Friday, 26 March 2010

The Bat Detector by Elizabeth Barrett

So readers I have been procrastinating furiously in an attempt to justify the slow rate of job applications and as a result have started a promotions company,

The inspiration for this is that the past few Northern Oak gigs I have D.I.Y.ed and so I've decided to give myself a more professional air rather than just 'Can I book your venue for my band please?' and organise some more events while I'm at it.

As well as metal concerts, I have been thinking about organising poetry/spoken word events. For not only would I like to see more of them but it would give me an excuse to get off my arse and write more so I can perform myself. Now I have managed to hunt down 'The Inky' and I've found out about the organisation that produces it (Signposts just off division street) and also discovered the Poetry Business, both of which I am planning to go down and have a chat with at some point soon.

This research has reminded me though of last poet I paid to see perform. She was my teacher for a writing poetry module I signed up for in first year of university. Elizabeth Barrett. I'm not sure if it's a fit of nostalgia or something else but I wouldd like to see her again and ask her how she is. A quick trawl of the internet has not turned up much.

When I went to see her perform, it was during a Sheffield 'Off The Shelf' festival. I *think* it was 2006 either way it was definitely my second academic year. She was reading from her book 'The Bat Detector' which was interpersed with some music by a friend. I turned up in good time to buy a copy of the book and get a seat. While waiting for it to start she actually came up to me and confessed she was suprised that I was there, I told her I wanted to experience the book which she'd mentioned a number of times during the course for which she thanked me and signed my copy.

The title poem from the book is a particularly good one

It's a brilliant piece to read aloud as Barrett has put a lot of care into the sound. I know that she personally has no interest in technology so lines such as list resistor, capacitor and circuit board, are clearly there only because she likes how they roll off the tongue.

After the scene has been set with the explanation of the detector, Barrett goes on to explore the nature of communication. Revealing to us how much his attempts to understand the bats is damaging what little he had with his family.

When I first read the poem I had thought that the situation and account here was fictional but it became all the more piercing and poignant hearing it live. As she talked about this period in her life and I had to accept it as a piece of her past and once reality.

The final lines
You are adjusting your volume control, turning
down the sound of me, wailing on long wave -
pitching my 20kHz calls down the stairs.

are not only clever plays on what has gone before but an additional sign of desperation as she attempts to speak with him in his own terms.


When I saw her live the thing that struck me most about her performance, was that she ran through an entire chapter of the book but skipped out the first poem. It was about her [then] husband discovering empty contraceptive pill packets in the bin and realising that she was cheating on him. I still wonder why she would be bold enough to put it in print but not prepared to read it to an audience.

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