I’ll confess right now to you reader, at times I struggle to love poetry. I absolutely respect the art form and all those involved in it, but I can’t deal with the line breaks. I can’t follow the narrative structure.
The first time I heard of Hegley was through my parents, who went to see him in the 80’s when he was hitting out his first few books. By chance, it turned out he was performing at Latitude 2016, which I stumbled upon in the cool of the literature tent, a veritable oasis of calm. He swaggered in front of the mic, accompanied by a violin and double bass (as well as their players), brandishing what I think was a ukulele.
“Now,” he started, “some of you may be wondering what this strange kind of guitar is called, and I’ll tell you…” he leaned in closer to the mic, “he’s called Steve.” And just like that I was under his spell. In a blend of pseudo-musical skulduggery, cheeky quips and with the ease of a veteran performer who’s been in the saddle for decades, Hegley threw out poem after rhyme, rhyme after song.
One poem worthy of a spotlight was The Guillemot, from his book I Am a Poetato. The line, “I do a speccy reccy from from my rocky sill a lot…” is characteristic of how Hegley bounces rhymes off each other like rubber balls in a washing machine. Veins of literary knowledge run through his work like precious metal; the rhymes in The Guillemot are no accident. It’s the sign of someone intimately familiar and vastly experienced in his craft. But most importantly, his humour adds a lightness to his work that many of us writers would do well to learn from. It lends a universality to his work that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. If you get a chance to see him, go… you’ll have a blast.
John Hegley is performing at The Live Rooms, Chester on January 26th 2018, hosted by The Speakeasy. Get your tickets here. Auditions to support John Hegley are still open! If you’re the writer for the job then send your 5 minute video to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hopscotch by Robert Bermingham & Richard Robinson. Photo by Neil Walker, SVA