If you want to find more about What’s happening in poetry and the spoken word in and around the Midlands you can now listen to Behind The Arras on Radio Wildfire with views on individual events, what we think are the month’s highlights, and discover who our Poet to watch is for the month. http://www.radiowildfire.com/listen/
Night Blue Fruit
Taylor John’s Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry
If a prize existed for the most exotically named event and venue, this would win easily, and so it was with some expectation that I made my first visit .
The name comes from a line in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”; "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit," the former phrase also the inspiration for a local poetry publisher.
The vaults themselves are 19th century coal vaults which acted as stores for canal transportation and have now been converted into a cavernous, and atmospheric bar.
The ceilings are still vaulted, the original tiled floor remains, and the windowless interior is vented by an exposed suspended stainless steel ventilation system which is quite brutal in appearance.
However a combination of church pew benches, wooden tables, sofas, and freestanding lampshades creates an altogether softer, louche, ambience which would not be out of place in a David Lynch film set.
Every event has its own character, and that is set by the host, who has two options. Those are to either act as an unobtrusive facilitator for the event, or to act as the hub around which the event turns. Host Barry Patterson is in the latter category.
A physically imposing man, loquacious, eloquent and a fine poet in his own right, Barry encouraged, enthused and ad libbed in equal measure. His “Astronaut” piece is a fond and affectionate paean to the Moon landings, and “Happy Birthday Howard” also caught my ear about the controversial H.P. Lovecraft, enfant terrible of the “weird fiction” genre.
SPIRIT OF THE EVENING
SPIRIT OF THE EVENING
The spirit of the evening was captured by a young woman, Carey, who had been before, and had this time brought some of her own work to read for the first time. Yet such was her apprehension, that she had asked a friend to go up to read on her behalf.
But as that friend made her way forwards, Carey had a change of heart as she witnessed the literary equivalent of a mother having her babies taken from her, and read herself instead. “Thinking” and “On the Cathedral Steps” were described by Barry as “good old fashioned introspection”, were warmly received, and I am sure that Carey will be back.
The relief as she stepped down, saying “that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be” was palpable, an endearing reminder of how tough it is to stand up to read in front of others for the first time, but also evidence of what a supportive environment Night Blue Fruit is in which to do so.
The polar opposite to Carey was the vastly experienced Mal Dewhirst who had opened proceedings fresh from his exploits on the Great West Midlands Poetry Relay. “Polesworth Word Triathalon” was a clever Olympic style word challenge, “Dungeness” a beautifully observed landscape poem and his final poem about Liverpool and the Cavern Club and its music had a particular resonance in a cavernous club.
Sometimes an open mic can deliver the unexpected, and tonight it came in the form of Sukhat (phonetically correct but almost certainly not the way he spells it).Flamboyant, and a little left-field, Sukhat romped through a series of poems about vampires and “The Dream I Had” ( at 3.40am), in a surreal, but hugely enjoyable performance.
His attention getter is brilliant, he arrives on stage with bundles of large writing pads, upon which there is just one poem per pad, and after delivery he smashes the pad down onto the floor which resounds to a very satisfying thump. Quite extraordinary- and a lot of fun.
Martin Green’s vignette about poems written on the inside of a cigarette packet was good, “Citizen” Andy Biddulph was on top form with his political polemics, Josie conjured up a memorable erotic image of a walnut smooth chest and Colin Dick, poet and painter was as inspirational as ever.
Closing the evening was Anthony R Owen, a man whom I have had the pleasure of listening to quite frequently in recent months, and he never ceases to impress. Not content with the success of his collection, “The Dreaded Boy” he debuted a sparse, beautiful homage to the victims of Hiroshima in a series of self styled “anti-haikus” which worked very well indeed.
He also offered what amounted to a meditation on Heinrich Heine, the 19th Century German Jewish poet whose work was burned in the Nazi dawn in 1933 at Berlin’s Opernplatz, an event which had been anticipated in his play Almansor, written over a century earlier, in which he said: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen." ("That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.")
Night Blue Fruit meets on the first Tuesday of the month at around 8.30pm. 02-08-11
Bring & Share, Library Theatre, Birmingham
The office of Birmingham Poet Laureate is honorary. What you do with it is pretty much up to you. Current office holder, Roy McFarlane has seized the opportunities that such a title affords and grown the position to new heights, not least with his Bring & Share Poetry evenings, with this the last while he is in office.
Previous events have used Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day as their themes. This one was a double header, a promotional launch for “ Celebrate Wha’”, an anthology of contemporary Black Midlands Writers and a platform for poems on Freedom, a combination which worked splendidly.
We were fortunate to have the publisher of “Celebrate Wha’”, Andy Croft, of Smokestack Books in the audience for the occasion. A “smog monster” from Middlesbrough, Andy is a hugely distinguished author in his own right, with some 18 poetry books, four novels and forty two books for teenagers to his name, as well as a poetry column in “The Morning Star”.
He has performed his own poetry around the world. Smokestack has a bold manifesto, it claims to hold open a space for what is left of the English radical poetic tradition in the twenty-first century. It champions poets who are unfashionable, left-field or working a long way from the metropolitan centres of cultural authority.
