Poetry writing is not my thing. At least, I don't think it is. The reason for my uncertainty is that although I recently attended a one day poetry class, the feedback provided by the tutor was not very detailed, to say the least. It mainly consisted of either an appreciative "Ooooh", or utter silence. I think I was rewarded with one "ooh" for my efforts, but I have no idea why. No idea what (if anything) was good about that particular poem. Perhaps the tutor felt sorry for me, having responded with complete silence to all my efforts up to that point. I rapidly learnt not to read out anything at all, and to practise in silence.
So, I may or may not be a poet in the making. The course wasn't a complete waste of time: I learnt about some forms of poetry I'd never heard of, and got to hear some fine poetry from some of the other people on the course. But as for serious poetry writing, I think it's fair to say that the jury is still out.
More important is the question of why I decided to sign up for a poetry class in the first place. I have always enjoyed reading poetry, and many moons ago I wrote a lot of poetry, and not without some success.
For example, whilst doing English Lit 'A' Level I was so taken with Elizabethan verse romances that I decided to write my own. Calling it Tamara and Terry (Tamara being a friend of mine in the class), it contained such immortal lines as the following. The eponymous hero of the story, being lovesick for Tamara, has taken to his bed in his depressed state:
Full oft he turn'd, and also toss'd.
"Alas, alack!", he cried. "I'm lost."
His face was pale as laundered linen,
That all could tell the plight he'd been in.
And no doubt Terry would have died
Had not his mother come inside
And said, "Come on, Terry, join a club,
Or have a drink in yonder pub."
Terry, thinking this was sense,
Arose and walked abroad from thence."
My English tutor liked it so much he said he was going to use it with the following year's cohort. Tamara read it while waiting in a a queue in the bank, and received some funny looks when she kept chortling and shrieking with laughter.
More recently, I published my seminal work, Ode to Code. But on the whole I have been much more prone to prose writing, and almost all of the courses I've attended over the last few years have been concerned with that. Why? Because as a professional writer (amongst other things) I believe it important to do as much as I can to improve my skills. Even the flash fiction course I attended a couple of years ago was purely for the sake of learning how to write a story in 100 words or less in order to apply the techniques to non-fiction writing. (You can judge for yourself whether or not this was successful by reading 7 Books for teachers of computing and ICT.) Poetry writing has never been high on my bucket list.
That all changed when I attended an evening of poetry and prose called Late Lines, run by the City Lit adult education institute in London. I heard some poetry I thought was marvellous. In particular, I really liked a poem by Vetta. I told her she ought to publish it, though it's a question of where. I'm still thinking about that.
And then right at the end, Alexandra read/performed three of her poems. I found them very touching, and very thought-provoking. So on the basis of hearing Vetta and Alexandra, I decided there and then to sign up for a poetry course. I wanted to learn more about how to write poetry.
There was another unexpected outcome. One of the things I'm reasonably good at is playing the blues harmonica. I know that to be the case both from the fact that I can usually contribute to a piece of music I've never heard before, and also that on the odd occasion I attend an open mic night, many musicians ask me to accompany them on stage once they've heard me play.
Unfortunately, work commitments have made it hard for me to find the time to practise. Because of that, I decided not to buy a harmonica I loved the sound of, but which I knew I would need to teach myself to play: an E minor harmonic. It is used to play ethnic music like gypsy or Yiddish tunes.
Well, I chatted with Alexandra afterwards and told her I loved her poetry, and asked her if she had any books of her work. She said she didn't, because really her work needed to be read out. I suggested that she could always self-publish an audio book, but even as I said it I realised it wouldn't be the same. Then I thought that as long as Alexandra is not performing her poetry, the world is missing out.
That's when it occurred to me that the same might be said about me in relation to playing blues harmonica. As long as I'm not getting involved in the music scene, perhaps people are missing out, the people who would enjoy playing with or listening to me. It's difficult for me to write that because I'm not an egotist, and I don't mean it as a brag. I'm simply saying that as some people have enjoyed my playing, my not playing is leaving a gap unfilled.
The next day I bought the harmonica.
I've been making time (though not enough) to practise, both the stuff I can (could) already play plus the new harmonica. One of these days I shall go to a blues open mic session again, and see what happens. And who knows? I might even write some decent poetry for a change.
I have to say that attending recitals is not something I'm inclined to do very often, but I'm very glad I went. It's amazing what can happen just from having listened to a couple of very talented people being brave enough to share their work with a bunch of strangers.
If you happen to read this before 8th August 2018, there's another Late Lines event then, in London. Click the link for details.