Wild Poetry Mashup, Passing Clouds, Dalston, London, 22/03/16

Wild Poetry Mashup, Passing Clouds, Dalston, London, 22/03/16, £4 entry

Reviewed by Tim Kiely

[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]

Originality is overrated. Most of the bad poetry I’ve come across tends to be fatally unaware of its own place within the evolving traditions of poetry. Which particular tradition is not important – whether contemporary spoken word, Medieval French romances or ancient Indian lesbian love-poetry – bad poets are unaware of their poetic habitat; they crash through into cliché and self-importance, thinking as they do that nobody has ever said anything like this before.

Good poetry, or good artistic work of any kind, flourishes in a community. Artists need other artists to riff on, respond to, critique and challenge and illuminate their own craft. It’s one of the reasons why I am fascinated by the idea of poets reading, and responding to, one another’s work.

You can therefore understand that I was really quite excited to be given a chance to see how something like this would look, as promised by the main event of the March meeting of the Fine Lines Society, ‘The Wild Poetry Mashup’, a night dedicated to poets swapping work with, and then performing the work of, their fellows.

I don’t intend to dwell for too long on the other open mic and feature slots for both poets and musicians, as fun as those were: special praise in particular is due to Hannah Gordon and Shadé Joseph for their arresting, poised performances. But in the event, these two poets also stand out to me because, with their intensely individual personae, dwelling as they did, often beautifully, on subjects which were clearly rooted in their own experiences, everything from losing touch with old friends to being on the edges of a community mourning a death by shooting, they provided an excellent launching-point into the Mashup itself. The London spoken word scene is full of voices just as particular as those of Shadé or Hannah. What would happen to them in someone else’s mouth?

Firstly, an event like this seems to cement the status of spoken word poetry as a modern form of folk-art, intimately involved in the life of its community to the point where members of the audience can call out lines to particular well-known numbers. When Jake Wild Hall performed the work of The Repeat Beat Poet, you believed that crowd when they told you “I don’t believe in –isms, I just believe in me!”. The tone was as exalted and, in places, as political as you would hope for.

But while it is undeniably a lot of fun to take part in a bit of the angry leftish call-and-response that I imagine forms the stuff of the Daily Express’s fevered nightmares – “When I say ‘Fuck’, you say ‘George Osborne’!” – I also couldn’t help but feel that this only gestured towards the real potential of a night like this. What would happen, I wondered, if the act of placing the poem in the hands of another poet, with a profoundly different voice and approach to performance, managed to bring out a whole new side to it?

Alexander Woodward, for example, with his basso profundo pitch and studied gravity of tone, managed to bring a whole new surgical examination of the self-serving sexism which forms the target of Rachel Nwokoro’s ‘How Much?’. Dean McKee took a homoerotic hymn of Natasha Gilbert’s, playing with Wordsworth’s vision of a Westminster sunrise even as it delved into the ‘underground passages’ of the persona’s dedicatee, and pull an even greater joy out of it through his grinning subversion of heteronormative, gender-binary societal norms. Some poets even made explicit acknowledgements of their indebtedness to other forms of verbal art, particularly rap and hip-hop, with the Repeat Beat himself performing Spike Zepheniah Stephenson’s ‘Down to a Tea’ (itself replete with cheeky references to the work of Doc Brown) to an audience-accompaniment of the beat from Cypress Hill’s ‘Insane in the Membrane’.  But beyond simply referencing their influences in other media, a few poets actually managed to pull off a bona fide adaptation, a re-modelling and re-imagining, of what had gone before.

Such was the case with Natasha Gilbert’s rendition of Iris Colomb’s ‘Let’s Play’, in an arrangement she had composed on the guitar to be, at least partially, sung. It was a testament to the care she had taken over the original work, as well as to Iris’ own poetic voice, that the echo of the original’s delivery could be discerned even for those, like me, who had never previously heard this poem. What emerged in the ‘lyrics’ was the shape of what sounded, to me, like a poem which read simply with the unaccompanied voice could have been much pacier, almost breathless, taking advantage of both the hard-following rhythm and the exuberant activity alluded to in the language:

Let’s play…
You be the river,
and I’ll be the bridge….
You be Time
and I’ll be Space…

In Natasha’s hands, the flexibility offered by the guitar chords, together with her own powerful delivery, stretched and expanded these lines into room-filling reverberations which seemed to want the game never to end. Both music and poetry were fully utilised in a way which underscored the strength and uniqueness of each. It was this kind of muscular, imaginative response to the work which made Natasha, in my view, one of the strongest performers of the night, and an exciting sign of what we might expect from such events in the future.

I dearly hope both that Spike and the Fine Lines Society continue to host events of this kind, and that other nights begin to try out something like the ‘mashup’ experiments which they began on that night. Amid all the usual larks one has come to expect from a night of high-energy poetry performance, there was something extra about it which I want to see develop further. It hinted at the possibility of a new bend in the river, a new current of the T.S. Eliot’s capital-T ‘Tradition’, a poetry confident and comingling with the wider universe of art and society. This, if you happen to think like me, is incredibly exciting.

Edinburgh Round-Up, 2015

Edinburgh Festival 2015 Round-Up                        

Sean Wai Keung 

[Originally published in LP8, March 2016]

The Edinburgh Fringe is internationally renowned for being home to some of the most cutting edge artists working in almost all forms – from dance to visual art to theatre to spoken word. Of course, cutting edge does not necessarily mean ‘good’. From the most mainstream of the mainstream right down to the most experimental collaborations imaginable, the Fringe is the place to both try out new things and to entertain audiences with old material. Naturally, reviewers are the heart of all of this (OK, maybe not the heart – but a kidney or two at least), and as such I spent my Fringe seeing as much spoken word and poetry as was humanly possible. Unfortunately I still wasn’t able to see it all, and apologies to all the artists and shows I simply couldn’t get to, but what I did see renewed my faith in the possibilities of spoken word as a form.

My first venue is the Banshee Labyrinth, something of a home to many spoken word artists throughout the Fringe. Consisting of three to four event rooms, a cinema, a sizable drinking area and a well-stocked bar, the dark, dingy pub seems a rather fitting place for poets to gather. Tina Sederholm’s The Good Delusion starts the afternoon off well. While mostly biographical, Sederholm focuses her life story around ideas of balance – the balance between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘public’ and ‘private’, ‘reality’ and ‘expectation’. She manages to show off her skills as a performer by engaging with the audience, and to discuss her ideas without any form of preaching, all while maintaining an engaging narrative. While not the most original of topics, her personal perspective is definitely fresh enough to make it seem new – after all, who else could realistically discuss the disappointment of meeting a real life princess as opposed to an imagined one?