It is also committed to the common music of poetry; is interested in the World as well as in the Word; believes that poetry is a part of and not apart from society; argues that if poetry does not belong to everybody, it is not poetry. As authors read from “Celebrate Wha’” it was apparent how neat a fit material and publisher were.
My only frustration from the evening was that we heard only one poem from Andy himself, the brilliant “Crash, Bang, Wallop”, a parody of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s bizarre bid to outlaw onomatopoeia. if ever you want evidence that the pen is mightier than the sword, listen to this.
A packed bill meant that poets were limited to a single contribution resulting in a night of rich diversity too dense for me to try to chronicle in any sort of detail. Sam Hunt told of how poetry had personally set her free, Gary Quinn of how it had set him free from alcohol, and many explored political freedom.
Of those, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest, “Mr President” from Chester Morrison, an attack on the record of Nelson Mandela. It encapsulated the zeitgeist of the theme of the evening, and Chester described the hostile reaction his poem had provoked from many quarters for his effrontery in questioning The Great Man. The poem was a profound, simple, powerful and lyrical tour-de –force.
Tellingly, afterwards, several audience members were moved to debate the successes, and failures of Mandela’s regime, and what any political revolution can reasonably hope to achieve. All of which bore testament to the capacity of a poem to have a life far beyond the page.
Those authors present reading excerpts from “CelebrateWha” did a fine job. Kokumo’s heavy patois elevated “Democracy is Dead”, Marcia Callum’s roots poem “Memory Loss” was inspiring. Kokumo had amused us earlier on, Michelle Hubbard had us in fits of laughter with her “Jack and the Beanstalk” poem about how an inadvertently discarded marijuana seed had taken root in unexpected circumstances.
And, as she had done at the Valentines Bring & Share evening, it was Sue Brown, making an all too rare appearance who shone once more. She delivers her words, motionless, using just her voice to emote, confident that it is all that is required, and she is right. “Birmingham” was an affectionate homage to our city, the ambiguity of “Pain” was wry, “I Am” was a defiant manifesto of self affirmation.
Roy expressed his hope to continue such events beyond when he relinquishes the Poet Laureate crown. I hope he does, for it brings together communities and offers a platform to share ideas. Rohit Ballal was able to give a rap influenced performance, Sarah Tamar was spotted by Roy last Thursday and performed this Monday, and it is that sort of alchemy and spontaneity which has made this series such a success.
“ Celebrate Wha” is available from: http://www. smokestack-books. co. uk/index. php
Metro Cafe, Bilston
Held on (the somewhat hastily declared) National Cake Eating Day, it was fortuitous that Bilston Voices is held in a rather fine cafe, ensuring that the appropriate celebrations could be maximised. And it wasn’t just the cake which was good.
Organiser Emma Purshouse once again drummed up a fine collection of poets to perform to the customary full house. Either the people of Bilston work their holidays around Bilston Voices, or they just don’t have holidays. . . . . .
As a Bilston Voices regular, I have often reflected that the fine job that Emma does linking the evening denies her the opportunity to do what she does best, and that is perform her work in front of an audience.
This time the very late indisposition of a billed poet left her scrabbling around for a replacement. Who might be available who was credible, good looking, rehearsed, and able to perform at very short notice ? She wisely decided that no-one fitted that description more closely – than herself!
The result was a real treat as she waltzed through a selection of her favourite work to a delighted, and appreciative, crowd. Alice Cooper was name checked, a surreal imagined Shakespearean tirade of abuse was directed at Will himself, when his stash of Love Sonnets was discovered by Ann Hathaway in the style of the Jeremy Kyle show. A Great Classic Painters convention was lampooned, as was a country fair, the dangers of monkeys as gifts, and the perils of trying to fit Welsh place names in insurance company claims forms was also explored to uproarious effect.
Liza Minnelli had a signature song called “Liza with a Z not Lisa with an S”. Ann (with an E) Hastings cheekily stole that idea to introduce herself as she opened the evening with an assured and measured performance. On the cusp of retiring, she was well rehearsed, elegiac, valedictory and reflective as she read poems from various key stages in her life.
A University education as a mature student, flower shows, acting as a carer, and the suppression of dreams under the burden of the daily grind were all covered. The only flaw in her presentation is easily remedied, and that was that the breaks between poem and linking material were sometimes unclear, denying her the opportunity of more frequent well deserved applause.
One of the pleasures in seeing so many poetry events is watching as performers find their feet, and their voice. This is particularly true of Sarah Tamar, the self styled “ melting poet”. Her performance was as warm as the temperature, but her real trick is an easy endearing manner and tales about the world around her.
She can be touching when writing about her grandchildren, funny when talking about failed diets, and profound when talking about justice. My favourite of hers? “Eyeballing” about her confrontation with a robin!
Roy Macfarlane is coming to the end of his year now as Birmingham Poet Laureate, and has excelled in doing his office justice. A local lad from Parkfield Road, he made sure his “home credentials” had been accepted by the audience before taking us on a wonderful journey to Amsterdam and beyond.
Roy’s work comes alive when he performs, and I suspect that he is never quite sure when “lift off” will happen. This time it was in a powerful piece about the biological father that he has never known, laced with anger, smoldering rage, anguish and tragedy. It was an uncomfortable, but compelling section which drew a silence of respect, and admiration.
“Dreams of Rivers” beautifully contrasted the bleak monotony of working in a foundry with daydreams of something better, the sentimental “I Wanna Walk with You” is simply one of the best contemporary love poems I have heard.
