Saturday, 14 April 2007

Shakespeare as Poet in Residence at Aintree,The Grand National and Falling

I have just finished watching the Grand National and noted that over half the field failed to finish. If you want horses and disaster there is of course the poem Serenade by Andrew Motion but I prefer Shakespeare for good horse lines, he knew his horses or perhaps knew how much his patron loved his horses. I suspect that Will would have had a flutter on the Grand National and in the bargain eulogised the courage of Silver Birch, the winner, and would have the jockey say that when he bestrode the horse he soared, he was a hawk. He would probably have had an eye to a commission for a poem from the winning owner as well to celebrate the victory, he was nothing if not street smart when it came to earning a crust.He would not have turned his nose up at a Poet in Residence job at Aintree, although Stratford would have been his nearest course.

Falling takes up the rest of this post's theme. I was asked by someone to contribute to a most embarressing moment in your literary life anthology.Below is what I sent re my fall from poetic grace.

Extreme Poetry

So there I was at this cutting edge visual arts fringe do, a huge factory converted for the space of a few days into chicken wire figures and lurking surreal shapes meets urban industrial ambience and in one room there was the poetry. The place was heaving with the local artistic great and the good and art students vying for the piercing of the month award. Right, I think, fifty something menopausal poet, how’s this going to go down.
I thought for a fleeting second that my leather trousers might at least give me a fighting chance until someone mentioned the WILT (Women In Leather Trousers) phenomena, desperate women of a certain age attempting the not so trendy and failing even that miserably. I followed a techno type band, a couple of boys twiddling knobs and a male middle aged poet who believed that length was the way forward. I’m no shy and retiring sort, being a 6’ 4’’ woman that’s a bit of a pointless exercise anyway, difficult to attempt social camouflage when towering above men’s bald patches.
I took myself up to the microphone with the sort of gait you hope might be interpreted as nonchalant confidence but which no doubt looked as if I’d been drinking heavily. One of the knob twiddling boys was valiantly trying to raise it to an appropriate height. However a screw seemed a bit sticky. Behind me was a small podium on which was a small winged armchair placed there by the organisers in case any of the ageing poets perhaps needed to read sitting down. I decided to eschew the Val Doonican mode of delivery, especially as this would involve more mike stand adjustment and the equipment already looked a tad precarious. I stepped forward, then decided I needed to step back as the volume was set to heavy metal levels. Of course in my eagerness to appear cool, calm and in control, I forgot the podium.
It was, like all accidents, a slow motion moment, something in the brain seems to introduce this strange temporal Bermuda Triangle around you. As I began to fall backwards I considered all the possibilities of recovery but somehow the synaptic pathways to communicate limb movement were running at snail pace. I watched people’s faces as I fell, their changing expressions like a bad bullet deflection moment in The Matrix. I heard a man from the next band on after me yell something like ‘Watch out for mi’ drum kit’, his voice too oddly slowed and distorted into a Barry White impression. Knob boy sprang towards the mike to stop it plunging after me, one has an instinctive drive to grab the nearest thing when gravity takes over. Out of the corner of my eye it was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, incredibly good wire work with the wire air- brushed out. I seem to recall a couple of friend’s faces with ‘Sh lwys ws ccdnt prn’ text messaged on their foreheads. The Bermuda triangle effect seems to miraculously disappear at the moment of impact and then it’s all a cacophony of voices asking if you’re ok and people struggling to heave you up out of the small space I was wedged into between the podium and the wall. I vaguely recalled the particular dull sound of something internal snapping somewhere below my navel as I fell but being English the pain of embarrassment and potential humiliation was to be avoided at all costs. I shuffled towards the mike, making some lame joke about it being all part of the performance.
I zipped through the reading at a rate of knots, probably sounding like a chipmunk on acid, I did have this voice as a backing in my head saying ‘My that hurts’ or words to that effect but I chose to ignore it, even afterwards when asked whether I was ok I said in a deadpan voice, ‘Well I think I’ve probably broken my leg’ which for some reason made everyone laugh. I drove sixty miles home with only two gear changes, as opposed to my usual four or five, as working the clutch was a bit tricky and the next day had two fractures to my leg and damaged ligaments discovered by the pale, overworked young doctor at A and E.
Sitting in the fracture clinic the following week amidst all the other breaks and cracks, tales were being told about how we had come upon our particular injuries. Skateboarding, roller- blading, karate, horse riding, football, car accident, fall from scaffolding, a bad tempered cow even a bar fight. I was the last to volunteer, ‘So?’ their faces seemed to say as they re-arranged their plastered limbs into more comfortable positions. ‘Extreme poetry reading’ I mumbled into my collected works of Edwin Morgan.

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