Next is Harry Baker and The Sunshine Kid. Baker is by now well-renowned for his performative energy and pun-heavy poetry, and The Sunshine Kid is no exception. The show serves as a great introduction to anyone unfamiliar with his back catalogue of performances and he works the crowd well in the moments between fan favourites such as Paper People and The Scientist and the Bumblebee. Precisely because of this, those who are already familiar with his work may leave disappointed at the lack of new material or any real linear thread between each poem, but the fact remains that Baker is a master at what he does, and what he does will light up even the dingiest of rooms.

The George Next Door venue is almost the exact opposite of the Banshee. Consisting of a series of connected rooms (all of which are in various states of decay and/or construction), it’s the complete stereotypical Fringe venue, with horrible acoustics and fourth/fifth-hand sound systems to boot. Which also makes it a great place to see Liam McCormick’s Govanhell, a show all about the Govanhill district of Glasgow and McCormick’s relationship to it. As someone who had never heard of Govanhill before, it’s a testament to McCormick’s poetry that by the end I feel a real connection to the place despite not ever being there. McCormick’s performance style is shouty, fast-paced and vitriolic, yet he manages to balance this with calm moments of narrative, humour and statistics, showing a real skill in terms of creating a spoken word ‘show’ as opposed to simply a longer spoken word ‘set’. Govanhell is a real triumph for those who enjoy seeing the dark places of the world lit up, briefly.

California Scheming by Clare Ferguson-Walker is in the same venue but also wildly different. Focusing around the expectations/reality of an artsy trip to California as seen through the eyes of the Wales based poet, Ferguson-Walker masterfully weaves humour through what could have been a serious, pretentious subject. Poets writing/performing about their travels is often done badly, but Ferguson-Walker uses her travelling as a method of exploration into the similarities and differences between Wales and California, especially in terms of their individual perspectives on art and the place of the ‘artist’ in society. At times her relentless rhymes and rhythms run dangerously close to becoming stale, but it is at these moments that she breaks away and either addresses her audience directly or drops a funny aside, keeping everyone in the room entertained. Truly wonderful.

Much further out from the city than most of the other venues, Clerks Bar claims to be the ‘home of spoken word’ for the Fringe. It’s a much classier bar in terms of decor, with some of the most comfortable chairs imaginable, but still suffers from a bad background noise problem. This is unfortunately a real issue with Dreamscape Wanderer by Mike Galsworthy, who asks his audience to close their eyes for his entire show, before beginning a meditative, surreal story based in the land of dreams and accompanied by a backing track of complimentary sounds. As a Fringe spoken word show, it’s a brave and interesting experiment, and I imagine that in a quieter setting it would work much better. Galsworthy’s rhythm, use of voice and the aforementioned soundscape work incredibly well as a poetic force and create an atmospheric narrative somewhere between spoken word, storytelling and guided meditation – when not interrupted by the shouts and noise from the bar upstairs. Despite this, I leave Dreamscape Wanderer looking forward to seeing it again in a different setting, but still having enjoyed my time away from the real world, if only for a little while.

Also at Clerks I have the pleasure of seeing Is This Poetry? – a collaborative show by Andrew Blair and Ross McCleary. Is This Poetry? still suffers from the bar noise but not to the same extent, especially for the shouting bundle of energy which is Ross McCleary. McCleary goes from standing still and shaking on stage to crawling over tables to standing on chairs at the back of the audience, all while shouting much of his poetry, and all while the much more laidback Andrew Blair simply stands in a corner looking slightly confused and lost, delivering his own brand of dry, magical poetry. Their interactions with each other are just as good as their individual pieces, which all lie under the umbrella of asking what exactly poetry, especially Edinburgh poetry, is and/or isn’t. They make fun of poets, poetry, spoken word, slams, artists, the Scottish, the English and themselves, to the point where the answer to the titular question no longer matters – as long as the asking is fun (which it really is). Is This Poetry? is definitely one of the highlights of the Fringe.

Another highlight is In Case We Disappear by Toronto-based Vanessa Smythe at Moriarty’s. Smythe is one of those rare performers who can get away with being sincere, witty, powerful and moving all at the same time. She focuses on the abilities and inabilities of communication – the true and false connections made during life, utilising all the possibilities of spoken word as a form to convey these discussions. She goes from singing to speaking to silence and beyond, and everything she does bristles with meaning, partly through her actions and expressions, partly through her words and rhythms. Her poems range from narrative to one half of a conversation to heartfelt messages to loved ones, all while using simple language to convey honest, real emotion. In Case We Disappear is one of those shows which I will smile about for years to come.

For every incredibly personal show, there is an incredibly political show. Politics has always played a role in spoken word, and one of the most overt examples of this is Money is as Innocent as the Gun by Geoff Winde. Winde tackles the subject of finance well, intertwining narrative, agenda and pure language to explore the absurdity of money in a playful, calm manner. This is done most successfully during the segments of pure language, where repeated words and semantic shifts blur into a whirlwind of confusion for both artist and audience. However, about halfway through, Winde seems to run out of things to really ‘say’, and it feels like he’s repeating his message again and again, only in slightly different ways. Structurally, his beginning and ending are masterful in their subtle introduction and conclusion, but somewhere during the middle I became lost in his unclear message – money causes problems, yes, but what does that mean we should do?

On the other hand, Hannah Chutzpah’s Asking Nicely is much less subtle in terms of political exploration, but also much easier to follow thematically. Chutzpah tackles the big topics of permission, responsibility and societal roles (gender, sexuality, class, age) with great enthusiasm, utilising images to create a very low-tech poetry power-point which works well with her natural warm charisma. While not necessarily doing or saying anything ground-breaking or new, Asking Nicely still feels very necessary in terms of modern political topics, but still contains enough personality to carry weight as a single unified show. Chutzpah’s poetry can sometimes fall into very similar repeated rhythms, but she manages to add enough humour and wit to her content that her delivery avoids becoming stale.