Inviting Heather Wastie to close an evening in the Black Country is as safe a bet as Wolves inviting Steve Bull as a guest at Molineux, you can’t go wrong. And so it proved. Heather is as prolific a writer as ever, and whilst drawing upon her latest book “The Page Turners Dilemma” she also performed much fresh material.
She was afraid of the fish delivery man with, “I’m Afraid of the Fish Delivery Man” and the butcher’s with “At Knifepoint in the Butchers”, if this continues, husband Geoff will have very few food options left!
Sparsely filled shop units and dodgy PA systems at festivals all bore testament to the travails of the wandering minstrel poet, but it was her established “Ping pong Neo-natal ICU” which stood out once again as her best work. Wry, but serious, with clever use of sound, it delights with its clever word play whilst conveying the life and death nature of the surroundings.
Bilston Voices plays again on Thursday 25th August, 7. 30pm, with Martin Jones, Stuart Haycox, Marion Cockin, Roger Noons and Greg Stokes. 29-07-11.
Kitchen Garden Cafe. Kings Heath
Some poetry events eschew meetings in the summer holidays on the basis that people will be away. Other more confident promoters reason that just as many people may become free to attend who otherwise may not have been available.
Organiser Jacqui Rowe is one of the latter, and her confidence in her audience was well rewarded on a balmy summer evening with another full house. Both headline poets write page based poetry and it is gratifying to see an audience as ready to be stimulated, as entertained.
The convivial ambience of the Kitchen Garden Cafe is well suited to poetry with the audience arriving up to an hour early to enjoy soft and alcoholic drinks, snacks and good company. Indeed the poetic camaraderie is a particular feature of this event which is as much a meeting of friends as it is of poetry aficionados. Yet it is by no means cliquey, an interest shared means that people can, and do, come alone, but leave having made new friends.
Anthony R Owen topped the first half bill promoting his latest collection, “The Dreaded Boy”. Anthony’s work is stark and dark. The dreaded boy in the title refers to the boys who would deliver telegrams from the War Office during the First World War informing next of kin of the deaths of loved ones in battle.
War poetry has a noble tradition, and this is a worthy contribution to it, including work on Iraq and Afghanistan. It is seen from the perspective of civilians and women, as well as combatants. His work is not a polemic, nor is it verbose. The majority of pieces are concise and bare. The subject matter does the talking. He name checks Coventry military casualties as well as the work of Dr Karen Woo, killed whilst administering humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, to whom he dedicated “Diamonds”.
His art is in memorable imagery. The bloodied body of a freshly born baby is juxtaposed with the bloodied corpse of the fallen. “Clean” details the tender cleansing of a dead body in the Tigris by a grief stricken widow, of whom there are estimated to be 780, 000 in Iraq, a number roughly equal to the population of Birmingham.
Neither is an easy listen. The issue of the morality of blood spattered war games for computers is a difficult one to tackle without crass moralising, yet Anthony succeeds here too with “Realism” in which he rightly questions the lack of corporate responsibility in their promotion. Subjects like these, and those tackled in “Rwanda” are tough, but his ability to produce a memorable phrase such as in “Scent of the Sun”, about planes dog-fighting, in which he describes the skies as pallbearers, delights as well.
“The Dreaded Boy” is available from Pighog Press. ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6, £5 plus P&P.
David Calcutt topped the second half, and was introduced as a polymath poet, novelist, playwright and literary mentor. Tonight, David concentrated on the poetry, with rewarding results. In a mini personal poetic odyssey he started with “Stone”, written over 30 years ago and of uncertain origins from his first collection, “Outlaws”, before ending with a poignant selection from a current project he is working on with those living with dementia, together with John Killick, and host Jacqui Rowe. “And I Can Tell Them My Name” was particularly moving. One of ten new poems that this work has inspired.
He explained his poetic manifesto as wishing to explore the boundaries between the conscious and sub-conscious, and his exploration of Purgatory in “He is a Rider” was powerful indeed. Yet he is at his best in describing simple things with simplicity and insight. A recent workshop he had led had witnessed a herd of cattle on the move, and hitherto I had not seen the magic in cows that David had spotted. Equally his exploration of the mouth-bow as both musical instrument, and weapon of war, was innovative, and rewarding.
The open mic section boasts a formidably high standard with a palpable frisson of excitement surrounding the random draw for the order of performing amongst audience and performers alike. It is a veritable poetic smorgasbord of samples from poets, many of whom might merit a headline spot in their own right. Two contrasting, yet successful, performances caught my ear.
One of my favourite scenes from Quentin Tarrantino’s film, “Pulp Fiction”, is when Uma Thurman is revived by an adrenaline shot to the heart. Fergus McGonigal has a similar effect on an audience with his high energy / high octane performance. Punk band The Ramones used to enjoy starting their tours with a set that started out at 45 minutes long, but which they aimed to consistently reduce simply by performing the same material faster and faster.
And so it is with Fergus and his fantastic performance piece “Conversation”, which he has timed at 4.3 words a second, but which tonight may have broken that barrier. Exuding an ebullient demeanour, no doubt spurred by a fashion choice in shorts normally only favoured by Prep schoolboys and Gordon of Khartoum, Fergus rattled through his new crowd pleaser to the delight of all.
