So...what does make a good audience at a poetry reading?
Well, I remember my days at university when I did a lot of amateur dramatics (my partner would probably claim I've never given up!). My friends and I would always agree that we knew as soon as we walked on stage whether there was a good chemistry that night. If so, the performance grew accordingly.
Bearing in mind that you can see the audience's faces (the whites of their imaginations!) when giving a poetry reading, plus their inevitable sighs of boredom, emotion, frustration or satisfaction, frowns or grins, I find that feeling is multiplied these days. As soon as I get up on stage (or sometimes even beforehand when sitting in the audience myself), I just somehow immediately know what atmosphere awaits. As a consequence, my reading improves or slips.
Last Sunday at Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth was a perfect example.They're an extremely welcoming group, not pretentious but very keen, attentive but never sycophantic. I enjoyed myself and so was able to give more enjoyment to them. What's more, Maggie Sawkins, the organiser, provided a Q & A session for the audience as soon as the reading itself had finished, thus enabling people to engage me in conversation and break down any possible remaining barriers.
I've read to packed houses elsewhere where a connection just couldn't be established, but I far prefer a small but perfectly formed bunch that really get involved. There were about thirty people at the venue on Sunday and I sold a dozen books, leaving with the sense that I'd managed to share my poems. I do hope they enjoyed them afterwardswith the added reference of how I read them aloud.
Now that really was a good audience for a poetry reading!
I wrote most of this post last night, shortly before the unspeakable mass murder in Manchester of young people “without any protection against all the sudd...