All in all, the 2015 Fringe was a huge success for the spoken word scene. It showcased a wide variety of styles and themes from all over the world, in all different kinds of venues. As well as the individual shows, Banshee Labyrinth hosted a nightly Hammer & Tongue event, as well as special one-off Say Owt Slam and the always-worth-seeing Anti-Slam, where great poets do purposefully bad poems in the name of pure fun. The Scottish Storytelling Centre housed the Loud Poets, showcasing some of the most talented spoken word artists imaginable, and Chiquito featured Poets Against Humanity – where, amongst other poems, Gatwick by Craig Raine was improved considerably through the replacing certain phrases with others taken from the game ‘Cards Against Humanity’. Nights like these were not only fun and relaxed, but also provided a welcome break for poets and poetry fans from every walk of life against the madness of the Fringe. If anyone still believes that writers have to work in isolation, or that poetry and spoken word is a dying or dead form, I dare them to experience the Edinburgh Festival and not have their minds changed.

Claire Trévien, The Shipwrecked House, Rich Mix/Canada Water Culture Space, London

Claire Trévien, The Shipwrecked House, Rich Mix, Shoreditch, 21st September; Canada Water Culture Space, 13th November, £10/8

Reviewed by Lizzy Palmer and Paul McMenemy

[Originally published in LP6/7, Jan/Feb 2015]

We saw this show at different venues about a month apart. The venues were fairly similar, small theatre spaces with tiered seating and a floor-level stage. On both occasions there were around thirty to forty people in the audience. As far as we can work out there were no obvious differences between the performances, with one possible exception which we’ll come to later.

PM: To start with the staging – there was an awful lot of stuff on the stage, which was set up originally to look like the inside of an old house strewn with furniture, boxes and suitcases covered with dustsheets; there were also various bits and pieces hanging from the ceiling from ropes and strings. In some parts, when Trévien was moving between the various props the whole thing reminded me of an oversized Fisher Price Activity Centre, with things being pushed, pulled, swung all over the place.

EP: It was an intriguing way to begin the performance. I felt drawn in quite quickly to the setting through Trévien’s moving through and interaction with the objects on the set, with the sense of nostalgia and rediscovered memory building strongly.

PM: All this stuff on the stage quickly told the audience that this was going to be a performance and not a reading. There is the possibility that the stage was somewhat cluttered, but everything on stage was used in the performance.

EP: The set was well-utilised throughout the piece, but I think after the initial setting of the atmosphere I found the amount of movement became distracting. Then again, it was supposed to be a performance, rather than a straight-up poetry reading! I had not read Trévien’s poetry before seeing the show, so I had no expectations regarding the transformation of the poetry into such a performance.

PM: In fact, it actually takes a little time before we get to the first spoken words of the performance, and even then, they initially come from what sounds like an old Linguaphone tape, which asks a number of standard language learning questions (How old are you? Do you have any brothers or sisters? etc.) to which Trévien replies. I thought this was a nice way of, on the one hand, bringing variety to the staging, and on the other, setting up some very basic back information without things feeling too forced. Of course, as this initial exchange is mostly in French, it ensures that things aren’t too straight-forward.

EP: From the beginning things felt quite ambiguous. I imagine this was deliberate, tying in with the themes of memory and nostalgia (and reminding us of their potential unreliability), and though the hints of dread and the unsettled did not emerge until later on, the feeling of not being quite comfortable in this new environment happened quite quickly for me.

PM: You’re right, the whole thing was rather disorienting, between the cluttered set, Trévien’s constant movement around the stage, the sound design and the language itself. There was an interesting point fairly early on in the piece where the soundtrack is used very effectively, I think – Trévien has been reminiscing about her grandmother’s house, at first in a fairly innocent, rose-tinted sort of a way, but slowly, sinister music begins to undercut this. For a few lines this seems jarring – the language remains sunny, although the performance seems less sure, doubt creeping into Trévien’s voice, and I started to worry that the stagecraft was doing all the work – but then the similes start to go awry, subtly, and the feeling of unease comes to the front.

EP: Yes, this moment served as something of a meeting of the disparate elements, and provided the beginnings of an answer for the odd sense of unease that had been creeping in. I think this held together well as the tension ramped up – the music became louder and more dramatic, and Trévien began to speak more urgently, eventually shouting her lines over the soundtrack – however, I found that, after a while, there was perhaps too much going on, and I struggled to hear the words over the stormy sounds – as the show was based explicitly on Trevien’s poetry, I thought it wasn’t ideal that a lot of the language was missed.

PM: Well, this brings us to the question of who exactly the work is for. As you say, in the ‘storm’ sections some of the words were drowned out, possibly intentionally. For those attending based on Trévien’s reputation as a poet, this might seem rather odd. In fact, although odd excerpts of the collection the show is based on do appear – with poems or parts of poems for the most part seamlessly elided into the narrative, this was very much a show rather than a recital. So, then, was it intended to reach a wider audience – a theatre audience rather than a ‘poetry audience’? If so, I’m not sure how well it succeeded – I can only go on the few people I spoke to before and after, but I suspect most of the audience had, if you like, poetry expectations.

EP: I suppose it depends on Trévien’s intentions regarding who she wished to reach, and one would assume that by extending her work into other forms she might be attempting to expand her audience. Perhaps my standpoint, in coming to see the show in order to write a review for a poetry magazine, meant that I was expecting too much from the poetry context. My viewpoint is perhaps even biased in terms of what I would expect a show based on poetic work to be!

I think I would have benefited from reading Trévien’s collection prior to viewing her show, and I would maybe have acquired more of an understanding of exactly what was being communicated through the language.

On this point, I found I was often lost during sequences due to my not being able to grasp the meaning of a lot of the passages. The imagery was at times beautiful (“her voice sinks like a coin to the ocean floor” and “my mother twists her ring like a weathervane” stand out) but got lost for me among the more surreal and seemingly nonsensical parts. Perhaps this was intentional in terms of the themes of chaos and the misremembered, but I was disappointed at not being given the chance to really get ‘stuck in’ to the language after having being drawn in so well by the initial setting up of the show’s backdrop.

I think the overall problem I had was that, considering the fact that the show was based on the concepts of memory, childhood and nostalgia, and that these themes are based on the personal and subjective, I didn’t feel drawn in quite enough – in other words, I didn’t feel that the audience was made to care enough. A person’s experience and memory is, of course, an exclusive thing (whether or not what we saw in the show was based on autobiographical truth is another matter), but I have to wonder how far we ought to be made to care and invest if we are coming along to view a performance set deliberately around these themes.

