A visitor

One of the great things about this exhibition has been the range of people who’ve dropped in and who’ve been excited by it, from Dominic, aged 15 months, to a little old lady who tours all the art galleries in Sheffield and who was most puzzled by the annoying habit of my TV monitors talking at once.

But yesterday’s above all made me feel I’m doing something right.

Two youths dropped in. They looked rather disreputable. Possibly they were passing having been to the job centre just up the street. One of them approached me:

“We just saw them stones thing through the window. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it. What’s it all about?”

I explained. I invited them to wander around, spend as much time as they liked doing what they liked, told them the stones were there to walk over, the other rooms were exhibits, too: why not sit in the Poetry Lounge, chill for a bit?

I left them to it.

About twenty minutes later, I was passing the lounge. Both were reading poetry books. The same guy stood up and came towards me:

“So, why did you do this? What’s it for?”

I explained that one of the reasons was perhaps for people like him, to make the place “thick with poetry” so people who weren’t used to it might, perhaps, stop by, read something, write something. A bit shyly he showed me the page of the visitors’ book where he’d written down a brief poem he’d made from my poetry dice.

“It’s amazing!” he said, “never seen anything quite like this.”

And he took my hand and shook it.

“Look,” he said, “I’m twenty five. I drink. I smoke weed. I’m not really a good person. But this – this inspires me. It’s wonderful. If you keep an open mind, it’s brilliant.”

And, after a brief glance round again, they left.

I was really quite touched by this. These lads, well, men, of course, but lads to my antique gaze, actually had responded to the message, come in off the street, and were actually affected by the poetry, so much so that this one man, at least, felt he had to take part, apologise for himself to a stranger, because, for a quarter of an hour, a different world had opened to him.

I hope he writes some poems now. I think he’s probably quite a bit to tell himself.

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