At 8.30pm I am back on my bike from home to The Brunei Gallery, named after The Sultan of Brunei at SOAS, The school of Oriental and African Studies. It is the MarxismConference. I walk down some steps in this stylish and committed institution and what opens before me is a lecture theatre at its finest. Five hundred people at
least have filled the place to the rafters. Every seat is full and they are hunched in the aisles too. The Marxism conference is massive, with some of the best public speakers in the country. There are at least four events for the conference tonight. People have travelled from all over the country and the world to be here. And with the poets tonight, it’s a full house. The joint is jumping
John Hegley is on stage weaving his magic. Though John is the least overtly political of the three poets taking the stage tonight, I believe he is the one who has made the most effort to be here, precisely because he is the least overtly political, viewed often as a
humorous poet. He is fall down funny, and has two more events to go to tonight.
He leaves to rapturous applause and with a whisk of a smile and a fast hello he’s
Next is Adrian Mitchell a poet of awesome pedigree who was not only battling the
Vietnam war against writers such as Kingsley Amis but who continued through to
the Iraq war. Overtly political but with the sensitivity of the poet Mitchel embodies
the creative life of the poet and writer. It’s who he is. My friend, poet Martin Espada, is staying with Adrian next week while on tour of UK from UMASS. Adrian also edited Paul
McCartney’s book of poetry whose launch I performed at The Queens Theatre.
And then it was my turn. These people, this audience deserve . the best. Shit, I deserve the best. If I give my best, its the best I can do. Firstly my poems deserve it, secondly I deserve it adn thirdly the audience deserves it.
Being on stage is like being surrounded by darkness thin air and deep space stood upon an electric blue hexagon with just enough space for both feet . What happens is I step out and as I do an electic blue hexagon shoots up to meet my footfall. The first time is risky. But there’s a long journey. On the third or fourth time I then feel steady enough and confident in the process of risk and benefit (no benefit without risk) to read a poem. Because it is they who are precious here. I am not precious about them (clap don’t clap, it’s the audiecnes right to do either. ur business) but they are precious to me.
Each time I step on a hexagon the others disappear. Soon enough i am jumping into deep space and landing on a shooting hexagon. At some point in the reading I start to dance,
flipping backwards into the darkness, swaying forwards, jumping head over heels and each time the electric blue hexagons shoot up to greet my feet. I can tap dance through the darkness. It was an awesome reading for me. I was surrounded by blue light. The
audience were lit up with ideas, challenges and love and I sensed their electricity as much as they sensed mine. With the applause swilling around my ears and into me. At about 10.15pm, I got onto my bike.
I know why I do what I do. Tonight those dedicated people where treated to poetry where it should be – though standing up for its independence as an artist it could at the same time aly itself to the political struggle. Such is the power of art, that in the morning I can help launch the London Literature Festival to thirty people on the sixth floor of Britians most exciting arts centre and in the evening I can be speaking to and with five hundred people through my poems about injustice and the right to freedom of expression. The two are intrinsically linked. There is no contradiction. If you join the dots, it’s not difficult to see the big picture.
Any poet on a stage is on one electric blue hexagon.