PM: I found myself more invested in the performance than I think you did, and I found the themes extremely interesting – as you say, there was a lot about memory and its inherent tricksiness – at the point I mentioned earlier we get the feeling that something bad happened in the house, but it’s not made clear what, or whether it was a real or imagined thing, or if the dreadful thing is simply the fact of no longer being a child, and looking back on the time that’s passed with a certain horror. Perhaps the horrific thing is a loss of belonging – Trévien is a Breton poet writing in English, living in England – her cultural identity is one of the things adrift in this performance. Nationality and nostalgia come together in the third main theme, myth.

So there were lots of evocative moments, and the whole thing, I think, was supposed to have a somewhat dreamlike quality where action consists of discrete moments rather than a through-composed plot. One instance of this was the use of perfume in some performances: I believe this was used in the performance you saw, but I don’t think it was – at least I didn’t notice it – in mine. Scent is of course a shortcut to memory and the emotions.

Similarly, you said you were not “drawn in”, and there seemed to be an intentional resistance to this in the script. We agreed earlier that this was a performance, not a recital, but it is also very clearly a performance as opposed to a story: we are rarely allowed to forget the artificiality of what is going on – at one point Trévien moves to the side of the stage to comment on the action – on herself, or her character. This is something that I really enjoyed about the performance, but if we go back to this issue of intended audience it raises another question. Audiences expecting a more traditional spoken word show will be distracted by the elements of theatre, but theatre audiences would have a hard time with the lack of a linear – or really, any – narrative.

I think this means the show is rather a unique thing and should certainly be seen for oneself, however I do agree that these elements do mean it is only an intermittently immersive experience. I suppose it depends, ultimately, on what you are looking for: if you want a stimulating experience unlike anything else you are likely to see on a stage anytime soon, with interesting themes explored via beautifully inventive language and arresting stagecraft, then I would recommend this. If you are looking for any one thing in particular – to hear poetry, to see a play, to be carried along by a narrative and identifiable characters, then possibly this is not for you.

503Fusions, Theatre 503, London

503Fusions, Theatre 503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW; 15th, 16th and 17th January 2015, 7:45pm, £12/£10

Reviewed by Zozi (15th Jan)

[Originally published in LP6/7, Jan/Feb 2015]

503Fusions is a lovely Frankenstein’s monster: a sequence of four themed mini-plays by four poets, each work containing elements of spoken word, jazz, rap, musical theatre and storytelling. The audience are taken on an impressionistic voyage through London, from dusk to dawn. It’s a real privilege to see the poets Karis Halsall, Tommy Sissons, Gemma Rogers and Deanna Rodger come together for this: they’re a sharp, cool, star-bright group, and it’s clear that they’re relishing every moment.

The space is a pub theatre – simple and unpretentious (the packed-out house and enthusiastic audience response suggests that this work could be taken elsewhere, perhaps to Edinburgh). Karis Halsall, who also curated 503Fusions, opens the evening with her piece Night. This is a dynamic work about loneliness and loss, which is suited to Halsall’s engaging physicality. The character she portrays – her shoulders up, hands in the pockets of her overlarge coat, as though apologising for her presence on stage – instantly captures the audience’s sympathy, but she holds our attention with some pointed and beautifully delivered lines. “Time is not data,” she declares, “it cannot be archived/it cannot be stored/it can only be lived.”

Tommy Sissons follows with his work Day, which introduces more hopeful overtones, whilst picking up on the dark themes in Night. This made for a change of tone mid-poem which was jarring at first, but it delivered the message. In contrast with the other three poets, who were all acting out personas or storytelling to some degree, the second half of Sissons’ poem was a straight-down-the-line elegy: he spoke out for young people who have been lost to violence or suicide, and expressed hope that a brighter future can be created for London’s youth. Sissons, who was 2014 UK Slambassador Champion, is another confident and engaging performer, and his chemistry with his backup band Normanton Street was certainly fun to watch.

The most musically sparkling piece of the evening was Gemma Rogers’s. Rogers has a charming stage presence, and it’s no surprise to find out she’s a regular at Glastonbury. A perky figure in large glasses, she is an accomplished musician and poet who can switch seamlessly from performing poetry, to rapping, to singing with a ukulele – and it sounds great, especially with the backup of Nick Rogers, Dominic Kennedy and Thomas Hammond. It’s wonderful to hear music, storytelling and poetry being whizzed together with such eccentric, bolshy virtuosity (move over, John Hegley).

Rogers’s piece Day is a one-woman musical that combines rap, spoken word, ukulele anthems and campy piano ballads; the audience clearly adored it, although sometimes I worried that the musical fun was overwhelming the narrative instead of moving it forward. Steve Harper’s direction holds the piece together, however, and the ending is a sweet and audience-pleasing resolution.

Deanna Rodger completes the evening with Night II. I’ve seen Rodger’s work before, but I’m always surprised afresh by how versatile an artist she is: her work has so many shades and moods, and expresses a wide range of emotions and concepts. Her poetry is always packed with facts, thoughts and ideas, but it’s always accessible and relatable. Rodger has a vibrant physical presence, which she uses to full effect: no facial expression or movement is wasted. Night II is the standout of the evening, with its meditation on light: “the sun cannot defeat London”, Rodger declares. “God made us in her image/so we are God/and we make lights/great lights.”

My takeaway is that we’re all blessed to be in a renaissance of spoken word poetry, where poets can pull off beautiful and daring experiments like 503Fusions. It’s easy to forget that spoken word poetry has previously been seen as inaccessible and irrelevant. My only complaint is that 503Fusions ran for three nights only – but let’s hope this won’t be the last we will see of it.

Fen Speak, Friends’ Meeting House, King’s Lynn

Fen Speak, 28/11/2014, Friends’ Meeting House, King’s Lynn, Free entry though donations are encouraged

Reviewed by David Turner

[Originally published in LP6/7, Jan/Feb 2015]

Fen Speak is a monthly open-mic evening which alternates between venues in Ely and Wisbech. This latest instalment took place in King’s Lynn as part of ‘Fen Speak on Tour’.

