We were, Kit Fraser assured us, Inverness’s cultural elite. I immediately felt out of place. Filling Hootananny’s bar on a Sunday evening at £5 a ticket was “Orchestral Verse”. Before us on the stage were four people: Robert Fields at the piano, Amy Fields on violin, Hamish MacDonald joining Kit Fraser on the armed only with folders. There was a screen displaying the texts. Kit explained the format: no ordinary poetry reading, the musicians would play atmospheric music while poems were projected onto the screen, then the readers would read the poems to us. Thus we’d soak the poems in, then better enjoy the readings.
The poems selected were from the Bloodaxe anthology, Staying Alive, a collection of life-affirming poems. The music certainly delivered from the opening bars of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 1 which matched well with the first theme of Birth. The second section of poems on Life was also well served by Manuel de Falla’s Popular Spanish Songs, itself possibly the musical highlight of the evening. While Constandinidis’ Greek Dances and Bloch’s Baal Shem maintained the high standard of music and performance, they did not enhance the poems chosen in the later themes, Death and Love. As a musical performance, though, the evening provided excellent entertainment, bravo Rob and Amy Fields.
The readers gave dramatic readings of the poems at the end of each musical piece, concluding three themes, Birth, Life and Death. This put them at something of a disadvantage in capturing the audience which had just read the poems from the screen moments before. It was difficult to get into the drama of it having just been distanced by the music. In the final section on Love, the order was reversed and readers preceded music. Audience reaction was much more natural to the readers suggesting this might be one way to evolve such a performance.
It was easier to forget themes and appreciate each poem itself. Categorising Adrian Mitchell’s, A Puppy Called Puberty in the Birth section just seemed odd, but Kit Fraser’s reading, with Benny Hill eyebrow-wiggle, worked well as opening reading. Generally, less well-known poems were best received, Holub’s Brief Reflection on Accuracy and Pound’s And the Days Are Not Full Enough prompting a taste for re-reading. It was a pity that there was no female voice for Jenny Joseph’s Warning, but that poem has been done to death. Death’s Secret by Gosta Ågren would suggest that last comment is immaterial and is a poem rewarding investigation. There was unexpected toughness about poems in the Love section, but they worked better for that, Elma Mitchell’s Thoughts After Ruskin and Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays telling it like it is.
The poetry reading of the evening as performance in itself was Hamish MacDonald’s rendition of Morgan’s The Loch Ness Monster’s Song, which maintained the humour of the piece while providing a wee edge.
An interesting evening in a good venue with hospitable staff, enjoyed by a large audience. Definitely a format to develop.