Thresholds revisited…

In November last year I posted about Thresholds.  This project placed ten poets in ten Cambridge museums to meet researchers and explore the collections before writing poems inspired by the experience. The project is now complete and a website at contains details including links to the poets reading aloud.

My last few posts have reflected on the performance of poetry. It’s a different experience to listen to the Threshold poets reading from a broad selection of their work, but without the poems to look at – without the words on the page – it feels incomplete. I lose interest quickly. for me, listening is too transient.

The Poetry Archive site offers unique access to the voice and style of dead poets. I can ‘hear’ T S Eliot, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. But I also have their words to supplement the poetry process.  One of the images on the current Poetry Archive banner has the text ‘Poetry always begins and ends with listening.’ As Jung might say, this could be an example of ‘meaningful synchronicity.’

Thresholds are about opening doors and stepping through. Perhaps I need to explore my resistance to performance in more detail.

The Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae

Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae in Egypt, 2013.


More pages, stages…and poets

joe hakimLast Saturday I attended a creative writing day school with Joe Hakim and Mike Watts two Hull performance poets.

mike watts

They talked about the growing popularity of  the spoken word genre and performed. Joe described stage v page as an artificial distinction but later admitted some poems felt unsuitable for reading aloud. This was reassuring. In the current craze for linking person and poem, we need a place for silence.  Poetry is a personal, private activity.  Performance is public.  It says more about the person than the poem.  Open-mic events encourage the poet to package their personality. Words on a page have no vehicle other than the paper. They are fixed, waiting for the connection – for the resonance which lies at the heart of a successful poem. Extrovert stage. Introvert page.

I wonder how much this resurgence of performance poetry is about re-establishing human connection.  The oral tradition was essential for passing on information, long before Gutenberg or the World Wide Web. Today we have access to unlimited amounts of words, music, stories and entertainment. It is reassuring to dim the lights, sit down, have food, drink, friends and bring on the poet who loves the performance as much as the words.

There needs to be room in the world for poetry. A poem can speak about situations, draw attention to issues, give voice to the marginalised.  It can entertain, make you see the world in a different way. All good but while performance poetry is about the moment, we need to remember the words of a poem are for life.

Poetry on page or stage?

Performance poet Kate Tempest (aged 28) is the first person under 40 to win the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry for Brand New Ancients, ‘an hour-long spoken story with orchestral backing, in which Tempest imagines a world where we are all gods’ see Kate Tempest: the performance poet who can’t be ignored for more details.

Kate’s work arouses mixed feelings, or maybe it’s the status of winning of the award which has caused such strong reactions. The piece in the Guardian (and its comments) reflects some of this diversity. Performance poetry has never gone away but seems to be enjoying a resurgence of interest; the difference between the poem on the page and the poem on the stage can be remarkable. If Kate succeeds in engaging more people in poetic practice it can only be good. Kate is well named!

A trailer for Brand New Ancients can be seen here with lots of other examples of Kate’s work on the same link.