4pm. I get my clothes packed together for the reading and bike through sun baked central London across the river Thames to The South Bank – the joint is cooking. In an hour or so all the poets have arrived and an audience of three hundred and fifty fill the Purcell Rooms.
The back stage is full to bursting with people, except the poets. Paddy O’Connell the MC arrives. The audience goes quiet. The Saturday Live Theme tune plays. And the poets begin. There is a lot of hilarity in the reading and the poets are skilled and slick. They are rehearsed and refined, they are witty and full of wonder. The lighting is perfect. Paddy is wonderful and the joint is jumping.
It’s a reading that I want to watch but under the circumstances I have to take part. I have an absolute feeling of not wanting to go on stage. It is less and less enticing as the evening unravels. The poets are everything that I knew they would be, which is a shame. They were brilliant and shone bright and strong. From first to last. The audience is enticed teased and enlightened by their brilliance but I am asking myself if the readers are truly bending to the radio four audience. Actually they are doing what they do best with all the resources they have.
It is I that should have risen to the radio four audience and it is I that should have read more poems from Saturday Live, because I am proud of my work for that programme. But I mowed the audience down with familiar poems and unintelligent banter wheareas The Saturday Live poems became a vein of what I did they should have been the body – at least the spine. There is a part inside me which is stabbing myself for going for the short term laugh. The curator inside me is screaming this is not who you are! And the curator inside me is saying This is a radio four audience, the most intelligent audience in British Broadcasting history!!
I love the radio four audience. I know how to work with them, or at least I am constantly
learning, and I do continually make documentaries for them the last in March had a large feature on Pick of The Week. But I got myself so dysfuntionally wrapped up in the confusions of the last two days with regard to organising this event that I took my eye off the poems – and if there is one thing I just don’t do it’s take me eye off the poems. So a half formed alien, sub standard comically challenged, aspiring clumsy poet spilled over the microphone and delivered half formed metaphors followed by over emoted poems – and he was me!
Still there was an encore. An encore for a poetry reading on a Saturday night from a packed house in the centre of London on the hottest day of the year. I realised that making a steady flow of documentaries over the past ten years on radio four; having also appeared or been commissioned by gardeners question time, poetry please, The Today
Programme, Broadcasting House, Womans Hour, Mid Week Special, With Great Pleasure, The Afternoon Play, From Fact to Fiction, Womans Hour, Loose Ends; having presented Pick of The Week and having my programmes chosen to be on pick of the week variously, having done all these things consistantly over the past fifteen years…I didn’t realise that there are listeners and they actually do listen and these people sat in the audience are them. For that, I should be smacked around the mouth.
The title of my next book published in October 2008 by Canongate Books is Listener. The title is taken from a World Service commission and was read to millions of people from a live event at The Ritz which was the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of The World Service . On Monday, Saturday Live is up for not one but two Sony Awards. At the end of tonights event I sorted some gorgeous flowers for Paddy O’connell, said hello to my friends and The Journalist who came for the evening. I drank some water and then at midnight biked my way home!