I recently attended a reading by Bulgarian poets in room 65 of Sofia’s St Clement of Ohrid University, which was to commemorate a similar reading that took place in the same room in 1989, at the time of the (much lamented) changes. Each poet was given a five-minute slot to read a poem or two, which meant after an hour we had only got through about six or seven poets, each of whom had read poems dating from the 1980s plus some of their more recent work fresh off the pages in front of them. Give a poet a microphone and an audience and most feel the need to introduce themselves, introduce the poem (despite the maxim that a good poem needs no introduction), and the compère was left struggling to move things on at the pace he’d intended. But the image that has stuck in my mind is that of the three poets who attempted to recite their poems off by heart, from memory, without referring to the (visible or invisible) page in front of them. Without exception, they ground to a halt halfway through the poem and started gaping as they struggled to remember the next line. Some of the audience threw up their arms in consternation. One poet even substituted the words “I don’t know what” for the words that had gone missing. Which makes me wonder how far we are in control of the words we bandy about daily and sometimes inscribe in poems. Poets like fish, gaping. Waiting for the words that don’t come.