Of course, it can be disillusioning reading to small audiences, yet sometimes these can be more receptive.
I first read in this context at university, taking part in benefits for the miners' strike of the early 70's. It was a case of getting up and doing a few and trying not to get too 'stocious' (great Belfast word for 'drunk') before reading. Not that most of the crowd would've noticed, the state they were in.
Here I first encountered performance poetry, when one sound poet finished his short set by spitting blood, courtesy of a capsule in his mouth. I didn't know poets did things like that. Tony Harrison's risque poems on sexual positions was the most avant garde I'd witnessed till then.
For someone who grew up in England (after early years in Aberystwyth ) without the benefit of Eisteddfodau to give confidence on stage, I was never encouraged to perform during my whole time at Secondary school. It was a massive step from being an avid spectator at many readings, to actually taking part.
I had confidence in my work (even when it was pap) and our small poetry group at Aber Uni. did help a lot to give an opportunity to read and discuss. It seems amazing that in that group was David Jones ( whose pen-name is David Annwn) and also David Lloyd, both of whom are now published poets of some renown.
Since, I 've read at many different places. One of the most memorable
was at Hay, reading 'Seeking Victor Jara' into a megaphone just as President Clinton's helicopter flew overhead. Then there was Giro Cafe in Belfast and a besuited Michael Longley (representing the Arts Council) sat in a venue full of alternative people, the air thick with wacky-backy.
Some of the most satisfying readings have been to local writers' groups. In Neath years ago I didn't tone down my work to a mostly elderly audience and when one woman approached me after, I feared the worst.
'You were great', she said,' I could hear every word so clearly. Some of our speakers.......you can't make out what they're saying!'
Recently, I read at Dowlais Library to Aberdare Poetry Society, a thriving and highly organised group ; there was also an open mic. and it was a very well-attended and entertaining afternoon. Everyone was so full of enthusiasm.
To read poetry on the streets I would need that megaphone and the solidarity of a few mates like Jazz and Tim Richards. I'll never forget Penywaun's finest (i.e. Jazz) treating the whole of Merthyr precinct to his ear-blasting rendition of 'Giro City' while he ascended the escalator and held the megaphone like some threatening cannon over the railings overlooking the shops.
At the punkfest in Merthyr last year I ended up 'doing a Jazz' myself. I was so pissed off by the mistreatment of the Red Poets, that I ended my act by spontaneously knocking the whole mic. and stand off the stage! Planning it wouldn't have been the same.
However, I can't imagine doing what this poet did -
Summer has visited London.
We're walking city-speed
hundreds of air-miles away
past al fresco cafes.
A couple clutch half-empty
wine glasses as they stroll,
nosing the air and tasting
the clamourous cheer.
A Polish man rants at a window
at a bar full of drinkers
nestling their tulip glasses,
laughing round, ignoring him.
In the midst of Friday's seekers
a tall poet is busking, no-one listens,
the cap at his feet is empty :
voice bridging a persistent river.