Paper Tiger Poetry, 19/11/2014, Tea House Theatre, £5/ free entry for open-mic.
Reviewed by David Turner
This quaint (sorry) former pub in Vauxhall, south London is one of the most divisive venues among poets I have spoken to. It is odd that poets spend so much time complaining about being forced to read in basements and similar spaces tucked away from the rest of society, yet when offered the chance of a five minute (free) open-mic slot in a perfectly pleasant location they suddenly find windows and high ceilings disagreeable. I really like the Tea House Theatre, it’s a much more relaxed space in which to read poetry than, say, the basement of The Poetry Café.
The interior is maybe a little too homely, decorated with un-matched chairs, oak side tables, bookcases and cakes. Loads of fucking cakes. They’re everywhere. Actually, talking of cake, here’s my first complaint. The ratio of sponge to cream in the Victoria sponge was completely wrong. If customers are to be expected to pay £4.50 for a slice of cake then the bakers should do the decent thing and not scrimp on the cream. While we’re on the subject of prices (or rather, while I’m shoe-horning it into the introduction here) I feel I should mention it costs £4.00 for a bottle of lager. Now this might seem like a minor point and of course the price of drinks and cake are decided by the venue, not by Paper Tiger Poetry, but these factors are very important when we’re trying to attract new audiences. Overpriced bottles of lager and Victoria sponge are likely to put off those thinking about giving a poetry night ‘a go’.
The evening was hosted, as always, by Alain English. Even by open-mic standards, Alain is a unique character. He hosted the entire evening wearing a top hat and eye mask, like some silent movie villain minus the cape and twirly moustache. It was a struggle for me, all night, not to imagine him tying a damsel in distress to a train track as an accompanying piano builds manically. Alain is always an entertaining host, though I do sometimes wonder whether we guests are attending the same night as him.
The open-mic slots rolled by entertainingly enough. With the usual disclaimer that “open-mics can be very hit and miss”, the standard here was very high. We had mentions of sex, love and loss. We had rap and laughs and some rambling nonsense in Norwegian by some twat attached to Lunar Poetry.
One stand out five minute slot was Richard Perkins. I’m always pleased to see Richard walk in at an open-mic night; he’s very entertaining. Richard is a gifted story teller, combining cutting honesty with the knowledge that one should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. ‘Nobody Ever Comes Anymore’ was a tale of drug-fuelled, marathon sex sessions beginning both beautifully and crudely, describing the frustrations of sex sans the physical “spunky payoff”. The story concluded that the maligned (in this case) act of ejaculation adds a level of intimacy to “cock-chafing-fucking”. I first saw Richard early in the summer and it’s great to see his stage persona and delivery beginning to match his writing ability.
The first feature act of the evening was the host of Talking To Strangers, Sarah Rayner. This was the first time I’d seen Sarah read and I was disappointed that the first thing she said was how sick she was feeling. I don’t have any suggestions of how else to deal with this but it is annoying when poets mention ill-health at the start of a set as it’s nearly impossible to not think “well this is going to be shit.” I know that performers want to pre-empt any potential stumbling over lines or lack of energy but maybe it’s best to apologise after your set rather than lowering the audience’s expectations.
Sarah performed around ten poems in her fifteen minute set. Just about all of these poems were about boys. Boys she loves, boys she’s loved, boys she doesn’t like anymore, boys she now thinks are cunts, boys she thought were cunts yet still loved. Boys. I don’t normally like this kind of poetry and I don’t think I did like it all but I did enjoy Sarah’s set. Parts were very well written and funny but her delivery is a bit mumbly, something she mumbled about herself. Of the poems not about boys, ‘When You Open Your Eyes’ addressed a newborn niece or nephew and touchingly promised the little one she would “give you the sky”. She finished her set with a poem about vegetables seducing other vegetables. Yep, she did.
The evening was wrapped up by the host of Spoken Word London, Pat Cash. I should mention straight off that I bloody love Pat. He is probably my favourite poet to watch, live around London, and I’ll endeavour not to gush too much in my description of his set. Pat began with ‘Couldn’t Get It Up’, a tale of failing to get an erection when the occasion arises and blaming drink, drugs or location before realising that it’s actually the feelings he has toward the other guy that’s inhibiting his arousal: “in the end I just liked you too much.” ‘Ode To A One-night Stand’ talked of the spark and excitement of a one-night stand followed by the despair of the morning after and trying to wash the memory of that person from your skin. Although, every now and again they turn out to be quite nice leaving you to face the embarrassment of asking “what’s your name again?”
Pat’s final poem ‘The Dragon’ is similar to Richard’s tale of drug-fuelled sex, specifically in the gay community, a subject that Pat also often refers to in his journalism. This is an extremely painful poem about the damage these types of drugs can have on people both physically and emotionally, though finished with hope, “There still yet might exist an irresistible will for love.” One criticism of Pat’s delivery is also a reason I think he’s so great. The guy sounds permanently on the verge of tears, meaning that no matter the subject of his poetry you’re always waiting for the ‘inevitable’ tragedy. Pat is incredibly engaging, you must go and see him.
My name is David and I fucking hate poetry and over-priced cake.