When I spoke to Lunar Poetry’s editor, Paul McMenemy, about possibly travelling up and reviewing this event, he responded with, “I start to get worried when things are described as friendly and supportive.” I have to say I agree with Paul on this one and, probably cynically, believe that “friendly and supportive” means a room full of (mainly older) people clapping politely after 3 or 4 minutes of dull poetry. While the night, as with all other poetry nights, contained elements of this, the standard of poetry was very good – surprisingly so at times.

Around 40 people turned up to watch with 20 of those getting up to read. I’ll try not to patronise here but I was impressed by how many people had come out to support the night. The room was so full, in fact, that the poets seemed compelled to press their backs against the magnolia wall as they faced down the rifles. Due to the large turnout, those that were taking part in the open-mic were limited to one poem. I’m not suggesting that this should become ‘industry standard’ but limiting the poets in this way seemed to keep the audience invested in what they were listening to. Invariably at these events there will be a lot of poetry not to one’s taste, but it’s probably easier to remain positive in the knowledge that they won’t be in front of you for long.

The first feature poet of the evening was our host, and co-founder of Fen Speak, Leanne Moden. Leanne is a former Fenland Poet Laureate; incidentally this is a title I’ll mention a lot, in fact it felt at times as though there weren’t many of us in the room that weren’t or hadn’t been Fenland Poet Laureate. Leanne began with a poem to her daughter, an affectionate, if a little clichéd, feminist number reassuring the child that she could achieve anything she wanted to – “your only limit is the stars.” It ended with the humorous response from the child, “can I be a caterpillar?”

Her second poem addressed the issue of trying to get an anorexic friend to look to the future with hope. One line from this I just loved: “when we were young we used to dream in prime numbers” (even though I’m not completely sure of the context in which it was used). Leanne finished with the hilarious ‘Shaving Grace’, a poem about rejecting social pressure to remove her pubic hair. If it’s possible to see Leanne perform this poem then you have to do it, if only to hear her declare her refusal of any “pubic topiary” of the “crotch blossom” around her “meaty pocket”.

Next to feature was Elaine Ewart, fellow co-founder of Fen Speak and another former Fenland Poet Laureate. Elaine’s set of three poems were all Fen-related. ‘Slippery Customers’ was about a man raising eels in a tank in his shed and the feelings of guilt that lead him to releasing them into a river and hopefully on their way to the Sargasso Sea. Her second poem focused on a horse being sold at market and contained many beautiful images of this old tradition. Her final poem ‘Harriot Yorke Looks Back’ was a dialogue which I’m sorry to say I didn’t quite follow. I think I would have liked to have spent time reading this poem from the page.

Last up was Poppy Kleiser, the current Fenland Poet Laureate (by now, I think we can all consider ourselves Fenland Poet Laureates at heart). Her first poem described the ‘Fen Tigers’ fighting for their land rights against the Duke of Bedford, carrying the refrain, “This land is ours, this land is yours.” She followed up with a poem about her mum, and one about soldiers fighting in the First World War, while in ‘Terraces’ she talked about the many grand houses in her home town of Wisbech that are being allowed to fall into ruin, setting the scene nicely with the line, “the burnt out Rover rots and sways.”

I think Fen Speak is a great initiative and Elaine and Leanne should be applauded for taking poetry to their audience. The idea of alternating between two venues on either side of the district is also a brilliant one. It’s fantastic to see poets so engaged with their audiences, and I’m sure it is actually something that’s happening all over the country.

My name is David and I fucking hate poetry, but I did quite enjoy taking the train into the countryside after work on a Friday evening.

Paper Tiger Poetry, 19/11/14

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.

 

 

Lettie McKie, Horatio and Me, 25/10/14

Lettie McKie, Horatio and Me (scratch performance), 25/10/2014, Artslav, Kennington, £5

Reviewed by David Turner [Originally published in LP5, December 2015]

Directions. Get yourself down to The Doghouse pub where Kennington Road meets Kennington Lane. Just outside you’ll find black, cast-iron railings with an illuminated sign marked Artslav. Now at this point you’ll probably be thinking to yourself, “that’s a public lavatory, isn’t it?” and you’d be right. It is. Well done. Gold star.

Through the iron gate and down the candle-lit stone steps is Artslav, a performance space in a (not so) converted public loo. The room is lined with a row of urinals to the right and cubicles to the left, the porcelain separated by a metre wide stretch of mosaic tiled floor, the tiles providing the combined stage and seating area.

Included in the admission price was a gin and tonic. A nice touch but I really don’t understand this kind of romanticising of certain parts of London’s history; dark corners, flagstone steps, ceramic tiles and gin, especially when pubs and pie and mash shops are ‘re-invented’ as espresso bars with alarming regularity. Plus, drinking gin in a subterranean public bog in London wouldn’t normally have such a quirky outcome.

The performance opened with Lettie Mckie sat, on a low armchair, in the middle of a cluster of around twenty-five spectators. She was flanked by a side table and standard lamp (like wot your nan ‘ad). The lamp provided a low, constant, comforting glow in contrast to the sparkling of the tea-lights on the urinal shelves.

‘The set’ and Lettie’s sheep onesie was supposed to, I think, give the feeling of intimacy. A sense of all being round at her gaff. This was a little hard to believe though as most of us had our backs pressed up against urinals. The combination of the venue and the onesie gave the impression of a children’s television presenter going off the rails, all wide eyes and jazz hands, as we looked on, drinking gin from china cups and saucers.

I fully accept that we don’t always have a choice when looking for venues but I think as performers we really need to be more selective or at least put more thought into how the venue affects the context of the performance. I also accept that part of an audience’s role is to suspend disbelief, but that can be difficult when standing in an underground toilet along with more people than it was ever designed to hold. That said, I think Artslav could prove to be a fantastic venue for the right production.

Oh yeah, the poetry bit. The story carried us through a summary of Lettie’s unsuccessful attempts to meet a man. Disastrous dates, pity dates, “Banker George”, and fucking guys because they were simply “Cheddar Gorge”. All while being watched over by her guardian angel, her cat Horatio. Apparently there was a large framed photograph of Horatio perched on the side table ‘on stage’, but because of the layout of the room I never got a proper look at anything to Lettie’s left.

