Last night and what is the epitome of a middle-class cultural event I attended an evening with Wendy Cope, part of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich festival. For the uninitiated Wendy Copy is one of the finest living English poets, writing serious and humorous works that are both technically astute and easily accessible; no mean feat. An ex-school teacher Wendy is a gentle, genteel and at the same time acerbically clever wordsmith. Reading from her latest book Family Values she introduces each poem or each set of poems in a delightfully matter of fact way and then delivers them in a clear, precise and relaxed style. I’m not sure I cared that much for the inclusion of the question and answer session at towards the end of the evening. I’m not one for over analysing art or wanting to get into the head of the artist. I want to enjoy the work as I perceive it. I don’t want to be told how or why I should enjoy it. Not only that, but it also gives a platform to sycophants and nutters. Wendy deserves credit for the way she handled those two types of unfortunate. I also have this belief that when I pay good money to be entertained by an individual or group I want to be entertained by them and not by the audience. Audience participation is lazy as well as being an impudent abomination. Commissioners of radio phone-in programmes take note.
I had seen Wendy Cope once before, a few years ago in Bury St Edmunds, where I was one of less than half a dozen men in the audience, at least last night there were quite a few more although there was still a very high ratio of women to men. In fact that was one of the questions that was asked of Wendy Cope, ‘why do you thing you attract an audience that is predominantly women?’ It was suggested that audiences for ‘arts’ events tended to weigh heavier towards the female than the male. I’m not convinced that this is entirely true.
As long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed poetry. It was something that school failed to put me off. Writing it in my teenage years helped me deal with a lot of angst and pain associated with hormones and spotty-herbert-ness. My poetry has never been published. My poetry is very personal, as well as being consistently awful. But it was a great outlet and kept me sane. These days my enjoyment of poetry is confined to reading it, Radio 4 and occasional theatre trips. Paul Garrard the poet was never a serious option, so the world can breathe a sigh of relief.