Broadcaster and Poet Charlie Jordan also chose words for her spot, with her evergreen “Words”. A beguiling, cerebral piece, Charlie combines the passion of a pastor, the wisdom of an university Don, and the incisive linguistic technique of a surgeon as she teases, plays and teaches, but never preaches. Fergus blinded with his dazzling verbal assault, Charlie hypnotises with the strobe like rhythm of her language and delivery. The contrasting merits of two thematically similar, but radically different presentations, is what makes an evening like this so interesting.
Michelle Crosbie was not new to me, (Behind the Arras regulars will know that I have eulogised about her fantastic performance of “O Dark Pilot Whales” at Parole Parlate), but she was new to Poetry Bites. Once again she excelled. “Apple Love Magic” was endearing, “The Fireworks of Love” a triumph of simplicity, one of those poems which makes you wish that you had written it, until you realise that you could not have done it so well.
Numerous regulars also did themselves proud. Maggie Doyle knows how to write a good performance piece, and “The Chelsea Flower Show”, was very good indeed, ”The Merry Widow” as funny as ever. Jan Watts was elegiac with “Bathroom at 38 Berkeley Rd” and naughty with “Meat and two veg Kim”, whilst Sam Hunt treated us to a very powerful “ Daddy Says”, an excerpt from her forthcoming Artsfest appearance.
Two single performances also shone. Laura Yates recited a beautiful poem about caring for elderly relations, and newcomer Liz Berry, from London, performed a fantastic piece, “The Fishwife”, from which two lines stood out, “Bare arms swayed like a forest of kelp. . . . cut from her bridal dress like from a fisherman’s net”.
Poetry Bites plays again on Tuesday 27th September, details available on the Kitchen Garden Cafe website: http://www. kitchengardencafe. co. uk/events. php?pid=main 26-07-11
David Calcutt’s work can be bought via his website: http://www. davidcalcutt. pwp. blueyonder. co. uk/
And, as a bonus, another view
'Cos poet Maggie Doyle was there too
So here's what she thought . . . just for you
Anthony Owen: concise and powerful without making the audience uncomfortable. His poems, from his book "The Dreaded Boy", tore at the ravages of war without homing in on the atrocities. A poet certainly worth catching if you get the chance.
Past Birmingham Poet Laureate, Charlie Jordan, teased and tantalised with her words flowing effortlessly over her captivated listeners. The elegance and serenity of this lady make her unfortunately rare appearances, an absolute pleasure.
Fergus McGonigal: this young man is emerging, no I correct myself, taking over, as this season’s “must have poet”. He is everywhere! With the voice and passion of a young Brian Blessed, a hangover that Oliver Reed would be proud to recognize, and ta wry sense of humour which always makes him a hit with any audience, Worcestershire’s runner-up Poet Laureate is certainly taking his unofficial role very seriously.
Michelle Crosbie: second outing for this explosive young lady who managed single-handedly to put on a firework display before gently easing herself into the plight of whales in Scotland. Michelle, along with myself and others from the Worcestershire region, are slowing but surely infiltrating Birmingham.
Gary Longden was, as ever, topical with his Rebekah Wade poem and instantly had the audience’s attention. Always value for money, our roaming reporter never fails to deliver the goods.
The enigmatic David Calcutt closed the evening with a poem he had written as a teenager and was still trying to remember why, and also a trilogy of poems he had written following his involvement in a project dealing with dementia sufferers. These poems deftly and sympathetically dealt with this horrendous condition, while allowing the audience a glimpse inside some of the work which is being done by writers on the project.
The Great West Midlands Poetry Relay
Saturday saw me take part in the maddest thing Writing West Midlands have ever done - their words not mine - The Great West Midlands Poetry Relay, which saw 10 poets write 10 poems about 10 places which were then released to be carried by 10 racing pigeons.
When explaining it at the various readings that I attended last week, everyone agreed it was mad, but thought it got surreal when the pigeons were mentioned.
My day started at Polesworth where I had written a poem, which incorporated the themes of alternative Olympic events in context of the place. This being a Cultural Olympic event in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics which will start this weekend in twelve months time.
My poem the Polesworth Word Triathlon – used the theme of words coming to Polesworth, with the two poets who preceded me. These words were compared with words that had raced to Polesworth before, such as the words of Thomas Cromwell, which saw the dissolution of the Abbey.
The new words however were brought here to compete and were seen to swim in the river Anker and then complete an obstacle course on the Poetry Trail and the events that were going on in Abbey Green Park for the Love Parks day, the final event was flying off into the airways – through Touch FM who broadcast the Polesworth leg of the relay and also thinking about the pigeons who were to carry the poems across the skies later in the day.
I had tried to write a comic poem but it just did not work and so I stuck with what I know and used my normal style creating a Free Verse Sonnet (homage to Michael Drayton), but in terms of a sonnet it had 14 lines and a turn part way through, there were no rhymes, couplets or metre – purists may argue therefore that it is not a sonnet.
Dressed in tracksuit trousers, trainers and a rugby shirt, the style of the true athlete – I arrived early, to ensure that the team at Touch FM were OK with what was going on and to sort out how we would do the readings across the Abbey Green Park site, where stall holders were setting up for the day and also live on the radio.
