Wednesday, 14 March 2007

PowerPoint, Square Dancing and Lord Byron

I have just returned to base from a day of being trained. Gone are the days of death by shaky overhead and a plethora of pokes in the eyes with bright backlit PowerPoint has taken its place. Now we have text that scrolls in from left or right, text that wraps itself into bows, text being dropped like an unexploded bomb or rising up like a whale gasping for air. PowerPoint gives the determined presenter a myriad of ways to be cutesy or snazzy with text. The premise of course is that if you make text appear in the shape of a tortoise or a urinal its contents will be more memorable. PowerPoint can make words change colour and shape and dance for their supper.
Hand in hand with this has been the joy of interactive learning that has trickled down to the lowly paid masses in training situations. You just get nicely settled in your seat and then suddenly you are required to move. You are juggled around by the presenter who seems to take on all the characteristics of a caller at a square dance.
“Take your partners and work in pairs, swing those chairs now work in fours, work with someone you don’t know, dozy-doh, now go and work with someone you vaguely know. Promenade around the room and take your place in the coffee queue.”
Today I worked with so many different people I was beginning to have moments of deja-vu or I had simply worked with the same person before and had forgotten. The permutations were endless. We had three minutes to tell them something about ourselves; training nowadays seems to involve a strange version of speed dating without the pressure of wondering if they are giving you a mark out of ten and if they have decided that you are the last person on the planet they would want to see again, let alone date. I have shared a lot today with complete strangers. I have learnt never to say that I write poetry as the ‘face’ comes out. The ‘face’ involves re-arranging the muscles around the eyes and mouth into a semblance of fascinated and rapt attention.
“That’s interesting” they say brushing the custard cream crumbs from their lap, “Such a cheap hobby all you need is a paper and pen. My cousin writes a little poetry.” For some reason most people manage to dredge up a distant relative that writes poetry, just like most people can summon a family member with tinnitus or a stammer. I believed for many years that this was an attempt at putting me at my ease, of making me feel less odd. I think now it is a desire to place me amongst those who cope well with a problem despite the obvious deleterious effects it can have on your life. One woman at a similar training session once presumed that writing poetry was a ‘coping mechanism’; it was a way of dealing with passing moments of depression and the sharp prick of spinsterhood. She also asked if I did funny stuff like Pam Ayres and whether I brought them (my poems) out to amuse people at weddings or office parties. I assured her that I brought them out in a variety of situations. She then advised me to buy a pet. When required to share something now at a training session I tend to tell them about the problems of going through the menopause in excruciating and minute detail which they seem to be much more comfortable with than writing poetry, even the young men.
It wandered across my mind today as I was trying to make one of those strange pump action coffee urns work without it sounding like a heart-lung machine, that PowerPoint presentations at a poetry reading might be interesting. Being able to read the text may cut down on misunderstandings and if nothing else allow people to see how long the piece is you are intending to read. I have seen a couple of poets read, who hold up the page in the book so the audience can see not only the shape of the poem but can rest easy in the knowledge that it is only half a page long. We could have poetry kari-oke sweep the country and read-a-long with Andrew Motion nights like those Sound of Music sing-a–longs. Aisle 16 the Boy Band poetry group who make me feel ancient and in need of ginseng did a tour which involved PowerPoint recently but this wasn’t used in all its full Microsoft capabilities. I wonder how some of the long dead poets would have taken to technology.

I think Byron would have liked the flamboyance of the full PowerPoint show, pacing in front of the audience with a come hither limp whilst tossing his dark hair so that he cast a magnificent silhouette on the screen. He would have loved the theatrical possibilities of the strong visuals mixed with text and all of it held together, like an old fashiohttpevangelical revivalist rally, by the force of his personality. Take his poem Darkness
. Here you have echoes of Al Gore collecting his Oscar. Yes Byron would have been on the circuit strutting his PowerPoint poetry and mesmerising the crowds…he would have even liked a few fireworks being a member of The Hellfire Club and the girls would still swoon at his feet when he walked into a room.

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