The other evening, Thursday actually, I was lucky enough to get to MC this event in Bridge St., which is a lovely pub here in Castlebar. The event was part of the annual Wild Atlantic Words Festival and it was called ‘A Poem and a Pint’.
It does exactly what it says on the tin. The attendees are called upon to come up to the mic and share a poem with us. It could be an old favourite, it could be one they wrote themselves. One person, one poem… and a pint… or a G&T. Whatever you’re having yourself.
It sounds like it might fall on its arse, doesn’t it?
But it didn’t. Quite the opposite. The pub was full and lively and people were keen to come up and share their poem and also keen to hear everyone else’s. There was a general relaxed air and the mood eased from fun to reflective and back again, depending on whatever poem was being shared at the time. Looking back at it, I think a visitor to our shores would have found something here of the quintessentially Irish welcome that we like to pride ourselves on. I think they would have liked it.
I’m quite the ingénue when it comes to matters of poetry. I remember a few scraps of what I did in school and I know a few things that I’ve happened upon in my own reading and listening and, last but not least, I know something about the poems that people have told to me. Beyond that, I'm pretty much lost.
I don’t think that makes me unusual. In fact, as with a lot of other things, I think it makes me Mr. Average.
A lot of us tend to say that we don’t understand poetry or even like it very much. But, when I think about it, that’s a bit like saying we don’t like food or socks or… anything really. There might be lots of it we really don’t like but, if we find the bits that work for us, we might find that we like it very well indeed.
I think that’s why an evening like Thursday evening can work so remarkably, so surprisingly, well. If one person stands up and says a poem that means something to them and if there are twenty or twenty five such persons, the odds are good that we will hear something that also touches us in some way.
Poetry is like distilled emotion, I think. It gets boiled down to some kind of essence and, if that essence is not chemically similar to our own then, chances are, it will not bind. But when that alcoholic distillation fits our palate, then a little magic can happen. The brew can hit home in a way that a book or a movie cannot. It hot-wires, it short-circuits, and it goes right to the heart. A song can sometimes do it too because that’s a distillation as well.
If we go into an evening like this actively looking for that hit, we may not get it. It’s too much pressure. But if we simply venture into a lovely pub and find a lot of friendly faces there and a warm chatter about the place and the prospect of a small drink and, just incidentally, a wee woman over in the corner, sharing her favourite verse. Then the evening may be subtly elevated such that you may end the night and head home without even fully realising that something a bit special has just happened to you.
That you have been touched by a verse.
I had a highly enjoyable evening. I got to blather on a bit and there were plenty of people to back me up so that I was never very far out of my comfort zone.
I hope they ask me again next year.
I think l might go.