It’s been a relatively busy month with readings. And I’ve become aware just how many dark poems I’ve written when I start writing set lists and realise that most of them are about death and/or violence. Now when most people think of Chaucer they think bawdy. More precisely, they think The Miller’s Tale, they don’t think of beheadings, near fatal attacks or the killing of a seven year old boy. The less popular tales are less popular for a reason: they’re so dark. I love dark. My default is noir. But I recently completed a version of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the cock and the fox, which is actually funny. And was fun to write. It’s not all gloom and doom.
National Poetry Day, 6 October, I did a breakfast reading for Poet in the City. I’m a post-wastershed poet and like a challenge. The challenge was not getting up at 5.30 a.m. , it was finding poems suitable for an audience at 8 a.m. I struggled a bit but managed to come up with a mixture from Bloodshot Monochrome, with some Chaucer rewrites e.g. The Cook’s Tale and the Nun’s Priest’s. I couldn’t resist slipping in a bit of noir, inviting the audience to imagine they’d never been to bed, so this was in fact the morning after the night before. Got away with it.
Peckham Library was a different challenge. A much longer set: first half published stuff, second half, Chaucer rewrites, and I was really aware how dark a collection Bloodshot Monochrome is. I chose not to mix earlier poems for light relief but ended up changing a couple because it was just too intense. I’d deliberately learnt Sharps and Flats, a rap based on the Prioress’s Tale which I dedicated to Damilola Taylor. It needed to come off the page and I had to do it justice not just for the painful subject matter but also the fact that he was killed in North Peckham estate after a visit to the library. When you perform a poem like that you have also to give the audience some light at the end of the tunnel. The poem attempts to do this, but other poems must help.
So I spent today revisiting the Reeve’s Tale, which is still trying to find its voice. But I find darkness pulling me to take on The Physician’s Tale. I already have a form in my head, I just need to read the original to work out what shade of dark I’m aiming for. In the small hours of Sunday morning, in that extra hour, I’ll start to find words, phrases that will somehow connect overnight and translate to my fingers on Sunday morning.