The seat in the second row turned out to be directly behind the three writers, who made their way in turn to the stage to read. The proximity to them was strange, simultaneously public and behind-the-scenes (one moment looking at the reader, the next looking over their shoulder).
The elder poet had just published his Collected Poems and was unashamedly delighted with it. He brandished it, weighed it, grasped it with both hands, read from it an elegy, a humorous poem, a long poem based on an incident in the Trojan war, and a love poem to his wife, who was in the audience.
The emerging poet read the kind of poems you want to see on the page as you hear them. She read some risky, erotic work, her shoulders rising and falling in quick breaths.
The mid-career poet, recently returned from living overseas, read from his poems and plays and spoke impassionedly about the theatre. His texts exhibited a high degree of control, and his voice and body language suggested something held back (on words like ‘country’, a slightly swallowed initial syllable; his hands despairing in his hair). When he returned to his seat, the elder poet reached over and touched his arm – a gesture of appreciation, or reassurance, or both – and he jumped.
The reading ended, the audience applauded. The two men shook hands, and each kissed the woman on the cheek.