The script rhymed like a bastard. Lettie didn’t stop rhyming, like Miranda Hart doing an impression of Eazy E. At times this was very effective and quite clever (I especially liked the sudden use of minge and muff). Inevitably, though, over the course of forty or so minutes, the rhymes began to feel a little forced. It sometimes feels like poets are showing off a little when they do this, or are they just trying to justify standing on stage and charging people to watch them read poetry? “Remember folks, this is poetry and it can be entertaining too”. It very rarely is.

I thought Lettie was very funny all the same, and the timing of her delivery was strong. Mind you, she could probably tone down the ‘acting’ a touch.

By the end I wasn’t left feeling particularly sympathetic toward Lettie’s character. Although he was clearly supposed to be a cunt, I got the impression that ‘Banker George’ had seen a little more of Lettie than she had been sharing with us.

Lettie admitted to us after the performance that she had been feeling quite ill, even confided in us how many times she had vomited before the show had started. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and attribute any stumbling over lines and visibly taking a breather between scenes to the puking or the fact that this was a ‘scratch’ performance. Though I am seriously considering using this line at the end of all my performances – it could hide a multitude of failings – I do not think Lettie was lying.

My name is David and I fucking hate poetry. I don’t much like underground toilets either.

Freeway Poets, 1/10/14

Freeway Poets, The Winchester, Poole Hill, Bournemouth, Wednesday, 1st October, 7.00pm-1.00am, £5/4

Reviewed by Paul McMenemy [Originally published in LP4, November 2014]

The doors to the sumptuously decorated Winchester opened at 7pm, although the poetry didn’t kick off until 8.30, giving visitors plenty of time to appreciate the effort that had gone into the night. Each month, Freeway Poets, the longest-running spoken word night in Bournemouth’s very healthy scene (one punter I spoke to reckoned he could see poetry about 20 nights a month in the Bournemouth-Poole area), has a theme – this month’s was the circus.

There were big-top swags of red and white cloth hung from the former bank’s high ceiling, ribbons and balloons, hand-painted cut-out clowns looming from the edge of the stage with slightly more menace than I think was intended. There were popcorn and vegan hotdogs for sale (I had a big lunch) while The Greatest Show on Earth was projected on loop onto a screen behind the stage. The one slightly odd note in this inclusive vibe was the sign outside the venue which, in addition to listing the usual nightclub commandments (No Trainers, No Football Colours, No Diving, No Bombing, etc.) included the injunction ‘No Chavs’. Now, I realise that the organisers have no control over this, but I mention it for reasons which will become clear later in the review.

So, eventually the open mic began: an hour and a half of it, uninterrupted. Considering there was so much of it, there is little I can find to say: the subject matter was often politically or socially engaged, albeit in a rather vague, let’s-all-be-nice-to-each-other sort of way, and the general tenor can perhaps be gauged by the fact that two of the first four poets chose to perform pieces about psychedelic experiences (I can’t remember the last time I saw so many white people with dreadlocks in one place). There is nothing in itself wrong with this: it is not unusual to go to a poetry night and feel that most of the people in the room share the same values and attitudes, but there is a difference between feeling one is among friends, and feeling that one is at a support group. Only once in the whole night did I hear the MC, Mark Berry, say, ‘And now someone who has never read here before…’ There is such a thing as being too comfortable.

There were some good performances, though – Chris Coppen’s pun-heavy set was exuberant and amusing, and Justin Selleck’s poem about witnessing, as a child, the death of his uncle began, despite the subject matter, hilariously, before veering off into a very sobering place. It was one of the highlights of the night.

After a five minute break we had feature spots from three local acts. In principal, I think this is a very good idea; however there were a couple of problems, at least on this occasion. Natalie Lara Collins certainly sounded the part, doing a passible Kate Tempest provided you didn’t listen too closely to what she was actually saying. Her first poem was on animal testing, and had ‘no name, because the animals don’t have names.’ There were some good lines in this: people being ‘stuck to screens like tax discs’, for instance. But the tone of that line might tell you a bit about my problems with Collins’s set. There is a ‘left wing’ sensibility which, without its owner even realising it, slides off one side of the screen and reappears on the other. The poem felt less pro-animal than anti-human. When she castigated people for being more concerned with the plight of ‘soldiers in trenches’ than her furry friends, she had pretty much lost me. Once we live in a country where the Donkey Sanctuary doesn’t make more money than any five disabled children’s charities put together, maybe we’ll talk.

Her other pieces were similarly problematic – she seemed to have more rhymes than points to make. Her next poem, including a description of a ‘junkie’ as a ‘jetlagged clown’, is a good example: it is a clever image, but, like the rest of the poem, seems more interested in taking the piss out of its subject than trying in any way to empathise. Her final poem, discussing prostitution through the metaphor of performance, was potentially a good idea, but again seemed to lack any willingness to really explore things from her subject’s point of view. I kept thinking of the ‘No Chavs’ sign and wondering how many people inside the venue would have any problem with it.

The second local feature, Bernadette Pamplin, annoyed me less, but had less to say. Her style was Pam Ayres-ish, landing heavily on her end-rhymes, and her poetry mainly consisted of vague, black-bordered dolphin-poster stuff like ‘beautiful mother earth’ and ‘we need to find our true selves and learn to love again.’ She only really seemed to come to life with her final poem, about an ex-boyfriend or friend who had been a drug dealer. This was much more effective, because she sounded like she actually meant it.

The third local act was Zaq Dixon, a beatboxer, who typified the tone of much of the rest of the night. He was very good, I suppose, but the thing about beatboxing is that it is basically the oral equivalent of juggling: I can appreciate that it is a very difficult thing to do, requiring lots of skill and practice and so on, but ultimately, I can’t really bring myself to care – the only response it provokes is ‘Ooh – that must have taken ages to learn.’ To skip ahead, the last act of the night, Rodney Branigan, was a similar proposition. Have you ever wanted to see a man play a mandolin, a guitar, a standing drum, a tambourine, and sing, all at the same time? You should – it’s bloody impressive. Have you any desire to listen to his CD? Probably not.

Branigan ended the main feature set of the night, curated by Lyrix Organix, a pair of spoken word/hip hop artists, Dan Tsu and Natty Speaks, who have organised a number of shows and albums featuring poets, rappers, musicians and so on. The proceeds of their album sales go to Médecins Sans Frontières, and feature some genuinely good stuff – check them out. A second problem with the local features’ set was simply one of timing – the main features, invited in from outside Bournemouth, didn’t get on until after 10pm; in circumstances like this, one can’t blame the open micers for heading home early, on a weekday evening, when a number of them came from outside Bournemouth and had last buses home to catch around 11pm.