This sorted, I then went and waited for the bus to arrive with the team from Writing West Midlands, along with the recording team of Peter and Laura from Monty Funk and the first two poets on the relay – Emma Purshouse who had started at Stoke on Trent Railway station at 8:00 am and Philip Monks who was collected at Burton on Trent Library.
At just after 10:15 the bus arrived, I was given my tee-shirt and number, Poet 3 and my race was on.
After a brief interview with Jonathan Davidson on Touch FM, Emma launched into her poem, which was inspired by the Olympic event, The 10 Metre Platform Dive, which she skilfully turned into an event for Network Rail as passengers competed to dive on to trains from the platform.
DRY CLEANED SUIT
The event being won by Derrick Johnson in his dry cleaned suit, where he not only got GOLD but Stoke also beat Crewe. Emma also picked up the rhythm of a train, reminiscent of Auden’s poem Night Mail.
This was followed by Philip Monk’s poem of rolling home from the pub, an Olympic event at which many of us would excel. Comparing the rolling of the Beer Dray wagons with that of the drinker finding the longest way home. Philip used the word jocund in his poem, an interesting word that is rarely used in modern parlance.
And then it was me, live on the radio, live across the the park – I read the Polesworth Word Triathlon for the first time.
No time for bows or applause - it was on to the bus to the next stop at Hatton Country world, where we were to meet another Polesworth Poets Trail Poet and former Warwickshire Poet Laureate, Helen Yendall. The journey was bumpy as we caught the speed bumps on the road to Dorden, which was whilst I was interviewed on my life in Poetry, which was little off putting and I found myself rushing to say what I want to say between the bumps.
Despite a slight detour we arrived at the Hatton Toffee shop to find we had been beaten by the clown performing in the Children’s tent who had taken our audience, alas it is the case that slapstick comedy will always attract the audience away from poetry.
Following the reading of Emma, Philip and my poems, Helen picked up the baton with a poem for Hatton – with a series on new heptathlon events, including licking ice cream, shopping and making and throwing mud pies.
Then back into the bus to head for Worcester. The journey for me so far had mainly been motorways and the trip to Worcester continued this way, back up the M40 onto the M42 and then picking up the M5. The road rolling underneath our wheels, the miles rushed along.
At Worcester we met with Rohit Ballal and performed our first of two indoor performances at the Café Bliss, a venue that sees musical performance but at this time of day was sedate with a few customers including Lisa Ventura, the driving force behind the Worcester Literature Festival, who is was great to meet for the first time, despite us communicating through Facebook many times.
Rohit’s poem followed the four previous poems, as he wrote about a Stain Glass making Olympic event picking up on Worcester Cathedral’s need for a new east window.
FAMOUS GAS LAMPS
We had a chance to rest a while here and to grab a much needed drink before heading onto the bus to head for the car park at the British Camp in the Malvern Hills. Motorways were left behind for the roads that crossed the battlefield of Worcester, from which Charles II fled to hide in an oak tree, on into Malvern town itself, with is array of shops and Georgian houses and its famous gas lamps and then to the car park at the base of the Herefordshire Beacon.
Here we met Adrian Johnson, who had travelled by train having encountered a Jamaican street festival, four zombies and had walked three miles, overcoming his bovine fears in the process.
Adrian’s poem which followed the first five, was entitled Pump and Circumstance, and reflected on Bicycles and Elgar and saw the introduction of poets bobbing in the last night of the proms tradition, as Adrian read his poem wearing a cycle helmet and gloves, whilst waving a bicycle pump at the audience that had gathered around the snack cabin. Always a good tip when doing an impromptu poetry reading – find a queue and read to them.
The bus then meandered through the sleepy sunshine lanes into Herefordshire to the sleepy town of Bromyard, which traces its history back to Norman times and is now a quiet place where not a lot happens and it seems when it does not many people stir themselves to watch; even though the poets wandered around the town trying to entice people.
Here we met with Deborah Alma, whose poem reflected the sleepiness of the town with an Olympic event that involved mainly resting, she stood in a sack, like she was about to enter a sack race, but then revealed that the only hops that they did in Bromyard went into sacks. We did manage to rustle up a small audience of locals, including several children on bikes and a bronze sculpture of a sheep whose name appeared to be Ann Jackson.
We left Bromyard, trying not to make too much noise as we went and headed for Highley in Shropshire, a stop on the Severn Valley Railway. It was here at the leisure centre that we met Kurly McGeachie, whose rapping performance of his poem for Highley featuring coal mining and the Severn Valley Railway, on which he made several puns about freight lifting, encarriagment, training and coaching. – His line about bringing gold back from the Olympics like they did in Britain in Bloom in 2006 was wonderful and made me smile every time I heard it in the subsequent readings.
It was from here that the pigeons were released to give them enough time to get back to the loft in Birmingham before sunset, as they would find an alternative roost after dark and this would upset the idea of the poem’s order being decided by the pigeons.
I have never seen racing pigeons being released before. Ten of them, each carrying a copy of one of the poems. They stepped out of the boxes and took to the air, they circled like a small cloud, following each other, one minute you thought they had gone, then they were overhead again, eventually finding their bearings and heading off towards Birmingham. It was estimated that it would take them 30 minutes to get back to the loft and so we hoped to know which had arrived first by the end of the day.
