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Veg Box Report #1: The Punter


I count myself highly fortunate that, with the Out of the Veg Box mini-tour last week, I had an almost immediate opportunity to put into practice what I’d learned at Cove Park the previous week (see here and here for that). Rob A Mackenzie and I put together the tour way before the opportunity at Cove came my way, so the timing was fortuitous to say the least.

One of the lamp posts that, reputedly, inspired the original illustrator of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Rob and I left Edinburgh on a sunny Tuesday morning and got to Cambridge mid afternoon. We met up with Andy, a friend of mine from my stint in Berlin way back in the early 90s, who studied in Cambridge and settled near there. Andy showed us round some of the colleges and then took us punting on the river, up the tourist route past all the riverian colleges. The generous gent: it was his treat and he’d brought along strawberries and sparkling wine. He managed to get me and Rob punting too. There’s no photographic evidence of that, but I was surprised to find it easier than I thought. It looks like a mad method of propulsion, but it’s fun and effective.

Andy steers the punt

I hadn’t seen Andy for about six years, so I was delighted that he joined us at The Punter for dinner with Andrea Porter and Anne Berkeley of the CB1 committee. The Punter is something of a gastropub, as well as providing the venue for the CB1 readings, and the food was excellent. It was great to see Anne again and to meet Andrea, whose book I’d thoroughly enjoyed and with whom I’ve been Facebook friends for a while.

Back of the Punter's promotional card

The reading was in the Barn at the Punter, a bright, pleasant, good venue. We had a good crowd in — maybe 20 or 30 — including fellow HappenStance poets Peter Daniels and Tim Love, both of whom read some good stuff in the open mike slots (great to meet them both, after much Facebooking), and an Edinburgh home crowd in Charlotte Runcie and Julia Rampen, who’re studying in Cambridge. I really appreciated their presence and the chance to catch up with them. Charlotte and Julia didn’t read in the open mike, but a student called Luke McMullan did. He was impressive.

Rob and I both had reading time before and after the break, so we’d decided to do an integrated set in the first half, like the one we’d done in Aberdeen. I think it went well. Here’s the list, with mine in bold and Rob’s in italics:

  • MacAdam Essays the Meaning of Loss
  • Improvisation for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time
  • Ululate … [can’t remember the full title of this one!]
  • Glory Box
  • Man With a Dove on His Head
  • While the Moonies are Taking Over Uruguay 
  • The Road from Emmaus
  • Coronach
  • The Look
  • Gåta
  • White Noise

In the second half, we both read separate sets. Rob read from a strong, impressive new sequence about autism. Here’s my set list:

  • Pedestrian
  • The White Dot
  • The Invention of Zero
  • The Ambulance Box
  • Lullaby
  • Dream Family Holiday
  • Notes to Self
  • Breathing is the Place to Start

This was the first public test of how well the work at Cove had stuck. I certainly felt the difference, even in poems that I hadn’t yet properly memorised and was still (half) reading. There were noises off from the kitchen, but they didn’t bother me as the residency had given me a new confidence in not needing to use the mike. (Kristin forbade it!) Judging by the comments I had, I was right not to use it or at least perfectly fine not using it. Everybody seemed to hear me without trouble and the noises off didn’t trouble the audience any more than they did me during my set. Probably the most encouraging comment I had was from someone who said she’d been in a trance-like state for several minutes after the set. That’s the kind of feedback I dream of! (Okay, so my dreams aren’t full of feedback at readings. That would be seriously worrying.)

Anne was putting us up for the night, so we headed back to her house. A bottle of something sparkling and rather good was opened and we talked poetry, astronomy and all manner of things with her and her husband John until about 2 am. I was out like a light.

Huge thanks to Andrea and all the other CB1 committee members for hosting us; to Anne for being an exemplary host for the night; and to Andy for his company, knowledge and generosity.

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