And perhaps it was the attritional nature of the night, but I have to admit that I didn’t really feel Dan Tsu’s set. The poems were well-delivered – there was an odd sort of hip-hop rhythm to them which continually threatened to career into rap, but never did. Thematically, too, they were stronger than what had gone before, addressing political and social themes in a more thoughtful and empathetic way than previous poets. However, for whatever reason, they left me a bit flat – there were still too many abstracts, too many vague pro-good stuff, anti-bad stuff pronouncements. That said, I would certainly watch Tsu again.

At the beginning of Tsu’s set, Natty Speaks handed out a wad of post-it notes to the audience, asking them to write one word on each and hand them back in. He then freestyled over a beat provided by Zaq Dixon, incorporating all these words. It was a good trick, but I would have liked to see him say something he meant.

After them, and before Rodney Branigan ended the show, we had Paul Cree. I will not mince my words here: Paul Cree was fucking brilliant. Unfortunately it was about 11pm by the time he started, and the crowd was starting to look pretty sparse. However his ‘little suburban stories’ were the best thing of the night by a mile. His poem about chatting cars and music with his teenage friends said more about the need to belong, male friendship, small town life, being on the threshold of adulthood, class (the technical college kids listen to garage – the sixth-formers to indie) than anything written with more obviously political intent on the night. The extract from his show, A Tale from the Bedsit, with which he ended his set, narrating a teenage infatuation with a girl he worked with in the supermarket, was an exhilarating exploration of the teenage mind, image and self-image. Any chance you get, go and see him.

Seeing Paul Cree made me glad I had stayed, and had been able to stay, but honestly, it was a long night. On the one hand, Freeway Poets is great value; on the other, I can’t help feeling it would have worked better as two separate nights – an open mic with a couple of local features, and another night with headliners and maybe local support. But the question is: would both of those nights make money? Plenty of people would turn up for the open mic; would enough turn up simply to watch?

So, if you are starting out in poetry in the Bournemouth area, and want to try out a couple of poems in a supportive environment, then Freeway Poets is a good place to start. If you just want to watch some great spoken word acts, you had better not have anything to do on Thursday mornings.

Farrago Freshers’ Slam, 12/9/14

Farrago Freshers Slam, 12th September, 2014, 7.30pm, The Poetry Café, Covent Garden, £6/5

Reviewed by David Turner [Originally published in LP3, October 2014]

Crumbs!! It weren’t ‘alf ‘ot! Audience members were crammed into the Poetry Café’s familiar hot-box of a basement, full to bursting. As always the latest Farrago slam, the country’s (Europe’s? The Universe’s?) longest running, was hosted by John Paul O’Neill.

Peering over perspiring shoulders of paying punters (£6 if you don’t mind. Great it was too to see so many happy to pay to watch a poetry reading) I just about managed to catch a glimpse Kayo Balogun’s set. Via the wonder of modern technology I watched one of her poems on the screen of a smart phone as a friend filmed her set. Kayo gave us three poems in her debut feature set. While it took the duration of her first poem to dispel her nerves she still delivered her set with her usual, unflinching, passion and palpable pain.

Kayo’s first poem ‘A Love Like Fire’ suggested to us, through a dialogue between herself and another female character, that we settle for nothing less than a love that  would “find us” whether we looked for it or not and “sweep us away like a tsunami”. The second character was left to wonder, though, if this kind of love did present itself would she actually want to let it in? Kayo had made it seem pretty terrifying.

I’ve seen Kayo perform her second poem ‘Lost’ four or five times. It never fails to cut me in half. The use of such beautiful imagery (leaves turning to jellyfish is on loop inside my head) to frame a description of rape continues to leave me breathless. When those with no experience of spoken word ask “what should I expect?” this is one of the poems I regularly refer to. Powerful, beautiful and captivatingly painful.

Second to feature was Tim Kiely with a four poem set. Tim’s Radio 4 delivery always makes me smile. This is probably the best thing about these kinds of events, Tim’s reading style couldn’t be more different to Kayo’s and indeed those that followed.

Tim’s first poem ‘Live’ was an attempt to capture the feeling one is left with after witnessing a powerful spoken word performance. I say attempt as I don’t really think he did justice to the amazing ‘A Thousand Paper Dinosaurs’ by Anna Kahn. But then that’s probably the point, isn’t it? How could he do it justice? As Tim, himself said, “you know nothing will quite be the same afterwards even if you don’t quite know why”. A very interesting point was raised about live spoken word events in this poem. Would a recording of Anna’s piece be worthwhile? Would there be any point in trying? Probably not but, as Tim points out, it would probably be perfect to fall asleep to.

So, regarding this (important) question; “Does spoken word need to be experienced live?” I think we can all agree that this question is best asked and “answered” while in the audience at a spoken word event. (Internally or during the break with friends, obvs! Bit of respect for the performers like!)

In Tim’s final poem ‘Some Excuses for Keeping Quiet’ he talks about being paralysed by his own thoughts of desire toward a new love. It was touching, honest and funny and captured very well the claustrophobia of being restricted by your own thoughts. “You’d be concerned if you knew my thoughts”, which include nibbling at her cheeks. Audience members were given the impression that the nibbling wouldn’t exactly be playful.

Next up, Chip Grim a.k.a. The Brother’s Grim. Chip began by facing away from the audience (an over-looked, under-used performance technique in my opinion) drew up his hood, turned to look us all in the eye (Chip has a great ability eyeball fifty people at the same time) made a “gun” gesture with his hand and launched into his first poem ‘Nobody Gets Hurt’. While the performance was pretty full-on if you were (un)lucky enough to be in the first three rows, the poem was less about actually intimidating people and more about the idea of intimidation. An exercise in stretching the relationship between audience and performer. The conclusion? It isn’t that difficult to shit-up a slam audience.

Chip followed up with three poems, ‘Call me Dave’, ‘A Class Act’ and ‘Pack away’. All three dealt with the idea of a government trying to appear at one with “the common man” and give the impression of a classless society. All the while, unfortunately, showing themselves in a very different light through their disappointing actions. It was refreshing to hear this kind of social commentary at a slam event, though with Chip I wouldn’t expect anything else.

