Some people are sitting on blankets, sipping from hot flasks. A candle has been set, trembling, on the sand. The rain gains pace. Their hair and skin start to drip and they move for shelter. On the grassy edge of the beach, beneath a brick-stone wall, they form a circle. Light beams approach from the other end. Stalwarts and novices join in. Nearby, shady deals are done. The rain eases but the wind picks up, and words are thrown into it like spells. Waves of fine sand blow past. Bats gather above. Dogs frolic about. Headlights lick the wall. Passers-by snigger at the installation of candles and poems. (There are banshees, aliens infiltrating the beach, Seamus Heaney's eyes, mermaids returning to sea.) The cold deepens, and patience starts to break down, indulgence to wear thin. Mouths dry. In the distance the sea is black. A fresh gust blows each of them back to their habitats.
Poetry Upfront has been in hibernation since last November; first our regular venue, Trax Cafe in Balbriggan, went through a change of ownership, and then we had some difficulty confirming dates for the re-start of the sessions. This prompted us to reconsider what Poetry Upfront means - and whether it should continue, change, or stop - and sought comments and suggestions from everyone on our mailing list.
We had a good response. One or two suggestions in particular energised me into thinking of a new phase for Poetry Upfront. The usual sessions at Trax were going fairly well; but after nearly four years I felt they were starting to become, well, usual. I wondered whether we could try and displace poetry a little bit, shake it out of a comfort zone it sometimes seems happy to inhabit, and expose it to slightly strange situations - bring it out of the confines of the cafe or pub or library or theatre. I was able to conceive different locations and scenaria for poetry sessions and wondered what the responses of writers, readers/audience and sometimes general public might be to them.
Such a change of emphasis would also largely free us up from the expectation of holding our sessions at regular venues and times. And when I put all this to Jane - my Poetry Upfront co-founder and co-organiser of our sessions - she was as enthusiastic as I was about this new direction. We want the occasional events with guest poets to continue, and we reserve the right to revert to our 'traditional' format whenever we feel like it. But for now we are all set for a renewal.
And so our first 'open-mic' session of this second phase of Poetry Upfront will take place on Monday 19 October 2009 on Balbriggan Beach. Start time will be 7pm and everyone is welcome. We thought we should also mention that poets and audience may need to bring with them a) blanket; b) flask with hot drink; and c) light source (flashlight, lantern etc), and that we have made alternative arrangements in case of rain.
We are also working on the two events that will follow Poetry Upfront: on the beach, but more on those in due course. I'm looking forward to arranging these more flighty Poetry Upfront sessions and I am curious as to where the enterprise will lead. I am ready for failures, but most of all I'm open to what they will suggest.
Author of 'Spitting Out the Mother Tongue' (Wurm Press, 2011), 'Muses Walk' (yes but is it poetry, 2012) and 'Round the Clock' (Wurm Press, 2009). Dublin regional editor for Succour magazine (2008-10). Co-founder and organiser of the Poetry Upfront series of readings and events (2005-10). Represented Cyprus at Poetry Parnassus (June/July 2012).