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This report is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

On Not Listening Quietly Vahni Capildeo
‘Terrific, terrific, terrific,’ the tall lady with perfectly maintained blonde hair and a far from new, exquisitely tailored navy blazer roared. She was sitting in front of me at one of those curious events that gather poets and non-poets, sometimes the royal, or the very rich. Beginning as quiet as a wax museum figure, upright and polite, she had proceeded to liven up to real interest in the poetry being performed. You could see the rigid lines of her silhouette soften. Her breathing changed with her listening. She subsided a little in her seat. She paused. She seemed unsure how to show appreciation. Then she fell back on her accustomed vocabulary. ‘Terrific.’

Up to that point, less enthralled by the poetry, I had entertained myself by admiring the stitching on her clothes. Too much a craftsperson, I had dropped attention from the thin texts being offered up to the mixed public and turned to the art visible in delicate expensive textiles, the concept and structure brought into being by unknown persons’ handiwork. She, however, was feeling a thrill, like someone at a sports match. ‘Marvellous, marvellous, marvellous!’ She cried out as if we were at Wimbledon. She cried out as if the words released by the poet deserved a return of some kind, from the heart. And why not?

People talk about missing the live element from performance, during the pandemic, when events were relocated online or did not happen at all. Paradoxically, the live element was what I used to miss from in-person performances. Why was ...

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