‘Introducing Fremantle Poets’
Poets 3: Performance Poets Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2013.
Edited by Scott Patrick Mitchell
Back when all poetry was spoken word, night fell quickly in the summer gardens and then the voice at the end of the bed began its bewitching whisper. ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. If you were me, first you wanted to know what was in it. Like animals for instance, or young royalty. Monsters that turned out to be machines. The things the poems had in them could be let out to romp in the room by whomever was obliged to read to you, and so it was important to know up-front: what objects, what creatures and people lay patiently waiting under the page. There, the snoring hump of a wolf, asleep until verse three. Here, the boy’s vorpal sword, slipped in against the spine of the book. Okay, ready. Eyes fall shut.
So it was hard to begin with, to read poems inaudibly, with eyes wide open. Learning to decipher the written word unfurls two kinds of territory to the newly literate. The space between front and back covers, on road signs and parcels, birthday cards and buses—that is, places that are outside of ourselves; and an interior space, dilated suddenly within the cranium. Over time we learn to silently broadcast the voice of the poet into this mental chamber, until hearing without sound becomes a perfectly normal way of understanding the world. That this transformation, from hearing words aloud to an ascribing them an imagined voice, continues to happen to people daily does not make it any less startling and strange. Reading remains our earliest and possibly most enduring synesthetic sensation.
But somewhere along the journey to textual enchantment, an erroneous notion developed—that poems ‘work’ in the mind. Or so it was with me. A poem turned into a cerebral artifact, disgorged from the brain of a poet to be sucked up by the brain of a reader. Of all the various forms of writing, creative and otherwise, poetry in particular became subject to this mistake. ‘Poem’, now an art-word, meant ‘code’. Poetry readers did their recitations in the tight, airless atriums of their skulls. No one feared nightmares or unbidden surprises anymore, because the things in poems weren’t strong enough to get out and stalk the dark hallways. They’d grown anaemic and frail trapped in our heads, needful of interpretation and rendition.