Hastings Battleaxe reads her poems – a bit scary

Hastings Battleaxe has done poetry readings on two occasions recently: at the WI Literary Lunch, and at a combined choir/music poetry concert at St Clement’s Church in Hastings Old Town. It surprises me a bit that I attempt to do readings at all – it is bad enough having to share stuff you have written, never mind reading it out loud to a load of strangers.

    However, I think one advantage of getting older is that you no longer care so much about what people thiink of you. I have no trouble with standing up to speak, and with projecting enough volume – years and years of shouting at groups and now, leading WI meetings have seen to that. Hell, I even used to train managers in Presentation Skills. I do get nervous though, and worry about breathing, and the pace/timing of poetry readings. Some of my poet colleagues memorise their poems – I don’t know if I could ever do that.

Photos from English Wine Centre website

    The Literary Lunch was held in the very genteel surroundings of the English Wine Centre in Alfriston. As well as selling English wine, it has a Michelin Recommended restaurant, rooms and several barns where they have weddings etc. We had an excellent three-course meal in very attractive surroundings.
      Quick aside, why is English wine so expensive? I did purchase a few glasses of wine for myself and others, but at vast cost.  One reads that more and more of the land round us is being turned over to vineyards, but the wine still costs way more than wines from elsewhere. On the English Wine Centre shop price-list the cheapest is £11.20 per bottle, and I’ll bet that is like paint-stripper….
     As you might expect, the lunch was attended by the more well-to-do echelons of East Sussex WI ladies – and not too many of them either, because I don’t think the event had been particularly well-publicised. Fortunately, there were people I knew there, several of my fellow East  Sussex board members, including the Chairman, Gill Nokes.

Battleaxe does her thing
Laydeez that lunch…..

     The lunch courses were interspersed with various ladies reading pieces. I was there to read the ‘What my WI means to me’ poem that won the national Lady Denman Cup competition a couple of years ago. I may worry a bit about readings but thinking about it nothing, ever, ever, can compare with the sheer terror I felt having to go up on stage in the Royal Albert Hall in front of 5000 women to collect the cup from the Queen. Here is the Battleaxe post about that day. 
     As I get older I become less and less of a royalist – all the current fuss about the forthcoming marriage of Meghan and Harry is, in my opinion, nauseating – but I am glad I had the chance to meet the Queen.
     When I had finished reading the poem I told the assembled ladies about my day and made them laugh suitably.  Later in the meal I read them another two poems – a sonnet about Slugs and Snails, and another WI poem, ‘Picnic in the Park’.  I had to choose quite carefully – some of my poems are a bit rude….
     The next event was very different. It was a concert called ‘A song for All Seasons’ held in aid of Hastings Pier – which sadly, has just gone into adminstration – but that is another story.  The prime movers were a local choir called Harmony One – an all-women ensemble that specialises in newer and less-known music, led by a very nice woman called Debbie Warren. I know several women in the Choir, including WI friend Lin Ireland.  As well as the choir, there was a string quartet, and us members of the Hastings Stanza group reading out our poems. The concert consisted of a programme of songs, music and poems relating to the four seasons. I was one of two people reading autumn poems, so I had to wait until after spring and summer, which meant after the interval – I always prefer to get things out of the way quickly.

      It was substantially more daunting because it was a far bigger audience, and we had to climb up and read our poems from the church pulpit. We only had a few moments to leave our seats and scuttle up the steps while the audience was applauding the previous number, and of course we had to sit right underneath the pulpit, which meant we could not see much…

Looking up at that scary pulpit

     We did sound tests before, and one still had to shout to be heard in the echoey old building, even with the microphone. As I said above, shouting is not an issue for me, but I do have to work hard not to gabble out my words, to breathe, pause, look at the audience etc. My colleague Antony Mair, who leads our group, is a very accomplished poet and reader, and I do learn from watching him. However, it is easier to do these things among friends, and I would say I managed OK this time – we all did.  It was a lovely concert – the songs were melodious and sung well, the quartet was excellent, the poems fitted in beautifully and I was proud to be part of it.
    I missed having Philosopher there – no way could he have sat for such a long period in a hard, uncomfortable pew.
    I do very much enjoy going to the Stanza group, even though my poems are not as serious, literary or well-formed as those of many of the others, some of whom are very good, published poets. At first, I found it very scary indeed to read out my efforts.  However, the group is exceptionally encouraging, positive and welcoming, and I have learned a great deal.
    I have two poetry plans for 2018. One, to go on a poetry reading course. There is a London outfit called Live Canon that does such things, and I have booked to go in February. Note, I have not said I want to be a ‘performance poet’ – that always sounds a bit ranty and sweary to me. There is a monthly ‘Poetry Slam’ in Hastings, where people stand up and read/perform their work in a competitive environment. Several of my friends have done it – and even won – but I have not yet felt able to bring myself to join in.  I resolve to give it a go once I have been on my course.
    Secondly, I want to put a book of poems together, for charity, to be published for my ‘big’ birthday in 2019.  I’d like to produce a high-quality book, with illustrations from a local artist.
    To finish, here’s a few pictures taken from the Pier, on Sunday, which was a wonderfully bright and sunny day. More Pier stuff in another post.


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