On my last day in Cardiff, I attended (and performed at!) a monthly event called Poetry on Tap hosted by local poets Ivy Alvarez and Mab Jones. A.L.bion has read most of my poems, but she had never seen them performed live – or attended any poetry show, for that matter – , so I was glad that she and her daughter (herein referred to as “little w”) were able to come along.
This particular show took place in a new venue this month: an upstairs room in a Louisiana style restaurant called Old Orleans, very much like Fat Tuesdays in Ottawa, where Eddie May Murder Mysteries performs. We stopped in to pay cover (£4, or £2 for open mic participants) and I signed up for the open mic, and then we went for a walk around the block to amuse little w until the show started.
Then something happened that sort of tainted this otherwise pleasant experience. Upon our return, we were told – and there was no mention of this earlier – that we would also have to pay the entry fee for little w, who, by the way, is only 4 years old. It seemed as though this request was being made only because attendance this month was much lower than anticipated; only a third of the chairs were filled. And, as it was explained to me, the organizers “had to pay for the room.” Having worked in publicity and event organizing, I completely understand how frustrating it is to have unusually low attendance. However, as I am reminded by Kris Joseph’s blog post on The Gladstone’s recent marketing controversy, it is never – and I mean, never – appropriate to shift the blame to your audience. Especially the ones who actually show up.
Another way of handling this situation might have been to pass the hat at the end of the show, suggesting that people throw in an extra donation to support this emerging showcase for local artists. That would have been a much friendlier approach and much less awkward than asking someone to pay an entry fee for her preschool age daughter who would be spending the whole time quietly drawing pictures in a corner anyway.
The show itself was really lovely. Ivy started off the afternoon by reading from her new book called “Mortal” about Demeter and Persephone, one of my favourite Greek goddesses. Then the feature poet Mike Jenkins – winner of, like, every poetry award in Wales – performed the first half of his set. I was really impressed by his reading because despite the fact that he was, indeed, reading off the page, he still maintained a certain theatricality in his performance and was able to engage the audience to the end. I’ve found it is unusual for a “literary poet” (as opposed to a “performance poet”) to have that level of engagement in performance, but Mr. Jenkins clearly values both the literary and the performance aspects of the art form. And he had the most beautiful Welsh accent.
After a short break, there was the open mic that consisted of approximately half a dozen poets. One red haired girl read a poem she had written about the opening of a new mall on Queen Street; her playful lines and conversational tone made me smile. Another poet near the end sounded like he was freestyling, his rhymes telling the life story of a pub crawler in a certain part of town. Truly entertaining.
When I was called to the stage, I was delighted to see that little w had decided to join me. It was a surprising turn of events, as she had indicated earlier that she wasn’t yet ready to perform. I suppose seeing me up there inspired her to give it a try. I placed her on a chair so that she could reach the microphone, and together we sang “twinkle twinkle little star” for a room full of people. I think it’s one of the loveliest things that has ever happened to me. And then I performed a couple of poems: Dear Volcanic Ash and It Speaks Volumes — since, let’s just say, I’ve been in a romantic mood these days.
It seems as though my performance was well-received: Mr. Jenkins was invited to award prizes to two of the open-mic poets, and one of them was me! I got to bring home some delicious Darjeeling tea and a little case for it. Hope I can smuggle this stuff through customs!