Poetry readings, on their own, can be strange things. It depends entirely on who’s reading, of course, but there’s always the risk that the audience will sink into a bit of a stupor after the first couple of poems.
There are ways round it. Having more than one reader can provide interesting contrasts, as can including open mic slots. As I’ve said before, that often has the interesting effect of producing themes that link disparate readers.
Another way, though, is to marry the poetry to something else entirely. Last night, at Uppingham Theatre, HappenStance poet Matthew Stewart did just that, reading from his new chapbook Tasting Notes, while allowing us to sample the wines that the poetry is concerned with (Matthew's day job is as blender and export manager for the Spanish wine co-operative Viñaoliva).
The event, run in conjunction with Bat and Bottle Wine Merchants of Oakham, drew a quite different crowd to your normal poetry reading, but you got the impression that most people went away having learned something about wine, and something about their own view of poetry. Non-poetry readers often tell you that they think of it as dry, dusty, academic and seemingly resigned to make the reader look stupid, but here it was concise, witty, and simultaneously gently mocked and quietly celebrated commercial language. Of course, one reason that works is that there's often the same feeling about wine talk - that pretentious and high-flown nonsense is being used to confuse the average buyer.
But anyway, if you'd like to sample both the wine and the poetry, have a look at these offers. They could make great Christmas presents.
Oh, and along with the wine, we got to try a couple of cheeses from Extremadura, some of the region's peerless jamon iberico de bellota, and chocolate figs. Very tasty indeed.