Eggs is Eggs it's Poetry
Q: Why Did the Poet Cross the Road?
A. To get to the Hen and Chicks.
Which Came First, the Poet or the Poem?
My personal creation belief is that there was a primordial poetry soup from which poetry life began to take shape many moons ago, and a race of poetry readers emerged symbiotically, thriving in a land rich in verse. As the swamp dried under the naked sun, the dry land began to break up into people, thenceforth known as the poetry is not my thingers.
So, without a shadow of a doubt, the poetry egg came before the poetry chicken. That's a fact; you can probably find it tucked away in the annals of Wikipedia, though I didn't notice poetry mentioned in the See Also section.
Don't Count Your Poems Before they Hatch
I always need to drink a decanter full of scotch before I dare attempt an ascent of the northern staircase at The Hen and Chicks in Abergavenny. Poetry readings take place in a very nice room at the summit. Climbing the staircase involves a sharp right hand turn after about 10 stairs, followed by a further half dozen stairs, and then a final sharp right hand turn and more steps up to the room. It's probably dead easy if you're sighted, but those turns always catch me by surprise and I'm convinced my death will come with me lying in a crumpled heap after a poetry reading at “The foot of our stairs,” as we'd say in Yorkshire!
Opening the Egg
This was the fourth time I've been to a poetry event at the Hen and Chicks, and, by a long way, it was the most welcoming. Blindness means that I find it very hard to mingle so, if people don't realise I'm blind, there's a good chance that I'll be left in my chair, trying to look as approachable as I can, wondering if somebody will stop and chat for a minute. The problem is that blindness isn't a visible disability. Poetry at The Hen and Chicks starts at 8pm, but I have to arrive at 7:30pm because my parents have something they go to every Tuesday which starts at 7:30. By the time other audience members are beginning to arrive, I'm seated and my white cane is folded away, so there is no way that somebody who doesn't know me would know I was blind; that is definitely one major plus for guide dog owners, and one reason why some blind organisations advocate use of the non-folding white cane (though my mind boggles at the thought of how a guide dog would manage to guide me up that staircase!)
As I arrived last Tuesday the only people in the room were two of the organisers, who greeted me warmly, knowing exactly who I was! It turned out that was because I'd posted in the Poetry Upstairs at The Hen and Chicks Facebook group, a couple of weeks previously, just to let them know I was holding my first launch event for my pamphlet in Cardiff, should anybody fancy coming along.
The evening only got better, because I had turned up to see one of the evening's poets, Clare Potter. So as Clare arrived, she sat next to me, with the result that anybody stopping to chat to Clare also chatted to me. It also had a lingering effect, because at times Clare was mingling, her friends were still including me in their conversations. This might sound a pretty small thing but, for somebody who was never good at mingling in his sighted days, this is a huge deal for me now that I'm trying to figure out how to handle it as a blind person.
I interrupt this post to make a quick apology: last week I said that in this post I'd be talking about the work involved in preparing poems for my screen reader's voice, Hazel, to deliver them correctly including adding to Hazel's voice dictionary so that words get pronounced correctly. I've put that post on the back burner for this blog, because a magazine might be able to use an article on the topic in their next issue, so I need to sketch out my thoughts and decide what goes into the article and what will be in the blog post.
But ... a very similar matter crept into Clare's set. Clare was talking about her years living in New Orleans. The majority of British people pronounce Orleans with three syllables — Or-lee-ans, but an American will pronounce it with just the one syllable — Or-lenz, without any stress on the lenz part, or sometimes with two syllables with stress on the Orl and stress on the eens part; I have Hazel configured to pronounce it the one syllable way; I learned from the Channel 4 American Football NFL show Blitz, back in the 1990s. There's an interesting little YouTube about the pronunciation of New Orleans if you're so inclined :)
If you're shouting at your computer, “Well this is how us Brits say it so nahdy-nahdy-daa,” let me ask you, how would you pronounce the small Yorkshire village, Appletreewick? I'm sure Americans go gooey-eyed at the thought of an English town with such a pretty name, and most likely will pronounce it as you'd guess, Apple Tree Wick, which is very likely how most Brits pronounce it too. Born a Yorkshireman, it is my duty to inform you that Appletreewick should be pronounced (in your best Yorkshire accent) App-trick.
A Cold Reception
Clare's sets went down a treat. She delivered them really well, despite fending off a cold. Several of her poems include sung lines, including one called After Playing in the Allotments, which begins with, “Hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi,” sung by Mrs. Sadowski in the poem. I have no idea whether Clare specifically researched that surname at the time she wrote the poem, but Wikipedia relates that the name Sadowski is a, ‘Polish or Belarusian surname meaning "from the orchard," ’ which couldn't have been a more perfect surname for a poem titled about an allotment :)
I couldn't track down a YouTube recording of that poem, but a different poem of Clare's which uses sung and spoken lines is The Mysticism of Sound.
Ever Decreasing Circles
In Close Encounters of the Poetic Kind (19 March 2017), I mentioned the ever decreasing poetic circles that radiate from the time I lived in Swansea, including how Clare Potter and I had not only been in the same academic year, but also shared many friends through the medium of the Welsh Language Society, the Gym Gym.
Also reading at The Hen and Chicks on Tuesday night was the poet John Freeman. Now I've never met John before in my life, but geographically we have traversed similar ley lines. As John's bio on the Worple Press website relates, “He lived in Yorkshire before moving to Wales where he teaches at Cardiff University.” It must be a subliminal connection between the steel works and coal mines of Yorkshire and south Wales that exerts a magnetic pull, drawing unsuspecting Yorkshire residents down to Wales.
My dad arrived to collect me as Clare was reading her final poem, so he caught the whole of John's second set and much enjoyed it. It pleases me when my not-particularly-poetic parents enjoy the portions of poetry that they find themselves listening to whilst waiting to transport me home :)
Please Miss, I Need a Wee Wee
Leaving The Hen and Chicks has now become an easier task than getting upstairs! Clare popped to the upstairs toilet (since we both speak American I'll call it the washroom) during the interval, and she noticed that there was a set of superbly straight and wide steps down to a fire door; no treacherous 90-degree turns, in sight (or in absence of sight as the case may be!) which makes me very happy :)
#PoetryUpstairsAtTheHenAndChicks #Abergavenny #ClarePotter #JohnFreeman #Blindness @clare_potter