Sunday I was in Crosby for its annual Brou Ha Ha, organised by Southport Arts. A summertime park arts in the afternoon type event.
I only found out earlier in the week that the audience was expected to be 'milling'. I should have checked that one out sooner. A milling audience is not necessarily going to be drawn to a bunch of poems. Especially when that audience is predominantly children.
See how much they're enjoying Mr Clown and his balloon act. My anxiety increases. I remind myself that in the booking I'd said my work is suitable for 14+, and try to ignore the average age of the current audience as 6+. All the same scan the contents list at the front of my book in case I'd forgotten I'd written some Roald Dahlesque funnies. Nope. Just a lot of religious stuff from lay preachers. I scan my set list instead. There are some funny ones, some peculiarities and some more straight forward narratives. Have faith, have faith, I mantra.
I'm aided by the MC who, when introduced to me says (in comforting Australian accent), "You mean the Sarah Hymas?" I am startled and probably look it. He goes on - "I Wish You Love is incredible, and I've seen your book. Oh wow... Oh great. I'm so looking forward to this."
But he is way way above the average age. The sock puppets are a resounding success. As is the drumming workshop and then I'm introduced. The MC resumes his enthusiasm and gives me probably the best and most sincere intro I've ever had.
And the audience applauds. So I do my stuff: funnies, fantasies, stories, weird ones, rolling along, focusing on those people (mainly adults) who are listening - or at least looking - and there are a few. Someone's even videoing me. Or maybe they're just watching the recording they made of the sock puppets. A few more kids come forward to sit at the front of the grassy auditorium just as I launch into Cold-Molded Wood, probably my favourite poem for performance. Which I love to end on - a sprawling ocean-going narrative that stops short of Coleridge but epic in its own way.
And the audience applauds. Again. And I sell a book (to an adult) and am asked for my leaflets (by children). So am heartened. Perhaps my poems can transcend, perhaps the movement, and rising and falling of voice can pull all ages in. But on the way home can't help thinking it would have been just the occasion for Mr Puppet and his unwritten show. Next year ...