From the Labyrinth to the Park
I’ve been thinking about performance a little since last Wednesday’s slam. Whatever else one thinks of the evening, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best performer won. Young Dawkins, who was constantly reminded — to the point that it scunnered him — that he was the Scottish slam champion 2011, carried the crown.
As a performer, Young was head and shoulders above the rest of us. He’s no ranter, rapper or hollerer (though he raised his voice a bit in his lap-of-honour poem); his was a calm but powerful presence. Many of us could learn a great deal from his stagecraft. When he took to the stage, the attention was palpable. It was the kind of hushed attentiveness that I’ve heard only rarely. It approached that paid to the balcony scene in a performance of Edwin Morgan’s translation of Cyrano de Bergerac I saw at the Lyceum in the 90s. It also approached the rapt attention paid to RS Thomas at the Fruitmarket when he read there in about 1995 or 1996. (Thomas’s was a tremorous but utterly compelling presence. Aside from give a brief lecture on the cloth ears of contemporary poets, he did little but read the poems. He didn’t need to do anything else.)
Not everyone, of course, will ever achieve that level of performance skill. I hope that I might at some point. As Fiona Lindsay said in the comments to the previous post on the slam, we should all strive to be the best poets and performers we can be. To that end, I’m very excited to be going on a residency at Cove Park in less than a fortnight’s time along with seven other poets to work with voice coach Kristin Linklater.
I’ve coveted the idea of going to Cove ever since I first heard of it several years back and this opportunity, which is funded, comes at an ideal time, landing just before my mini-tour with Rob A Mackenzie. Kristin Linklater has developed her own method of teaching voice and performance skills, which is not about projection but about freeing and using the speaker’s own natural voice to give a properly authentic performance. She has worked with the likes of Donald Sutherland, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray <gulp!> and has a strong interest in poetry. Apparently, it’s a first Kristin, who has worked with individual poets previously but not a group, and for Cove Park.
The other poets are Clare Pollard, Ros Barber, Paul Batchelor, Liz Berry, Gerry Cambridge, Michael Pedersen and Claire Quigley. It’s a good mix of established and emerging poets; men and women; Scots and English folk. Some of them I know, most of them I don’t. The programme looks intensive and enticing. It begins and ends with all of us reading. I simply can’t wait!