Swindon Festival of Poetry – poetry darrlin’ Pam Ayres

6 Oct

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It’s fair to say that last night Swindon Festival of Poetry hosted one of Britain’s most popular poets, at The Platform, Swindon.

As well as enjoying some of Pam Ayres’s poetry, we heard anecdotes about her life and the inspiration behind some of the audience’s favourite poems, documented in her 2011 autobiography ‘The Necessary Aptitude: a Memoir’.

Pam never had aspirations to write ‘deep’ poetry – ‘other people could do it so much better’. But it’s to poetry’s benefit that she developed her own style and wrote in a way that anyone could relate to and enjoy.

It was whilst stationed with the RAF in Singapore, performing Shakespeare in a competition to win a silver rose bowl for her mum (‘we never had anything like that’), that she realised that a conventional career she harboured in acting was not going to be for her. Not that her acting skills weren’t up to it, it was her countryfied Stanford in the Vale accent that had people shielding their eyes and groaning. Before that, she said, at the tender age of nineteen, ‘I thought I sounded the same as everyone else’. So, fed up with boring jobs and wanting to ‘make people laugh’ she began writing in a way that ‘worked with my accent, my timing, my language’.

Leaving the RAF, she started in folk clubs which at the time were in every pub across the country, even in sleepy Berkshire. In between singing, she popped in a poem or two, such as ‘I wish I’d looked after my teeth’. To her surprise audience members asked her where they could get copies of her rhymes. The shy performer was motivated to run off sixty ‘cheap, grubby pamphlets’ and hawk them around bookshops.

Pam takes everyday experiences and turns them into a funny rhyme – from a parrot pretending to be dead to experimenting with contact lenses, from boys dumping her to the soundtrack of knitting needles to tiresome vending machines. I love that she has never tried to be something she’s not – developing affectations or pretensions – and has become successful being herself.

But what really struck me is her infectious laugh, making fun of herself and life. Not smiling at an evening with Pam Ayres is like trying to eat sugary donuts without licking your lips.

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