the subtle art of arresting applause

13Alec Patric’s experience at Passionate Tongues last night led him to contemplate the difference between poets who read, and poets who perform:
Santo Cazzati told me last night he can stop people clapping between poems. Poets repeatedly asked the audience at the Brunswick Hotel to stop the incessant clapping until after all the poems were read. There was a petulant group of clappers who insisted on the ritual no matter what they were told. They even carried me along with them. What is it about clapping that forces everyone else to start clapping as well against their will? I suspect other poets might enjoy the applause between poems but perhaps this just masks their fear that they’re helpless to do anything about it.

pt-fiona-stuartThe night started with a gentleman of advanced years getting up onto stage with his sunglasses perched on his Akubra hat. The microphone before him was barely noticed. Chatter around the bar and in the back room didn’t bother him. There was a classic warble in his delivery that you imagine would have been a feature of Banjo’s poems. It didn’t seem to matter that not a lot of the audience could actually hear him and it really was enough for him to ease us into a mood for poetry. A young woman walked onto stage soon after and laid out her heart because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you write poetry. These were two poets of the open section and expected little applause for their gracious contributions.

One of the featured poets, reading for the first time as a headliner, was Miles Allinson. A poet who was able to draw out vivid details of travels abroad. In that space between worlds — on train tracks far away from home, or in the air above unknown cities — are unique moments of perspective and reflection, and it was a pleasure to share that kind of poetic impressionism. But even he was unable to wave down the clappers who insisted on defying him and his calls for silence between poems.

pt-santoI talked to Santo about his secret. The art of arresting applause, he said, was to be found in a kind of subtle crowd control. Watching an inspired and articulate Santo Cazzati talk about his craft made me think of a Roman Senator and the skills of oratory that they practised as a true form of art. How many of the poets out there at Overload perform their poems before a mirror ten or twenty times, for days on end, and then like Santo take that show on the road, and work bars and pubs around Melbourne seven days a week, week after week? My point is not so much, raise the bar, but look at what’s flying over it. Your applause might not even be necessary.

With many of the poets last night, I needed to lean forward and read their lips to catch the finely wrought lines and delicately phrased thoughts. With a heavyweight performer like Santo, you lean back in your seat and let the broadcast roll over you with images that do violence to your heart and rearrange the grammar of your brain, that broadcast through your body the rhythm of Bolero or the virtuoso melody of John Coltrane, broadcasting clear and loud, until you’re beamed via a live feed to a world never before televised. For all that, the Saint of the Stage can knock you back silent between poems.
pt-cate-kennedyCate Kennedy didn’t ask for the applause to stop between her poems. As a result there was an uproar of applause every time she finished a poem. Rampant adulation is the only word for it actually. Everyone loves Cate and they want to kiss her. That’s fine as well. She deserves applause for the great writing she’s been giving all of us for many years. I suppose I’m most interested in the specialist performers at this Overload festival. The ones that train for the stage like gladiatorial fighters of the word. That make performance their life and deserve the distinction of Performance Poets. These poets that are able to control your applause like an opera singer controls the vibration of crystal, only allowing it shatter when she wants it to.

Pictured: Passionate Tongues poets Fiona Stuart, Santo Cazzati and Cate Kennedy, photographed by Michael Reynolds.

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  1. Great review Alec. I love the true performance poets. Those Gladiator performers like Miles Merrick who leave you sitting there at the end with your mouth wide open, starved of oxygen because you forgot to breathe.

  2. Part of the reason I asked ‘non-poets’, or at least, people who weren’t on the Melbourne poetry ‘scene’ to do reviewing was for balance and objectivity. And Alec, I think you’ve cracked the nut.

  3. Meeting Santo at the Overload launch was one of the stranger experiences I’ve had recently.
    Oh, and people might be interested that Cate Kennedy is launching her debut novel next week — on Tuesday night, I think.

  4. Poets repeatedly asked the audience at the Brunswick Hotel to stop the incessant clapping until after all the poems were read. There was a petulant group of clappers who insisted on the ritual no matter what they were told. They even carried me along with them.

    That’s a bit much, I reckon. Poets can get away with a lot on stage – swearing, insulting others, shouting – actions which would generally be considered offensive, but which are allowed in an artistic format. And the audience isn’t even able to clap?

    Look, I can well believe that the audience clapping might have sometimes seemed inappropriate/out of place. But I think there’s got to be a dialogue between the poet and audience; both have got to feel comfortable with one another. Ordering an audience not to clap? Nup. That ain’t going to do it.

  5. nice one, alec. very good to see someone saying waht they think without offending their colleagues/worrying about their ‘career’/being CLEVER. and yeh, agree w tim that it’s a DIALOGUE btwn audience and performer, sometimes one the performer (unless of course a gladiator like santo) can’t always control…as it should be.

  6. You know what they say: the customer is always right. I do agree that an excellent crowd manipulator (or stroker, as the case may be), and probably minimise applause. As to whether you’d want them to? Guess it depends on the poem, the poet and the audience…

  7. Thanks for reading Tim. Wasn’t I being ironic? We all love applause. But OK, if you want to take what I’ve said at face value, I’d like to point out that applause at every interval can feel like an automated ritual; can seem an empty gesture, which for some poets, is a kind of mockery if they don’t feel the audience is really listening. But what I was really trying to say is our applause is only one way to express our appreciation. That there are deeper forms of veneration that some poets merit.

  8. Whether Maxine was joking or not it can’t really be said enough. Cate really is about the best short story writer around, and not only in Australia. ‘What Thou and I did, Till We Loved’ stands up to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I haven’t read her novel yet but it seems a shame that until she writes a best selling book, readers like me and Jeff will feel compelled to keep telling everyone how great she is.

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