You don’t normally get hecklers at poetry nights. This is a good thing, really. Poetry isn’t like comedy, where you do get hecklers. Comedy is a shared conversation, and the best comedians talk to the audience, not at them. Hecklers are usually joining in. Poetry is more of a shared, rhythmical experience. You might get the occasional nod, or someone shouting ‘Yeah!’ in agreement, but not any actual heckling.
I went on a comedy course and we did a whole lesson on dealing with hecklers. Apparently there are three major types:
-Those who are trying to join in
– those who shout out encouragement or even displays of affection
– those who try to be funnier than you.
Alcohol is usually involved.
I’ve been heckled every now and then, and I kind if expect it at comedy nights. But the weirdest and best hecklers are at poetry nights, because they are so unique and unexpected. In Totnes, for example, halfway through my set, someone shouted ‘I love hummus!’
Which was nice to know.
In Torquay recently I had a Spanish lady shout out at the end of a poem, ‘oh, I understand that! Very good!’
But the best, or the worst, came at Exeter. One of my poems starts with the line, ‘Isn’t it annoying when you turn the page’. I got as far as ‘isn’t it annoying . . .’, when someone shouted, ‘Yes!’
There’s no possible comeback from that.
So heckling isn’t frequent in poetry, but as poetry increases in popularity, perhaps poets should learn to deal with it.
The best comeback I ever did was at a comedy night. Mentioning badgers, someone shouted, ‘You fancy badgers, don’t you?’ I replied, ‘Nevertheless’, and carried on with the poem.
I felt quite happy with it. And everyone laughed.
I’ve not done the badger poem since.
Anyway, for no reason whatsoever, here’s a poem about cows.
1. How would you describe the behaviour of cows?
Cows line astern
Grass munchers in a row
Like forensic detectives
At the scene of a crime.
2. Are you familiar with bovine behaviour? Y/N
3. Describe the types of cow that you saw.
Fresians black and white
Flanked by invisible maps.
Half of an hour hyped up.
Are they black cows with white splodges
Or white cows with black splodges?
4. Have you ever been caught under the silvery moon suddenly transfixed by the inate beauty of cows and the way that they seem to reflect the celestial moonglow as if lunar objects themselves?
5. Were you aware of this before the incident?
I had a crush.
6. Explain in a single haiku the beauty of the cows you saw.
There once was a field of cows
Upon which I would browse
By the side of the gate
And other places on the farm
Often in shady areas but sometimes in the full glare of the sun.
7. That’s not a haiku.
8. Eulogise a cow for me.
I know this rhyme is lazy
And people may think me crazy,
But in this rhyme I praise thee.
You are amazy.
9. Tell a cow joke.
In what way is a cow like my parents bungalow?
10. I don’t know.
They’re both fresian.
11. Do you have anything else to add?
I have no beef with you.