This week for A-LiTT, veteran performance poet Kevin Cadwallender writes about some of the strangest and funniest experiences he’s come across in his carear.
1. The funniest thing for me happened at the esteemed ‘Hen & Chicks’ venue in Abergavenny, South Wales. I was reading there with Alistair Robinson and Aidan Halpin. During my set a poet from that community put his hat down on the table. I read a couple of poems it was all going very well. However the poet had put his hat down on a lit tea light candle and hadn’t noticed. I have forgotten the poem I was doing when the hat burst into flames, but burst into flames it did with general mayhem and pints being chucked on it to put it out. As you can imagine this distracted my audience a bit so I kept a running commentary on proceedings and when the fire was finally out went straight back to my set much to the joy and amusement of the assembled poets. They gave me the hat as a memento of the night and I had it for years until I moved up to Edinburgh. It was a sort of trilby, well an open topped trilby by the time I got it.
2. Way back at a gig at Thames Polytechnic as it used to be known a very rowdy crowd threw a can of lager at me which I caught and took a drink out of. This cheered up the hostility until I did a poem by a friend of mine who had decided it was too risky to do called, ‘One Fucking Thing’ which although loaded with irony went over the audiences heads and provoked three women to follow me into the toilet and protest its content. I pointed out the irony and then told them I didn’t write it. Which didn’t appease them. They demanded to know who did and so I led them back to my friend and let them protest to the author. I think he has forgiven me.
3. On a tour of Germany when I was about 21 some of the girls in the audience took a shine to me and queued up to get autographs, one of them had decided I should sign her breast which I declined and offered to sign her less risky arm. She asked me to put my phone number down too. I did write a phone number but this was the poet Bill Levitas’ number. Bill sadly passed away last year but I know he would have coped better with phonecalls from ‘fans’ better than me. The same girl asked to meet me later and pointed to her badge which said simply ‘F#*k me’. I declined although another poet did take up the offer. I best not say who it was.
4. In Edinburgh at the ‘Poems & Pints’ night held in the West End Hotel fights would occasionally break out. One poet who shall remain Barry Graham was heckled from the floor by another poet. His reply sticks in my head, ‘If you think his heckles are sh*# you should read his poems’. Nick Toczek the Bradford based poet thought this was a healthy thing and showed a vibrant poetry scene, although his cries of ‘Oh no! the poets are fighting’ did make me laugh.
5. A similar if more scary event which was christened the Pre-St.Valentine’s Day massacre happened at the Old George in Newcastle. A packed room full of poets and some very drunk Glaswegian poets (You know who you are). This ended in one poet ending up in the police cells and another in hospital after suffering an epileptic fit. The poet Stephen Yelverton (also sadly passed away) had to, ahem.. be asked to leave. A well known older poet who had never been to a poetry reading before was shell shocked and didn’t believe her husband would let her attend another. I was the M/C for that night, it was bedlam. Happy days.
6. Another night at the West End Hotel had me doing a poem which a woman in the audience said she had heard me do before. I said yes, I read it here last year did she not like it? She replied in the negative so I did another poem. However the audience didn’t like this and decided to have a vote as to whether I should do the poem All but that one woman raised their hands so I duly did the poem (which was of course an anti-climax after the melodrama) and she walked out.
7. Finally at Newcastle’s Green Festival the show was finally ended by the police after I did the poem ,’He do the Police in Different Voices’. The police threatened to arrest me and I said,’ on what grounds? Possession of irony? As I said, Happy days.
There are a hundred stories from the naked poetry streets but most of them are waiting for people to die before they can be told.
If you ever get a chance to read ‘The Yonkly’ (Ran by Mike Dillon and Maggie Jamieson) do so, a workshop magazine that charted events up and down between the North East of England (and other bits) and Scotland, a lot of these stories are archived there in the form of ‘gossip columns ‘ written by various poets at the time. It remains a snapshot of the poetry scene at that time.