I have since learnt that they did arrive back with the winner being the pigeon carrying Helen Yendall’s poem, my pigeon finished sixth.
Tiredness and fatigue was now getting to those of use who had an early start and so I was happy to listen as Adrian played his harmonica, Kurly fixed the megaphone and to a discussion on which celebrities’ people had met, names included Brian Mckeenan and Jack Dee. It was like being around a moving campfire at the end of a day of driving poems across country to the rhyme ranch.
SANDWICHES AND A BIN BAG
The drive to the Odeon at Telford was fairly easy from Highley, up to Bridgenorth and then a short hop from there. Here we met the ninth poet Dave Reeves of Radio Wildfire fame, whose poem about long haul queuing was read to the queue for tickets at the Odeon Cinema, Dave came with an array of props all necessary for the competitor in any long haul queuing event, deckchair, snorkel, walking boots, torch, flask, sandwiches and a bin bag.
It was here that Rohit overheard a conversation between a Father and Daughter, who on observing a group of poets wandering into the cinema, had asked what was going on, to which he replied “I don’t know darling, but I am sure there must be some explanation”.
The queue bemused by the happening, soon returned their thoughts to Harry Potter and popcorn as we headed for the bus for one final time, to the Pie and Ale house in Stafford where our final poet, Roz Goddard was waiting along with our final audience.
We arrived just about on time, but by then time was all but forgotten, when we read it was about 8:00pm and it was noted that Emma, who had been on the full trip was reading her Platform poem for the tenth and final time, some 12 hours after it was originally unveiled to the staff and commuters on Stoke Railway station.
Roz’s poem was about pie snorkelling as a dressage and Greco-Roman wrestling event and finished the day off wonderfully.
The final photo of the group of ten showed Roz with a pristine number on her shirt and Emma with a crumpled just about hanging in there number on hers, the rest of us were somewhere in between, the state of the numbers pinned to our shirts may have reflected our tiredness but not the sense of achievement, the team spirit, the camaraderie of new friendships and most of all the taking part.
The weather held, the bus didn’t break down, the company was wonderful and the pies were good too.
It was a fantastically mad day, and all credit goes to the team at Writing West Midlands, Jonathan Davidson, Sara Beadle, Lauren Davies and the rest of the team for their organisation and making the journey easy for those of us taking part.
I would also like to thank Lori Harvey and the team at North Warwickshire Borough Council for allowing us to interrupt the preparations for the Love Parks Day at Polesworth to support the Great West Midlands Poetry Relay. 23-07-11
Reproduced with permission and thanks from
Reproduced with permission and thanks from http://pollysworda.wordpress.com/
More information and photos can be seen on:
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
BURTON is not an obvious location for a spoken word event, the natural home for which tends to be more urban areas.
But perhaps that is its secret? It draws performers from far and wide acting as a melting pot for a diverse range of poets and subjects all mysteriously mixing to produce an event which is unique, with this session stretching to three eclectic hours.
It works, and is a testimony to the skills and hard work of organiser Gary Carr.
We live in uncertain times, and no event is complete without its political conscience. Andy Biddulph was happy to oblige with his trademark anti- capitalist offerings and more personal observations.
For no particular reason, the Lichfield Poets turned up in force for this evening, with no less than six of their number showing up, three of whom were making their Spoken Worlds debuts, the first was Stephanie Knipe.
Steph intrigued, then delighted the audience with a diverse set incorporating wheelie bins, bovine diseases, wine tasting, horses that don’t complete their races and, most memorably, phobias about ducks. Jan Arnold took a different tack, performing short, incisive pieces with a touch of the risqué, “The Little Black Dress”, “Sauce” and “Two Umbrellas”, the latter of which is one of the best double entendre poems I have heard in a very long time.
“Kaleidoscope” was perhaps her most interesting piece. It was introduced as a poem which had no meaning, but was really simply themed around the letter K, something that the audience subliminally heard, but not introduced. Third debutante was Brian Asbury whose seasoned stage background ensured a strong set, the highlight of which was, “The Lunar Society”.
The regular performers were equally on form, Janet Jenkins spoke movingly on domestic violence, touchingly about her “Wish List”, and came up with a cracking image of empty coat hangers as testament to a lost love. Ian Ward picked up the male/female communication theme with “Big Trouble”, whilst the irrepressible Fergus McGonigal from Worcester unleashed the quick-fire lyrically dense and extended “Conversation” in a typically humorous and sharply observed piece.
EARLY MORNING COFFEE
Fresh from his success as poet in residence at Nuneaton’s Poetry Day, Mal Dewhirst reprised all the poems which had made the day such a success, from his early morning coffee, through his search for the River Anker, culminating in his collaborative poem from which he built around words submitted to him from around the world. The following day he was to compete in a West Midlands Poetic Relay across the Midlands.
The event is part of a series of events organised in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad, so this performance amounted to a “training run” of sorts, although hopefully the audience was more discerning than the pigeons who will be selecting the order of performance for the Relay Event!
Margaret Torr has a fine body of work behind her on pastoral themes and relationships, tonight she impressively broadened that with ”Human Kind” a refugee’s tale of savagery and humanity which was both harrowing and uplifting.
