Definitely a memorable Festival for all sorts of reasons. The weather – cold, windy, eventually snowy. The venues – the closure of the Byre Theatre just five weeks before the Festival was a horrendous bombshell for the organisers, and yet they coped. No, they more than coped; they triumphed. The readings – marvellous, varied and entertaining (mostly). The discussions – the formal ones were excellent; the personal ones wonderful. The poets – great to make new friends and to catch up with old ones. The Poets’ Market – quieter than last year, but I sold the same number of Calder Wood Press books. And it was lovely to be on the programme, and to do a reading in the Council Chamber with my old friend Andrew Forster, and especially with Brian Johnstone introducing us both.
Going to a lot of poetry readings at this year’s StAnza Festival made me think about the different behaviours of audiences at readings. Performance poets, it seems to me, expect applause at the end of each poem. With slams and open mics it’s natural. I remember a slam in Newcastle in 1996 when a clapometer was used, but that was a pretty crude way of judging, and I much prefer judges with scorecards. But it’s still good to applaud, shout, whistle if you’ve enjoyed a poem. Those reading from books or electronic readers generally wait until the end of their set before being applauded. I don’t think that’s being genteel or mannered, I just think it’s polite.
Jacob Sam-La Rose, for example, seem to wait for applause at the end of each poem. Others, myself included, hope for applause at the end of the set. I’d venture to say that some of us want to build up mood and atmosphere during a reading, and have the applause as a necessary release of tension. It’s hard to build it up again if it’s being released every couple of minutes.
One thing that happened this year which I hadn’t expected was heckling from the audience. Mark Doty was heckled once, and so was John Hegley. I don’t know if it was the same heckler in both occasions. I found his behaviour arrogant, juvenile, ill-mannered and offensive. He seemed to want to draw attention to himself, and I can’t think why. My response is to ignore hecklers on this and all future occasions.
Sometimes, a poet will read a particular poem which profoundly touches many members of the audience at the same time, and it’s normal to applaud when that happens.
A couple of performers actually drew attention to the different behaviours of audiences at this year’s festival. Jacob, for example, asked us to interact with him by using gestures, and John Hegley asked us to bob our heads when he said the word Bob. It was fun, and funny. Sometimes it can be quite lonely standing reading at a lectern and not quite knowing what an audience is thinking. At other times, you sometimes hear an audible response, a quiet collective ‘Aaah’ or a ‘Yes’. That’s nice.