Richard Thompson wrote the song “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. Sandy Denny (in my view one of the greatest ever female singers), turned it into “I wish I was a fool for you again”.
A few of my poet friends have written and talked recently about the feeling of shame, and its involvement in the writing process.
Marianne Musgrove wrote about it on her blog:
Shame can block us from being creative. Being creative exposes us to criticism, reveals our vulnerability, our fear of rejection. A lot of poets I know, especially women it seems, devalue their work and / or don’t like to promote themselves. Yet to me, they are clearly incredibly talented poets.
Last night I competed in, and won the World Poetry Day Poetry Slam in Adelaide. I’ve placed in slams before and won minor competitions. But this is the first serious slam I’ve actually won.
I have my lovely niece, Catherine Ford, and her best friend Kate Lang, staying with me for two weeks, visiting from Cambridge, England. They’d never been to a poetry slam before. We’d spent the day cycling, and then rushed into town to catch the slam.
I did everything you’re not meant to do. I didn’t learn my poem. I hardly prepared at all. And then, during the pre-slam announcements, I changed my mind about the poem I would perform. What could possibly go wrong?
I ended up being relaxed and enjoying myself, which of course is how you always want to feel when you’re competing.
The reason I changed poems at the last minute, was that the wonderful M.C., Daniel Watson, mentioned that one of the drivers for slams was that audiences often found poetry boring; that slams are a way of getting audiences more involved in poetry. “Audience Involvement”. Aha! I have a piece called “Selfish Bastards” (written for Tracey Korsten’s “Word Box” event, which also encourages audience participation). I quickly dug out the words for it, from the little spiral bound journal I had with me. The audience were very participative, and I quickly had them all shouting “Selfish Bastards!” after every stanza of my poem. It was great fun.
What’s this got to do with shame and Sandy Denny? Maybe not much, except that I ended up winning the slam. Two of the five judges gave me 10/10. I won $100. All for an unrehearsed, unprepared poem that I read from the page.
That’s when a sort of shame feeling can jump out and grab you. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself saying things like: “It was just luck”,”I didn’t deserve to win”, “The judges got it wrong”, “It was a fluke”, “He / She deserved it more than me” etc.
These days I can recognise those voices for what they are, but certainly it’s something to watch out for. My generation was brought up “to be seen not heard”, to not brag or stand out from the crowd. The teachers (mostly priests or ex-priests) at the Catholic Boys’ Grammar school I attended, mostly told us over and over that we would never amount to much. When you’re young and impressionable, those messages can sink deep into your subconscious.
Winning can take some getting used to.I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done I’m sorry for the restless thief I’ve been
Please don’t make me pay for my deceiving heart
Just turn up your lamp and let me in
(Richard Thompson: "For Shame of Doing Wrong") copyright Mike Hopkins 2013