It is always a delight for events such as these to provide a platform for the serious as well as the light hearted. I always enjoy Tony Keeton’s work which tends to veer joyously from the philosophical, to the whimsical. “Question” came in the former category, and the quite brilliant “Faux” from the latter.
Gary Carr combined smooth running of the evening with his own offerings, some of which were from his recent appearance at the Buxton Slam. And it was from Buxton that Rob Stevens had travelled to deliver poetry to his usual high standard and perform a very good song about grown up children leaving home, the guitar accompaniment offering some welcome aural light and shade to a very enjoyable evening.
“Spoken Worlds” next plays on Friday 19th August at 7. 30pm. An occasional open mic event of light verse is also to be held at the same venue on the evening of Friday 12th August.
Station Pub, Kings Heath
Following an itinerant period, “Rhymes”, Birmingham’s longest established poetic event, has now settled on the Station as a regular venue and the traditional values which had built its original success are now much in evidence.
Three out of the four featured poets were local, the headliner was from Cambridge. The result was a good turn- out, a combination of the familiar and the new, and a satisfying evening.
First up was local student, and rising star Jodi-Ann Blickley, fresh from her recent triumph at Glastonbury. Jodi- Ann exudes a beguiling fragile, frail innocence, underpinned by a mesmerising lyricism delivered at a ferocious speed.
She writes of love, and love lost, counterpointing her youthful beauty with self –effacing uncertainty. Her tribute to her mother was heartfelt, but her most satisfying poem was a clever reinterpretation of a theme explored in Adele’s “Someone Like You” in which she imagines meeting a lover twenty years hence.
A line in which she spoke of counting her lover’s eyelashes was brilliantly, and poignantly, observed. I have followed Jodi-Ann’s performance career for some eighteen months now and she goes from strength to strength.
She is now veering into rhyming storytelling territory, which is itself no bad thing. Although I would say that her sparkling writing is sometimes submerged by the speed and pace of her delivery, sometimes a slower pace, with more pauses for the audience to savour the words, would create even greater impact.
Janet Smith was making her farewell performance before taking a holiday. I suspect that she has never paid an excess baggage penalty in her life, such is the economy of her writing, and her stripped down descriptive skills.
She is the only person whom I have ever heard agonise over the word “short” –because it is not exact enough! We started off with an examination of cities with, “Lucifer”, before heading to Scotland with, “Running”, and then taking in, “Pacific”, in an uncharacteristically longer poem.
The longer than normal tine slot suited her well, offering a context in which favourites like, “Bear”, and, “A Cry”, had even greater impact. Her poetry is always so welcome because against competition from poets offering more ephemeral topics and transient themes, she demonstrates that high quality writing always has a place on the performance circuit.
Before the headliner Alan Wales treated the audience to a clever extended piece called “Under Deadwood” a witty and entertaining pastiche of “Under Milk Wood”. He combines the arch campness of Frankie Howard and Kenneth Williams, the rotten urban underbelly of the film “Twin Town” and the gentler observational comedy of Max Boyce in the manner of Mrs Williams, leaning over her garden fence while putting the washing out to gossip with her neighbour.
All of which set the stage for Fifi Fanshawe, who had travelled from Cambridge to perform. A headline act needs to be able to command the stage, and Fifi did just that. Her opening, “ I am Woman”, was a defiant tale of female snoring, farting and general bad habits which gloriously set the tone for the rest of her irreverent, and highly entertaining, set.
Janis Ian’s, tender, heartbreaking paean to teenage female angst, “At 17”, has long invited a pastiche, and Fifi did just that with, “ When I was Nine”. Having recently attended a school reunion I can vouch for the fact her poem of the same title was awkwardly accurate, but my favourite of the night was “Wardrobe”. Any man who has ever lived with a woman will have recognised their unerring ability to scan racks and drawers of clothes before pronouncing that she “has nothing to wear”.
Men smiled, women winced! Poetry when performed has to be for the audience, not the performer, and Fifi knows this with a well crafted stage persona part Victoria Wood, part Jenny Eclair part Joyce Grenfell. This was her first visit to Birmingham, I hope it will not be her last. Her website, containing information on how to buy her eponymous first CD is: http://sites. google. com/site/fififanshawe/
Lorna Meehan did her usual easy thing as MC whilst also performing the new, ” How to Swallow a Universe”, and, “All Stories are About Love”, – probably the best poem she has ever written. “Rhymes” next meets on Tuesday 20th September with David Calcutt headlining. 20-07-11
Buxton Festival Fringe Poetry Slam
Held at the Grove Hotel, The Word Wizards Poetry Slam might normally be one of the smallest and politest in the country, but every July numbers are swollen by Buxton Festival goers for the Fringe Slam, and with a crowd of around 30 this is a reasonably sized festival fringe event.
After the preliminaries – rules, advice for judges, etc. – organiser Rob Stevens kicked the 2011 Buxton Fringe Slam off with “Performance Piece”, a humorous poetic introduction to slammers on how to get the best from the PA, the timekeeper and the judges. There were 8 competitors all had the opportunity to read in the first 4 rounds, followed by 2 finalist rounds where the top 3 read.
