Sophie Turton hides in the ladies' room while Craig Raine entertains the audience at Zest.
An Epic Disaster?
‘Poetry reading with Craig Raine,’ the posters promised. An evening listening to the quasi-amusing writer of ‘A Martian Sends A Post Card Home’, within the walls of the ambient, Algerian café-bar Zest, sounded interesting, if not exactly appealing. Unfortunately what we received was not poetry but rather a poem; one epic, rambling, forty-five minute piece that had been scribbled down by Raine one summers day and had not been picked up since. The sheer arrogance and pretension surrounding this man was astonishing, as he laughingly admitted that not only was this poem unedited and unrevised, but also had ‘boring bits that need cutting.’ If he was trying to entice the newer generation into the world of poetry he very much missed the mark, as not only was his performance insulting, it also encapsulated the pompous stereotype that some attribute to poets. Perhaps this is where my main problem lies. The English department puts a clear effort into arranging poetry readings and on previous evenings poets have put forth their work in a way that engages the audience rather than alienating it. In return not only did Craig Raine not make an effort, but he instead appeared to do the very opposite. It is a struggle to understand why he did not just read a few of his respected poems, maybe giving us a bit of insight into the intensions within them as a little extra reward for coming out of our houses on a rainy evening.
The poem itself had no real rhythm, having been written in free verse, making it hard to follow and, with the exception of sporadic voice characterisation, boring to listen to. After about twenty-five minutes I made a hasty retreat to the toilet in the hope that he would have either moved on or shut up by the time I returned. On return, however, my heart sunk to hear him repeat the name ‘Angelica’, the only indication that he had not yet concluded his ramblings. Needless to say, the exact topic of the poem has never been known to me, due to concentration being almost impossible to maintain and the fact that we were sitting a fair distance from the stage. As you may expect if you were to embark on a forty-five minute unrevised reading, Raine made quite a few mistakes, bumbling over certain words, further adding to the poems disjointed rhythm.
When introducing the poem Raine proudly told his audience that he was about to read something, ‘a little bit dirty’. Raine is known for his vulgar language, an example being with one of his most famous poems ‘Arse Hole’. This may be effective on paper, but hearing an aging, balding man talk about ‘masturbating the spoon clean’ was simply grotesque, and one had to wonder how necessary that level of rudeness really was. Once the poem had ended I was left with a bizarre mix of relief and indignation. Craig Raine owed me forty-five minutes of my life.