The Good Old Days’.
As years passed by I became friends with Bob (who thankfully identifies himself mostly as a photographer). My friend can talk, and so he talks in our rare meetings, he talks lively as I sit back listening and smoking, he’s a man with bright and funny stories, he hasn’t got this boring proper-manners thing where one will do the talking for a while, then it should be the turn of the other person, no, not with Bob, he’s authentic. Although I noticed that he’s like that – that is, being himself – only when he feels comfortable with the other person, and I’m glad to be one of them. And as he talks, he lives the stories he tells me, his hands move here and there, he jumps from his seat as he narrates how this and that happened, he throws his head back and pushes his tongue out and laughs, shoulders shaking. One day, I think it was two years ago, he stopped talking for a few seconds, and I grasped the opportunity to mention that Shindig evening and his English Philosopher. He said it came from a book that is out of print, nowhere to be bought, but he might have a spare copy in his loft, then he went back to telling stories. But he didn’t forget about it, and another day he brought me the book:
A Set of Darts: Epigrams for the Nineties
by Peter Dale, W. S. Milne and Robert Richardson
It was published in 1990, in Grimsby. In the poem-into, Peter Dale gives his definition of the epigram:
The epigram’s a blade of light
a shaft through storm-cloud, flash
of a secluded pool, this bright
flick-knife, the headlights’ clash,
the teeth of laughter, a smile’s sleight,
lightning, shimmer of dream
across the old familiar night,
a knot-hole’s moted beam,
the shiny elbow of commonsense,
gloss of the ominous rook.
It comes and goes like truth – and hence
the darting of this book.
Smashed jars refract along a wall;
the gold nib glitters with the scrawl.
Right, I’m getting bored of writing now, so here are three last epigrams, one by each author, and I wish you all a good evening.
Dying’s like going to the lavatory;
it’s best to do it on your own.
More so of it’s at all cathetery
or you want to grunt and groan.
OUT OF COURT
The House has banned another word.
Along with ‘guttersnipe’, ‘murderer’,
goes ‘fascist’ now. It’s pretty clear
‘truth’ itself will disappear.
[W. S. Milne]
A LESSON IN PATRIOTISM
About the reviewer
Alexandros Plasatis is an ethnographer and writes fiction in English, his second language. Some of his stories have been published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, Unthology, Crystal Voices, blÆkk, and Total Cant (forthcoming). He lives in Leicester.