The fourth feature of the evening was Amy Acre. This was the first time I’d seen her read. Her first poem ‘Fuck Off and Die’ was a humorous piece about being head-over-heels in love with someone you pretty much hate. The depth of the poet’s feelings toward “this man” explained through her wish to carry out a list of mundane tasks, “I wanna make packed lunch for you”, “on Sundays go to Ikea”. Wrapping up with the line “I want to be your girlfriend, now fuck off and die!”

Amy finished her set with the hard hitting yet, at times, funny “F.G.M.” a poem about female genital mutilation. An extensive list of euphemisms for the vagina was delivered quickly enough to be funny yet not detract from the main message of the poem. “Mothers mutilate girls. For God. For marriage.”

Amy’s performance felt a little flat but as I haven’t seen her perform before I don’t know if this is a deliberate technique. It was also getting hotter. How could it be getting hotter? It was impressive that the audience were hanging around.

Kathy Tytler gave us a few poems, mainly referencing her love of running. The first was a description of reading in public and play-on the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner: battling the elements and screaming children, ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Poetry Gig’. There was a great line about turning up for the same gig the following year to be told your material is no longer deemed family friendly.

Another poem, ‘The Marathon Tourist’, gave us a conversation between Kathy and her insurance provider. “Sorry but marathons are not on our approved activity list”. Kathy goes on to ask, “do amorous travellers need to pass medical tests before being allowed to have sex abroad?” I liked Kathy’s set but I think she would have benefitted being earlier in the line-up.

Now I have a confession. Due to a combination of the stifling heat and the knowledge I would be reading next I allowed my concentration to drift. This resulted in me not really listening to the evening’s final feature act, Grace Beadle. While I remember her as being confident and passionate (and incredibly young!) I won’t say any more about her. Sorry Grace.

So we come to the slam (thank you all for your commitment). There were some very good readings, notably Emi Morimoto and Deke Dobson.

The slam was won by Salomé-Dior Williams with her poem ‘The Corner’. The poem dealt with her infatuation with the “cool” boy that hung out on the corner near her parent’s house. The poem was written after the passing of time and graduation from university. She had moved on, widened her perspective. He hadn’t budged. Salomé has a very lyrical delivery and she carried the audience over words and syllables like a rigid bicycle travelling over cobblestones. Exciting, thrilling even, but not always comfortable. There were some great lines in her poem but I think Salomé could probably do with paring down her “lyrics” a little. Less is.

My name is David and I fucking hate poetry.

Andrea Gibson w/Katie Wirsing, 4/10/14

Andrea Gibson w/Katie Wirsing
4/10/2014
Dramalabbett, Stockholm.
200kr 

Reviewed by David Turner [Originally published on the old blog, October 2014]

Behind an unassuming green door on a narrow street leading to Stockholm’s beautiful Mosebacke Torg lay Dramalabbet; a surprisingly large ‘black-box’ style venue with space for over one hundred audience members.

Before the show the atmosphere was buzzing even as the audience filed in in true, polite Swedish fashion. I’ve never witnessed this level of excitement before a spoken word gig. It felt more like the build up to a rock concert (or insert genre that doesn’t make me seem completely out of touch).

Many I spoke to as we queued for tickets had spent the last four or five years following Andrea on Youtube so it probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise that the air felt so electric. This just served to rub in the fact that I had not heard of Andrea or Katie before seeing the beautiful artwork advertising the gig. What is it with strangers constantly making me feel so shit about my lack of knowledge of spoken word?

I won’t go into this too much as I want to focus on the show but I was impressed by the knowledge of the international spoken word scene here in Stockholm. It’s an admirable trait to be so hungry for external influences while remaining proud of home grown talent.

The evening started with Katie Wirsing. She began by encouraging noise from the audience and directed questions toward them right from the start. I don’t know if this was a deliberate tactic but having spent a lot of time in Scandinavia I can say from experience that it’s good to get audiences over here to relax quickly as they’ll fast become some of the most responsive and enthusiastic spectators you’ll perform to.

Katie performed a selection of poems on subjects ranging from her relationship with her conservative grandmother to skydiving and her grandfather’s funeral (the first she had attended). While the subjects were wide-ranging the overall theme was the same: “Let’s all just enjoy our time here while trying to connect with each other.”

Now. Katie is probably the most ‘polished’ performer I’ve seen at a spoken word event but elements of her style didn’t sit that well with me. I just do not understand the need for such pronounced hand movements while reciting, and do we have to be uplifted all the time? Probably the Englishman in me speaking but I’ll use beer if I want to feel momentarily happy, thank you very much. The words were proper good though.

The joint went well bonkers when Andrea stepped up to the mic. There was a very real sense of climax to the anticipation as the audience, host and poet realised that “this was actually going to happen”. Andrea began speaking; her voice cracked immediately and she remained, vocally at least, on the verge of tears throughout. Her delivery was refreshingly flat, peaking with perfect timing backed by a surprisingly effective soundtrack.

Andrea’s set took as its subject matter gender neutrality, marriage equality, feminism and misogyny. A ridiculous preconception, I know, but I didn’t expect Andrea to speak so directly to me (white, hetero, male and all the other useless labels), but regardless of the subject matter of the individual poems the overriding theme of the evening was our fundamental right to be able to love and receive the love of whoever we want. Her poetry addresses everyone, though it was truly beautiful to see the reactions of those in the audience that Andrea was speaking ‘directly to’, those that had struggled in some way growing up in a patriarchal society.

Toward the end of the night Katie joined Andrea on stage for some duets. These were at times touching, painful and hilarious. Their cover of a Keith Drake poem was particularly funny. As Andrea and Katie put it, they only cover poems by white male poets as we’re so badly under represented! Finally eh, brothers? This was a truly inclusive gig.

Andrea’s set ended with the audience shouting out requests. For poetry. They were requesting individual poems. By name. ?. When all this came to a close Andrea received a standing ovation (the audience were standing, clapping and stamping their feet at the same time, like some sort of flashmob one-man band), an encore later and it was done.

I’m not going to say much more as I don’t think I can do justice with my writing to Andrea’s ability. Though I will say this: this performance has touched me in a way that I’ve yet to fully process. Just go and fucking see her then you’ll get it. OK?

My name is David and I fucking hate poetry. Though I may be a little bit in love with Andrea. “Feelings are not the enemy.”