In an intimate theater near his childhood home in Liverpool, England, Paul McCartney did something yesterday (March 21) he had never done before -- he gave a public reading of his poetry.

In an intimate theater near his childhood home in Liverpool, England, Paul McCartney did something yesterday (March 21) he had never done before -- he gave a public reading of his poetry.

In the smooth voice that has wooed millions over the four decades since the Beatles first played the Cavern Club, McCartney read selections from "Blackbird Singing," an anthology of 48 poems and song lyrics covering his time with the Fab Four and his solo career.

"This is my first ever poetry reading, and I'm not in the least bit nervous, of course," McCartney joked as he took the stage.

The poems span McCartney's life, from early memories of Liverpool to the 1980 murder of John Lennon to the loss of his wife Linda to breast cancer in 1998. He also recited the lyrics to the Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and ended the reading with an audience-participation rendition of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"

McCartney was meant to be a surprise guest in a lineup of three other poets -- Tom Pickard, Willy Russell, and Adrian Mitchell, who edited "Blackbird Singing." "Paul wanted a group of people who wanted to see poetry -- not him," said the press officer for Liverpool's Everyman Theater, which hosted the event.

McCartney was offered readings at the Royal National Theater in London, the Oxford Union, and the Los Angeles Festival of Books, but preferred to launch the book with a hometown gig, according to a representative for McCartney. "He said, 'If I'm going to do this, I want to do it in Liverpool first,'" the rep said.

McCartney said he started writing poetry after the 1993 death of childhood pal Ivan Vaughan, the friend who introduced him to John Lennon. "Ivan was my best friend from my school days and when he died that started me off writing poetry. Instead of writing a song I felt that this was the time to write a poem. It felt appropriate," he said.

The former Beatle said he was not worried about the critics' response to his poems. "The critics are always mixed with me," he said. "I always say they sharpen their pencils when they see me coming. But I don't care, you know, they criticized 'Sgt. Pepper' and look what happened to that."

"Blackbird Singing" is scheduled for April 24 release in the U.S. The artist is also working on a new solo album, which may be released by year's end. In addition, "Wingspan," a two-disc anthology of his work with his post-Beatles group Wings, will be released May 8 on MPL/Capitol and will be accompanied by a TV special of the same name directed by McCartney's 31-year-old daughter Mary, to air on ABC in the U.S.

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