Sometimes, good things happen in life because you work really, really hard to make them happen. Like, you think and you think then you write and you write and you think some more and write some more and wake up in the night thinking about what you are writing and drink too much coffee and start to confuse the people who are really in your life with the people who are real in your head, and eventually you get a book deal. And then lots of people pop up and tell you how lucky you are. (Grr. See Carneigie Hall joke*.)
And sometimes, good things happen in life because you get lucky. Something comes out of nowhere and blesses you.
That happened to me today.
It started quietly enough. Anna at The Ambler sent me a message to ask if I’d be prepared to be recorded reading poetry as part of a project in connection with cultural events going on around the Olympics. Sure, I said, I’d be happy to. I put the date in my diary and I didn’t think any more about it.
Then I got the confirmation email. I was going to be part of a group of people being recorded reading poetry – this much I knew – and we would be directed by Fiona Shaw.
Fiona Shaw, who I first saw play Katherine in ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ for the RSC in 1987, storming and grumping around the stage as my 16 year old self got furious with the ideas of the play, and seduced by the language and the playing of it. Fiona Shaw, who is now super-famous for playing Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter films, but who has also done jaw-dropping work playing Richard II, Medea, and Lydia in ‘Anna Karenina’, to name but three. In short: FIONA SHAW. ACTUALLY FIONA SHAW.
So. Fiona is involved in a project called Peace Camp, with the director Deborah Warner. In the four days before the Olympics, groups of tents will pop up all around the coast of the UK, lit from within. People will walk into them, around them, between them, and as they do, they will hear love poetry, words, sounds, babble – all created from readings gathered by Fiona and her recordist Kate from the people around the edges of our islands.
This sounds utterly enchanting to me, and I’m a bit overwhelmed that a word or two of my voice might whisper its way into these tents. Reading poetry this morning was lovely, and reminded me how much poems want and need to be spoken, rather than read. (It’s the difference between a kiss and reading about a kiss.) Being directed by Ms Shaw was a bit mind-blowing. (‘Let the words breathe… now whisper it, as though you can’t quite believe you’re going to say it, but then you say it anyway.’) And being gathered round a table with lovely people – an old teacher of mine, people who knew my grandparents, Katrina Porteous, a local poet who is wonderfully knowledgeable about dialect and accent – was terrific.
Best of all was hearing people with voices that taste of the Northumbrian sand and wind and mighty, gracious sky read poems written with those voices in mind. Bliss.
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I can’t wait to get in those tents.
(You can get involved with Peace Camp in lots of ways, from recommending a poem to volunteering at an event. Look here.)
*I’m sure I’ll have told you this before, but: On 57th Avenue in New York, a man stops another man, who is carrying a trumpet. ‘Excuse me,’ says the first man, ‘Can you tell me how to get to Carneigie Hall?’ ‘Sure,’ answers the musician, ‘Practice, practice, practice.’