I was in London yesterday, both to do a bit of research for some writing, and to meet up with James Wood for a drink and chat before he read as part of the Vanguard Readings series, at The Bear, Camberwell New Road.
It's an excellent venue - real ales, plenty of room - and the mixed poetry/prose line-up that had been put together by Richard Skinner did it proud. There were a couple of names already familiar to me - Martin Malone is, of course, a regular at Shindig in Leicester as well as other Midlands events, while Paul Ebbs is a poet whose name has stuck in the memory for a while now. Both were terrific. I noticed a chat on Facebook recently about the pace at which poets read (too fast, was the general consensus), but Martin and Paul were a perfect example of why different strokes suit different folks. Paul's delivery was rapid-fire and high-energy, but it suits his work down to the ground, while Martin varied the pace more to similarly good effect.
The fiction, from Joanna Walsh, David Ogunmuwiya and Nicci Cloke, was uniformly high-quality. Short stories strike me as being much more difficult to read to an audience than poetry (with the latter, if people don't like a particular piece, there's always a chance that there'll be something they do like in a minute), and extracts from novels even more so. So, it's a tribute to all three writers that they had the audience rapt throughout, and I'd like to read something from all three.
James closed the evening with a short but extremely well received set - highlights for me were his opener (in praise of vinyl records) and his closer (a Piers Plowman-inspired piece). His reading, I think, brought out the rhythmic and technical skill of his writing in the best way possible - the song-like quality of his work brought an audience response more akin to what you'd get for a band.