by Ashley Lister
Is this Kathleen’s topic? Thanks Kathleen. You can help me field the hate mail I’m about to generate.
I’m not the most easy-going of people. Everything pisses me off. I’m an angry driver. I’m an angry pedestrian. I’m angry walking briskly around the shops. I’m even angry when I’m sitting down watching the world go by too fast or too slow to suit my current mood. Everything pisses me off. Which is why it’s difficult for me, this week, to pick one particular pet peeve.
In the literary world, I’m subject to the same nuisances that torment my fellow grippers. Submissions in the wrong format. What sort of dimwit doesn’t read the instructions? I know I’ve committed this sin on several occasions, but I’m not talking about my own shortcomings. I have many of those and they piss me off too. I can take onboard Kathleen’s peeve about Sandy-esque characters. I sympathise with Charlotte’s outrage at publishers who can’t treat their authors with basic human decency. And I can smile wryly at the way Garce dealt with this topic yesterday.
My personal pet peeve, or at least – the one I’m going to discuss here, relates to poetry. More importantly, it relates to microphone hogs.
In an ideal world, the wonderful thing about an open mike session is that it gives everyone a chance to read their poetry. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And not everyone gets that chance.
Some people miss their chance because they’re scared. I can sympathise with this.
The microphone is a daunting instrument. It’s shaped like a cock (admittedly, a huge metallic cock, with a chain-mail glans and a five-foot metal stand for a shaft, and an electrical cable for a vas deferens) but there’s still that vaguely cock-like appearance. Who, in their right mind, would want to stand before a group of peers with a five-foot cock in their face?
But it’s not just the microphone. Poetry can be intensely personal. If I put my private thoughts on paper, and shape them so they say exactly what I wanted to say, do I really want to hold them up for ridicule and examination in front of a group of peers? Especially whilst I’m standing in front of a five foot metal cock?
And what if my thoughts are wrong? And no one agrees with me? Or if they piss people off? (We’ve already noted that I’m an angry person. What if there are other angry people sitting in the audience? I can’t be the only one sitting there and fuming on def-con one, can I?)
And what if I screw up? What if I mangle the words, say them in the wrong order? Can I face the humiliation of people laughing at my incompetence? How can I claim to be a poet if I can’t even pronounce words properly? Will I ever recover from the shame?
Doubts like this hit a lot of poets on open mike nights. Some of the poets are incredibly brave and take the microphone despite their enormous fears. You have to admire courage like that. It’s exhilarating.
Others, and this is the really sad part, leave at the end of the night, promising to vanquish the Jabberwocky at the next event. Watching them leave, I desperately hope that they will come back with their vorpal swords raised in readiness. Not all of them do.
And then there are the poets that piss me off. The poets who hog the microphone.
“I need to tell you a little story before I read this poem so you understand what it’s about.”
Really? You need to tell me a little story so I can understand what it’s about? Why? Is that because I’m too stupid to understand your poem? Or is it because you didn’t write the f***ing thing properly in the first place?
And, when you say a little story, I could point out that I’ve grown a beard since you started at the mike. That’s not my idea of a little story. It’s like listening to a stammerer recite War and Peace. In Aramaic. With a five-foot cock in their face. Maybe not quite that interesting.
Contextualise a poem. That’s fine. Tell me: “This poem was written in response to the current political crisis in Madagascar.” Don’t tell me that you’ve been following events on Sky24 News and have a pen-friend over there, and believe that this side is right and the other side is wrong.
Certainly don’t start giving me a potted history of events that led up to the current situation.
Seriously, if I gave a f**k about politics I’d already know about this. In the real world, I don’t give a f**k about my own country’s politics. And I’m too xenophobic to care about other countries. Just read your poem and f**k off. Ideally, read an abridged version. Even better, do that limerick about the bloke from Nantucket. It always makes me laugh and it’s as close to foreign politics as I want to get.
I’m already on a quest to end my life prematurely with tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle rich in carbs and sugars. Listening to the ramblings of the self-obsessed only serves to make my life seem like it’s lasting longer. This is a major fail on your part.
Am I coming across as splenetic here? I hope so, because this really does annoy me.
The open mike is there for poets. Time issues are one of the many important considerations in any poetry event. If the microphone is hogged by some twunt with an agenda, then there’s a risk that a genuine poet might not have a chance to read their work to their peers. And that would be an enormous tragedy.
Also, there’s the risk that regular enthusiasts could grow weary of the hogs.
As a book reviewer, I know that I’ve sometimes got to sift through some real turds to find the diamonds of literature. It’s maddening. It’s wearisome. And, this may come as a surprise to some of you: it can occasionally piss me off.
What if these microphone hogs are pissing off the enthusiasts and the real talent? These are intelligent poets and poetry enthusiasts. They’re not going to waste their valuable time sitting through the ramblings of the self-obsessed. Even with the comedy value of a five-foot cock lingering in front of their lips.
The poetry group I work with is filled with talented, considerate individuals. I’ve been moved to tears of joy and sadness within the same hour by some of the regulars at our poetry group. This is a testament to their brilliance. But I’ve also been moved to tears of boredom by some of the hogs who’ve crashed the group and commandeered the microphone.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not trying to censor anyone. If a poet needs to say something, and it takes a while to get those words out, I’m prepared to listen patiently to every syllable. But there’s a huge difference between poetry and the ramblings of a twunt who adores the sound of their own voice.
To address this, we’re now introducing a three minute rule. Each poet gets three minutes at the mike. Longer time will be allowed for the good poems. Obviously. We’re not philistines
But minutes may also be deducted if the subject matter relates to religion or politics. And, if you don’t like the rules, you should write a poem about it in protest. Ideally, a short one that needs no introduction. And try not to pick a subject that pisses me off.