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.