Strange goings-on in the old chapel

Never trust a man who reads his poetry aloud. There is no telling what else he may be capable of.

I did not say that. Someone else did, but I have not been able to recall who it was, and my research has failed to uncover it. But it seems to me a fair point.

So there is no telling what I may be capable of, because I do read my poetry aloud – mainly in Suffolk.

I know that my home city, Norwich, is a UNESCO city of literature and has a proud heritage. But it is Suffolk poetry groups that have mainly invited me to read, and last week I found myself in Walpole Old Chapel, near Halesworth, doing just that.

In Suffolk I have read in various places: a café and a library in Halesworth, a theatre in Lowestoft and the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket. I have also read in Bantry, Ireland, and several venues – mainly large houses and the odd church – in Norfolk. But Suffolk seems to be the centre at the moment, and Walpole Old Chapel is the kind of bizarre event that you could not make up.

Each year large numbers of mainly Suffolk poets are invited to Walpole on a summer Sunday afternoon to read their “three finest poems” – a euphemistic phrase employed by the admirable organiser (and fine poet) Mike Bannister.

This year we could tell by the number of cars parked down a grassy lane opposite that many poets had flocked to the scene. This was good and bad. The bad was that with a large number of poets all reading three poems, it did not take a genius to work out that it would be a long session.

And I was on last.

The building is a poem in itself: an early nonconformist chapel preserved with all its idiosyncratic gated stalls and most of the original dust; two pulpits (of which the higher was considered too dangerous); and a gallery with creaking stairs.

The event started at just after 5pm and lasted (with a break for refreshments) until well after 8.30, with dusk turning rapidly into night. Someone found an electric light, and the last three of us managed to complete the performance. But not before a bird flew into the building and could not find its way out: so there was a counter-attraction as it flew swiftly and anxiously from one end of the ceiling to the other.

Still, despite the chill in the air and the wearying limbs, it was a privilege to be there. The bird was eventually freed to fly, and so were we. I shall undoubtedly be back in Suffolk soon. Trust me.