It looks long but it’ll read right through briskly, because of Paul Durcan’s pure entertainment value. The funny thing about this poem is that Durcan is known for his “electrifying live performances,” but here he takes a jaundiced view of the entire enterprise: the readings, the exchange, the titles, the apprenticeship, the seriousness with which we take the whole thing, celebrity, and, finally, self-loathing plain and simple. I love this poem and I have a feeling we’ve featured it before: although a quick search of our archives suggests it was some time ago.
Paul Durcan, b. 1944, has published more than 20 books of verse. He’s instantly recognizable, yet shares with the other smart-ass Paul, Muldoon, a penchant (at times) for ornate diction. There’s something almost mock-epic in his tone here, and the ultimate zinger never fails to inspire me. -ed.
THE POETRY READING LAST NIGHT IN THE ROAYAL HIBERNIAN HOTEL
The main thing – the first and last thing – to say
About the poetry reading last night in the Royal Hibernian Hotel
Is that the Royal Hibernian Hotel does not exist;
It was demolished last year to make way for an office block.
If, therefore, anyone was to ask me what a poetry reading is,
I should have the utmost difficulty in enlightening them,
All the more so after having attended last night’s poetry reading
In the Royal Hibernian Hotel which does not exist.
A poetry reading appears to be a type of esoteric social ritual
Peculiar to the cities of Europe and North America.
What happens is that for one reason or another,
Connected usually with moods in adolescence
To do with Family and School and Sexuality,
A chap – or a dame – begins to writing things
Which he – she — calls ‘Poetry’
And over the years – especially between the ages of fourteen and sixty-four –
What with one kind of wangling or another,
He – she – publishes seventeen or nineteen volumes
Or History Notes
or French Class
He – she – is hellbent on boring the pants off people
And that’s where the poetry-reading trick comes in.
The best poets are the poets who can bore you the most,
Such as the fellow last night who was so adept at boring us
That for the entire hour that he stood there mumbling and whining
My mind was altogether elsewhere with the reindeer
In Auden’s Cemetery for the Silently and Very Fast.
A poetry reading is a ritual in communal schizophrenia
In which the minds of the audience are altogether elsewhere
While their bodies are kept sitting upright or in position.
Afterwards it is the custom to clap as feebly as you can –
A subtle exercise appropriate to the overall scheme.
To clap feebly – or to feebly clap – is as tricky as it sounds.
It is the custom then to invite the poet to autograph the slim volume
And while the queue forms like the queue outside a confessional,
The poet cringing archly on an upright chair,
You say to your neighbour ‘A fine reading, wasn’t it?’
To which he must riposte
‘Indeed – nice to see you lying through your teeth.’
The fully clothed audience departs, leaving the poet
Who bored the pants off them
Laughing all the way to the toilet
Of a hotel that does not exist,
Thence to the carpark that does exist
Where he has left his Peugeot with the broken exhaust pipe.
‘Night-night’ – he mews to the automatic carpark attendant
Who replies with one bright, emphatic, onomatopoeic