On saying ‘Thanks’ at the end of a poetry performance

Hello, today I thought I’d talk about what it is we say when a poem has finished.

I’ve been to many gigs all over the place and it’s true that the nature of these events is defined by the sort of poetry thats performed there. It’s not uncommon, at a page poetry event where poems are ‘read’ rather than performed, that there should be no clapping at the end. People sit there in a respectful silence. And that’s ok. That’s the culture that these events have created for themselves. And in any case, the poems are usually about the seasons or wildflowers or ennui.

Performance poetry nights are a different beast entirely. They are hipper, more energetic, more like entertainment than poems about agriculture and hedges, and the audience becomes a part of the whole performance. That’s why it’s often somewhat disconcerting when a poet finishes a poem and says absolutely nothing. The audience doesn’t know what to do.

We’ve probably all seen it. The poet stands there, having finished their poem, and there’s no acknowledgement whatsoever from the audience. And then they say something awkward like, ‘That’s it’. Or ‘That’s the end’. And then there’s a bit of muted clapping.

The vast majority of performance poets build up a rhythm as they go along and the final words, usually, ‘Thanks’, or sometimes ‘Cheers’, if the poet is a bit blokey, signals to the audience that their wait is over and that they are free to cheer, clap, whoop or should ‘Yeah!’. It becomes a part of the performance. And it helps the evening flow along.

But are there alternatives? Do people get tired of the same old ‘Thanks’? The wonderful local poet Simon Blades built a whole routine around this and would signal that a poem had finished wins lavish arm gesture which was both funny and a humorous aspect of his act. Every now and then I do something similar. Perhaps I might blow on a harmonica or whistle or something. But the essence is just the same. I’m telling the audience that the poem has finished and,if they’re not clapping already, the audience should damn well clap now.

Another aspect is the comedic acknowledgement that the poem has finished and that the next one is starting already. I’ve done this a few times. I’ve signaled that the poem had ended by announcing that ‘This next poem is called . . .’. In such cases I’m sacrificing potential applause for a comedic response. Hopefully laughter. It doesn’t always work but it’s very nice when it does.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, anyway. The acknowledgement that a poem has finished is part of the act. Unless the poet doesn’t want applause, and that’s fine. They might purposefully build themselves a reputation as a serious page poet, and the audience might be glad of an opportunity not to clap. Deadly silence at the end of a poem is a response in itself. It’s just a little embarrassing when the poet has read something that they hoped would elicit applause. The audience probably still likes them just the same, it’s just that they never got the chance to show it.

Anyway. That’s the end of today’s lecture. Next week we shall be discussing clearing throats on stage.



Voidism : And Why I Don’t Want To Know Who Mytho Geography Is

A few years ago I came up with a philosophy, or rather, a method of living which I called ‘voidism’.

It started on a trip to Plymouth. Arriving back at the railway station to catch the train home to Paignton, I passed through a tunnel to get to the proper platform only to become aware of a door leading off the tunnel. I knew that it was probably a staff store area or some other vacant part of the station infrastructure, but a part of me still wanted to have a quick look and see what it was.

I didn’t. Indeed, quite the opposite, I made a conscious effort not to even look in the direction of the door, and to carry on walking through the tunnel. And it was only when I reached the platform and got on my train that I decided that this was just emblematic of the way I live my life.

There are areas of the world, geographic, intellectual of otherwise, which I want to keep distant from myself not so that I feel perpetually ignorant of such issues or places, but because I want them to maintain a certain level of mystique. Yes,I can make educated guesses as to what they exist for or are like to visit, but it don’t actually want to find out. I create a void over a certain subject or place so that they will always maintain their mystery, and a better version of them can exist in my imagination, probably better than the actual place themselves.

Another example of this is the German city of Koblenz. I once passed by on the motorway during a thunderstorm, half asleep on a coach heading south. And as the thunder and the lightning lit the sky, the city of Koblenz appeared as a collection of lights in the distance. I made various guesses as to what the city might contain,and what it might be to live in or visit Koblenz, while simultaneously deciding that I would never go there. Never, ever. As a result I have a huge interest in the city of Koblenz without even doing a Google search about the place. It seems nice.

The same happened in Canada, crossing the great prairies past the city of Regina in Saskatchewan. I saw it as a collection of lights on the horizon and I have decided that I should never go there.

A few years ago I became Facebook friends with a mysterious fellow by the name Mytho Geography. I had no idea who he was, as he hid behind his alias, but we have chatted and made jolly small talk by way of status updates and comments and the occasional message, and all the time I was distinctly aware that here was another void, a person I would have so much fun guessing about that I would never want to meet him. The version I had of Mytho Geography was of an intellectual figure, a wanderer, someone seeing the world through new eyes yet pointing out what we knew all along. I decided that one of my voids should forever mask him.

Alas, it was not to be, as Facebook decreed that all aliases should be unmasked, and Mytho Geography became Phil Smith. And worse still, I would then see him in the flesh for the first time at the launch of the Broadsheet Magazine, for which he has written an excellent introduction. A void has been lost, and with it, all the romance and adventure of the imagination.

I have never really publicised voidism. There are two main reasons. The first is that people might think I’m quite mad, the second is that I am aware how such a philosophy of purposeful ignorance might be used for negative means, by people using stereotypes and a lack of imagination to justify their own narrow mindedness. The aim of voidism is to bring magic and mystery back to a life in small doses, not to give up on intellectual inquiry all together.

I see myself as a scholar, a man who likes to get to the root of most issues, but these areas of mystery sustain me and keep me enthusiastic about the world. It’s like reading such writers as Borges or Juan Goytisolo, revelling in the journey without totally getting it. It’s like conceptual art. It’s the not knowing which gives such things their magic.

On a completely different note, here’s a poem about wine.


I put down my glass of wine.
The border of Devon and Somserset
Went right through it.
Shimmery non existent man made
Political boundary
Dissecting my merlot,
Which knows neither the gruff side burned
Yokelism of Somerset
Or the soft Devonian burr
Of the barn-weary milk maid.
I nudged my friend Jeff
To tell him this
And he spilled his lager
Right on the same county line.
And then two workmen
From competing councils arrived
To clean it up.
Their fingers, momentarily, fumbling
Like mating octopuses.