Utter! Space, 16/7/14

Utter! Space, Wednesday, July 16th, Star of Kings, King’s Cross, £5 early entry / £7.50 after 7pm

Reviewed by Paul McMenemy [Originally published in LP1, August 2014]

We have already featured the Utter! Spoken Word History night on our website, so we realise we risk the appearance of favouritism (or persecution, depending on your viewpoint) by covering another Utter! event here; but how could Lunar Poetry resist a night themed around the Solar System?

On a night featuring fourteen poets, space, ironically, is limited, so I can only give you the highlights. The poets each represented a celestial body, beginning with Pluto and the Kuyper Belt objects, as portrayed by Chella Quint.

This was a fun and engaging start to the show. Quint appeared in the character of an awkward but enthusiastic drama student performing a three act play (with interpretive dance interlude and omnisciently narrated epilogue) depicting Pluto’s demotion from the status of planet. Act I involved a dramatic (very) reading of the found poem of a 1950s science textbook. This was followed by the interpretive dance to the Swan Lake Theme, which, due to technical difficulties, was at first sung by the audience (a room full of people doo-do-do-do-do-do-dooo-do-doooing is rather a wonderful thing). Finally, in a flurry of props, including an orrery (sans Pluto; Quint as Pluto slowly counting the spheres was both hilarious and genuinely a bit heartbreaking), Quint assumed the characters of Pluto reading his demotion letter, and various Desparate Housewivish Kuyper Belt objects welcoming him to their solar suburb.

James McKay rescued Uranus from the slew of puns aimed at it over the night. Instead he gave a thoughtful history of “Uranians” – gentleman homosexuals of the nineteenth century – in, as he reminded us several times, dactylic hexameter – a suitably Greek measure.

Jamie D. Huxley employed the Hitchhiker’sish device of a pre-recorded computer-voiced encyclopedia entry, played over spacey synth music, which effectively undercut the text of the poem, describing why Saturn was the hirsute planet (I forget the exact reason, now): this dissociation of the computer-generated (female) voice from the comic material it read over the atmospheric soundtrack produced a rather nice dissonance in the audience.

This odd atmosphere was picked up on by Kirsten Irving, whose Jupiter poems, most effectively of all the night’s, captured the stunning loneliness of space, the surreal conceits of her poems broken into by lines of unexpected emotional force. It is hard to give an adequate example: a poem describing Jupiter as a vast childish all-consuming glutton suddenly dropping the line “Jupiter is too large to ever know a woman” might give you some idea. For a better idea, see p. 6, and the fantastic lunar poem with which she ended her set.

Daisy Thurston-Gent won the Paid Gig contest, but a special mention should go to Frog Morris, for his elaborate homemade spacesuit and his unswerving dedication to writing poems about beer. My own favourite was probably Dave Charles’s ‘Complete History of the Moon in 16½ Verses’, which suffered a little from some heavily dumped rhymes, but showed a lot of invention.

Host Richard Tyrone Jones’s Martian (but not ‘Martian’) poem was aptly belligerent, featuring repeated bellowed lines from Total Recall (“the Arnie version, obviously”). Amy McAllister’s Venutian poem, the crowd’s favourite, started by dismantling the perpetually objectified goddess and her association with the sulphuric, broiling planet, and went on from there, managing the tricky combination of being righteously, politically angry and also, you know, good.

Keith Jarrett’s Mercury rose with an aptly heat-hazy story of a fever-dreamt episode of A Place in the Sun, in which the bickering couple house-hunt on the smallest planet. He then moved on to some of the most powerful spoken word I have ever seen. I realise this is a dereliction of the reviewer’s duty, but I will simply say: if you have never seen him before, do so at the first available opportunity – put this magazine down, find the nearest computer and look him up (make sure you type in “Keith Jarrett poet” otherwise you’ll get the jazz pianist – who is also very good, but not what you are looking for at this moment).

Before the sun we got the second irruption of Dan Simpson’s “haiku comet”, whose last piece, like Irving’s, captured the eerie desolation of space and its effectiveness, when used subtly, as a metaphor for emotional isolation. Simpson, like Quint, used the whole potential of the performative environment – he orbited the room eccentrically all night, before eventually being shot by the sun’s gravity out of the room in a straight line, reading his last piece, climbing over chairs, into the cold void of the Oort Cloud (the front bar). His first piece, a reversioning of The Smiths’ ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ with only a few words changed (girlfriend/comet, serious/Sirius, her/Earth, she’ll pull through/I’ll burn up), only worked because of the conviction of his reading, turning a silly joke (a coma is the gaseous haze surrounding the comet’s core) into a surprisingly affecting story about celestial (and earthbound) love.

It had been a long hot night, and perhaps Simon Barraclough’s sun was a star too far for some of the audience, his multifarious takes suffering from short poem palsy (“Is that it?” “I don’t know – I think so.” “We should applaud” “This next poem is about…”), but I would watch him again, and watch any show as inventive and in love with ideas as Utter! Space.

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