Picture me, if you will, as a saxophone. Not a bright, shiny alto sort of saxophone, strung casually around a sax section leader’s neck, nor yet a tenor of uncertain vintage, which has for years been fighting a rearguard against its owner’s propensity for sallies beyond the musical stratosphere.
No. Picture a road weary baritone, a cumbersome instrument, whose gruff tones can occasionally be teased toward poetry. You might consider this no more than the autobiographist’s evasive way with facts. Attend! Listen with the inner ear. You might hear faint echoes of tunes this instrumentalist has never been brave enough to explore, preferring too often to rely on the instrument’s inbuilt tendency to bluster, rather than on the challenging graces of ballad interpretation.
Or, from a slightly different perspective, think again. Think Tubby The Tuba. Danny Kaye’s avuncular voice is woven into the tapestry of my childhood. I shared that clumsy earnestness that Paul Tripp had imagined for his character. Closer to Victorian whimsy than to the authentic dark shades of the fairy tale, weighted with a subtext addressing the miracle of “fitting in” (one I have yet to master).
Remembering the recent great masters of British painting (only one of whom is still with us) I recollect that Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud and David Hockney all confronted their mirrored reflections, seeking to reach beyond the dilapidations of flesh, turning their forensic gaze upon the evidence that the looking glass provided. Hockney alone has chosen to depict himself in the practice of his craft, painting another man’s portrait. Hockney gives himself to us in his world. He is there, full length, on the right hand side of a canvas that’s six foot high and three feet wide. On the left, receded at some distance from the foreground, we see his sitter.
Maybe I can emulate Hockney’s irony. I can place myself in the monthly poetry evening that I’ve been hosting for three years now. Do you see, me, standing in the upstairs room, about to launch the evening. I’ve been delaying this moment because so far only one of my advertised guest readers has arrived, and there are no more than half a dozen people to hear him. Among these half dozen, though are two poets from a widely followed poetry web site. I have already consigned the evening to disaster.
I start the evening in damage limitation mode. You might imagine an MC in the sort of seaside entertainment doomed to extinction and obscurity. I greet, and I perform. The poem is about an amateur drag queen, and the man who has a day job to support her.
People begin to trickle in, still I continue with my wry and rueful patter (which my hearers expect from me) while lavishing praise on each successive reader.
At last the evening has taken off. At the conclusion, I’m drained, but relieved that the monthly ordeal has been successfully negotiated yet again.
I return to my tiny apartment to enjoy the luxury of sleeping alone.