08/12/11 - Kent. I have no idea what to expect, again. I push the doorbell outside Peggy's house and wait, huffing into my cupped hands. She has a perfect smile, the kind Hollywood would pay for I think, as she leads me past her front room to the kitchen chatting lightly. When she speaks, I hear a diluted American lilt and things click into place. Peggy was in New York in November when I was planning the tour and I got the sense that she spent a lot of time there. She introduces her husband Graham who shakes my hand warmly. An actor and singer, has a very relaxed vibe about him and like a leech, I siphon his demeanour, shrug off my jacket and try to make myself at home as Peggy insists. They have a beautiful house, like something from a catalogue a pairing of wood & marble, neutrals & greys. Satchmo, Peggy's cat whose coat suggests a tuxedo, prowls about the slate floors meowing for her attention. She pays as much as she can dishing out the just baked dinner of vegetarian shepherd's pie. It is delicious, just right. I add a few twists of black pepper and go back for seconds. As we eat, we speak of how spending cuts have affected the arts world, how some theatres expect actors to work for free, how commendable Nick Hytner's run as director of the National Theatre in London had been so far.
I discover that Peggy is a writer of plays and novels and we discuss structure and the difference between both disciplines as Graham packs for a trip to London for an audition the following day. The guests begin to arrive, they are personal friends from the local writer's group that Peggy seems to be at the heart of. Some are strangers for Peggy's mailing list who knock on the door, and find a seat. The show begins. Peggy invited Tim, a friend and film maker, to begin the night and he shows delicate, emotive footage of birds haunting a dusk sky. After, he hands out thin strips of paper adorned with a single question and asks us to answer out loud without using any of the words written on the slips. I answer: 'I was 12, I gave my best friend money to buy a bar of Snickers, grabbed one off the shelf and stepped outside the shop to wait for him to pay. When he walked out, he had a Mars bar and my Snickers in his other hand. We ran away'. Tim records our answer and hopes to stitch them into one long story. The applause dies down, Peggy introduces me and suddenly, it is my time to hold their attention.
I take the high chair close to the glass sliding doors and with my back to their garden, sit still and speak to them poetry. There are only two love poems in the book, I read one and watch as Peggy clutches Graham's hand on the counter and he responds, squeezing her's back. Anita on my left leans in. Caroline, an english language teacher sits up right in rapt attention and I carry on riding the silence, filtering it with the rhythm and musicality I try to pack into my poems, hoping each one settles where I aim. It is a leap of faith every time. Finally, I am done and sign books for those who have been moved. A older man comments how he never, ever, goes to these sorts of things, but he'd been trying to keep his mind open so he came, "and you have opened my mind" he says. Graham runs for London, the guests thin until Tim, Anita, Zoe and Vinita are left. We gather in the kitchen and talk of narratives, film, t.v. series and theatre. Tim and Anita talk for 30 minutes non stop about a show they saw at the Gulbenkian Theatre called 'Going Dark' about a man who works in a planetarium, who is going blind. I tell them the show was produced by Fuel who produce my theatre work and Tim and Anita say after hearing my poems, it makes perfect sense, they see how I fit in such a company.
Zoe is a human rights lawyer and I mention a casual interest in human rights violations resulting from climate change in developing countries and she lights, up describing a growth in funding research on that exact field of law. Soon it is midnight and such brings sleep.
I wake up late, and after a light breakfast of toasted muffin, opt to walk through the town of Whitstable. It is picturesque and I get the sense everyone knows everyone here. There are small shops and a hand-painted to quality to most of the shop signs. I nod across the street to an older gentleman and he nods back, walking by an Optometrist's whose lone employee wipes the window with genuine happiness. I think this odd, then I think it is odd that I think this is odd. I walk further out leaving the tight roads and slow bustle of the town, walk out to Whitstable harbour where the North Sea touches the beach. I'm at the edge of England, there is no land left. I play one song, 'Swim Good' by Frank Ocean and sing along into the cold fresh sea air. Then, I let Mos Def's 'New Danger' album run, remembering something a poet friend said about hip hop 'you have to extract it from the urban element that created it and let the countryside illustrate it' I quote that too often, and think it is true, but for the first time, I wonder if he'd missed something. Surely, the oceans and sea know us better than hills? We are 70% water it flows inside us and those watery, flowing blank canvases will contrast the constraints of concrete better than trees. I return to Peggy's to grab my things, thank her for her hospitality, for holding the Kent leg of the tour, and promise to keep in touch. Making for London, I wonder if I have it in me to write a batch of poems about how cities meet the seas. As if in response, Kent answers with a sign: