Poetry warms crowd but freezes ice cream sales

Click to follow
The Independent Online
POETRY came of age yesterday and passed the test of being accepted into popular culture. A middle-aged man ran over to where a poet was reading aloud and told him to turn the noise down.

In London's Covent Garden 20 of the best or at least best-selling contemporary poets spent the best part of the day reading their verse aloud, delighting some surprised passers-by, baffling others and annoying the rest.

Poetry, said Wordsworth, is 'emotion recollected in tranquillity'. On the first National Poetry Day it was emotion recollected in tranquillity and blared out through a public address system.

There were poetry readings all over Britain. But at Covent Garden piazza the domed glass roof distorted the acoustics of the first reading by Lemn Sissay and brought nearby traders and coffee bar owners scurrying across to give the poets a less than warm welcome.

On the small stage erected by the Poetry Society and the London poetry group Blue Nose Poets, one of the new generation poets was performing. Martin Crucefix, 38, had just begun to recite his poem, entitled Afterwards.

'I tread the darkened hall to the bathroom

The warm morning air is sweet - saturated

With the apple-oil you love to bathe in.

Damp footprints like kidneys cross the floor.'

It was an emotion that Marli, the waitress at the ice cream shop on the piazza, feigned not to recognise, too preoccupied with the detrimental effect that erotic poetry could have on desire for a vanilla cornet. 'How long is it going to go on for, do you think?' she said. 'It's just that this is normally our busy period and people are sitting outside listening.'

One of those listening was 30-year-old Alison Grove. Some are embarrassed to write poetry, most are embarrassed to read it; Miss Grove was embarrassed to listen. 'We are just not used to listening to poetry in the open air. But I hope it catches on.'

Jessie Gussack, a tourist from Canada, was warming to the idea of verse with her coffee. 'To be honest I guess I prefer music, but poetry is all right.' Not for one elderly woman, though, who described herself as a tourist. 'I think it's a stupid idea. Tourists are interested in seeing sights. Nobody's listening. The man is talking for nothing.'

But in a way she was entering the spirit. Wordsworth did also describe poetry as the 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings'.

(Photograph omitted)