Punchfrunk

That’s what happens if you try to type the word punchdrunk when you are. I rather like it. I came back fromLondon yesterday evening after an intensive few days, which I’ll talk about later, and I’m still recovering.

What did I do beforeLondon? It seems an age ago. On Tuesday I had to be in Ledbury early for an event managers’ meeting; everything was running really smoothly, and no worries there. I prepared for the workshop I was to run at the Shake the Dust weekend, and sent out info about the course I’ll be running on Wednesday. Then it was off to Ledbury again to manage my event, which was with a lovely woman called Susanne Sklar, who has an absolute passion for William Blake. It certainly came across in her talk, although I’m still not sure that I want to read any more of his work than I already have.

On my table was an unsteady heap of mail. It was threatening to fall over, and on Wednesday I finally got round to handling it all – filing, answering, taking action. I tidied up a bit, mowed the grass, answered emails and went to a TADS meeting. No, I haven’t written the minutes yet – that’s scheduled for tomorrow.

On Thursday I answered yet more emails, and then set off forLondon- lift to Cheltenham, train toBirmingham, where I met the group of kids and teachers; train toLondon, and straight to the South Bank, for an evening of poetry, including Saul Williams and Kate Tempest. The kids were excited and raring to go. We stayed in a students’ residence, and went back on Friday for a workshop day. I ran one in the morning, focusing on metaphor and extended metaphor, and it was gratifying afterwards to hear some kids saying that they hadn’t known what extended metaphor was before, and now they did and were keen to use it. Yes!

In the evening the poet coaches had a gig – 3 or 4 minutes each, strictly, they said, although some people ran well over this. And I – oh dear. I did a poem I’ve done a number of times before, and I wasn’t all that nervous; but in the middle I suddenly became convinced that I didn’t know the next line. Actually I did know it, but I couldn’t just trust myself. I did the usual things – repeated the previous line, said that I was sorry, and that I’ve never forgotten this one before, ever; and then I told them a little story about how helpful it was when I started slamming to hear someone lose it in the middle of a poem that I had heard several times. On this occasion my first reaction was one of horror, but then I realised that it really doesn’t matter. Throughout all this I could feel the audience supporting me – and eventually I got it back and did the poem to the end. I felt absolutely dreadful, but in fact this performance got a bigger reaction than any I have ever done before. People said that it was a great lesson to the young people in recovery when you lose it – and everyone does, sooner or later – and lots of people said how much they had liked the poem. Hugs and even tears. Oh well; if the kids learned something from my humiliation, I guess it was ok.

After the poet coaches, a group fromAmericacalled First Wave performed a beautifully choreographed set of poems, and then a well-known mixed race poet came on stage. I’m not going to say who he was. During his performance, as part of the chat between poems, he said, “Not that I hate white people, although I do. Only joking!”

I have to say that this made me feel uncomfortable. If I had said the same about black people, I would have been booed off the stage, and quite rightly. I felt that this was a very bad lesson for the kids – that racism is ok sometimes, depending on who you are – and saying that you are joking after a remark like this doesn’t help at all. I spoke to other people about this; those who know him well knew he was only joking, and weren’t bothered about it, but several of the poets and teachers were uneasy about it.

In fact, on several occasions over the weekend people celebrated their heritage and background; not one of them was white. Again, I felt that this was a sad message to give the kids who were born white British.

But this was the only tricky note in a  wonderful weekend. On Saturday we had the slam. The standard of writing and performance was astonishing; my kids didn’t win anything but they gave tremendous performances, and they can be very proud of themselves. The whole thing was a fantastic event, with the emphasis on poetry rather than competition. In the evening there was a party, and yet more poetry, but by now I was all poemed out. And on Sunday we had review sessions and went home. I was a bit disappointed, because I got separated from my group on the train, and I didn’t realise that they were getting off at the stop before mine, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. It all felt a bit unfinished, somehow.

Still, it was an amazing weekend, and I met some people I haven’t seen for years, and I saw a guitar floating down theThames, and I wrote three poems.

And now it’s back to real life again, and another busy week – although much less intense. By tomorrow I won’t be punchfrunk any more, but I will be looking for more good poetry events to go to.

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