Taking the poets in the order they were drawn in the first round:
Jack Reagan was the first drawn out of the hat in each of the first two rounds, kicking off with “Not in my name” an uncharacteristically serious political piece, following this in round 2 with an excellent darkly comic protest poem against almost everything. In round 3 he gave us two shorter poems; one of these
“The mouse” is a brilliant political satire, which deserves a wider airing. His final poem was probably the best piece of the night. Based on an assault with Roget’s Thesaurus, Jack took the opportunity to use lists of synonyms to brilliant effect and had the audience laughing and cheering throughout. This was also the only time in the evening when timekeeper and scorer Lesley Stevens had to buzz a warning.
I started with two fun pieces, the first “Gone Today” about a sharp haircut, the second an extended pun poem “The word was PORT”, and then two short poems, “Octopus” and “Warning 2010”, made up round 3. The second of these is a dark re-examination of Jenny Joseph’s “Warning”. The final piece “Airports” was a quietly sinister look at departure and arrivals lounges.
David Siddon has a varied range, he took the opportunity to show it off with a comic “Satanists’ Circular” in round one, probably the highlight of the round. Round 2 was “The Window”, an introspective poem about old age; round 3 was a Derbyshire dialect piece about the life and families of lead miners and he rounded off in 4 with a rhyming tale based around the legend of the Millers Dale werewolf.
Linda Goulden started her night with a piece about genetics, which was brilliantly delivered and ended very strongly using the four letters used to denote the bases in genes; she followed this with a piece of summer observation on a cat tormenting a bird. Her third piece was a gently comedic poem about the most recent royal wedding called “Last Mayday” and finally the intense “Two”, about a stifling love/hate relationship.
Marylin Matthieson began her challenge strongly too, with the whimsical “Trouble with my diddly-dees”, and continued well in the second round with “A Good Book”; “Moving” was a clever piece about all the things we take for granted. Marylin closed with “Rustling Trees”, an observational piece about the power and beauty of storms.
The host, Rob Stevens, followed. His work is particularly well suited to the slam form and the first piece “Bloody Julie” was a comic look at how teenage mates become separated when girls come on the scene. In the second round another strong poem, “Young Bucks”, was about lads looking for a fight, and the tragic consequences; this was followed by a sad tale of war from the point of view of the parents, “Class War”; Rob finished with “Set me Free”, a comic and – Rob says – personal piece about having an expressive face.
The penultimate poet, David Barrow, deals with the comic and tragic. True to form poems about cancer, childhood abuse, old age and visions of angels were paired with lighter pieces in each round. “Chimney Pots” produced “Aahs” from the audience; “A Surgeon’s Life” had a surprise ending, as did arguably his strongest piece of the night, “Goldfish”, which was laugh-out-loud funny.
Deidre Costello, the final competitor in the first round, is not a regular performer, but her first piece “Going to the Slam” was witty and well read. The quality was maintained in round 2 with two poems about transport: “The Shoplifter” – a comic observational piece – and “The Terrace” which will make travelling by bus more of an adventure for all who heard it. In round 3 Deidre gave us the story of what happened next in the amusing “Sleeping Beauty”, Finally she read an untitled piece, a reminiscence on what might have been (but wasn’t) with an old friend.
The finalists were Jack Reagan, Rob Stevens and Linda Goulden. Each had two more attempts to please the judges.
Rob was on form with “England’s Green” and “Germanica”, both read with his usual flair, but seeming not to catch the audience mood fully. Linda read a piece about convalescence in hospital and “The Sluggard Waker”, a first person historical poem, her strongest of the night by far; but Jack excelled with brilliantly observed and performed poetry.
The first was a non-rhyming, rhyming piece (that isn’t a typo!) about the difficulty he has trying not to rhyme; then he came back with the short “A Plea for Rhyme”, and filled his time with the sharply observed “Side Effects”, on the warnings given with medicines (“side effects may include death” was a genuine one used in his introduction)
At the end of the evening Jack deservedly lifted the “winner’s mug”. This is the North after all, cups might be looked on as just a bit sissy. Word Wizard Poetry Slams are held at the Grove Hotel in Buxton on the last Tuesday of every month, starting at 7:30 pm.
Contact Rob Stevens at
poetryslamuk@aol. com for
further details. 19-07-11
Guest writer Gary Carr is the organiser of “Spoken Worlds”, a monthly spoken word event held at the Old Cottage Tavern in Burton on Trent, details of which can be found on its Facebook page.
Polesworth Refectory Polesworth
Organiser Mal Dewhirst has a sure touch in the guest poets he invites to Polesworth, and this months Fizz was no exception.
Matt Merritt was the headline attraction whose debut collection, Troy Town, was published by Arrowhead in 2008, with a chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, by HappenStance coming out in 2005.
His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, Matt lives locally, and works as a journalist for Bird Watching magazine. His most recent collection, from which he read extensively, “Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica”, is available from Nine Arches Press.
I have seen Matt perform before at Shindig in Leicester, but his large body of work meant that much of what I heard I was listening to for the first time. ”Dreams From the Anchor Church” was particularly strong, taking us back to Anglo- Saxon times in which he “struck out with my face to the future/to find myself walking through the past”.
His affection for history also manifested itself in “Drinking With Godberd” as he visited the Robin Hood legend. Matt’s connection with natural themes, whether it was the Chirimoya fruit of South America, or the Swifts of Leicestershire, engaged and delighted in equal measure. Those wishing to explore his work further should visit his blog site at: http://polyolbion. blogspot. com/
Mal himself revisited his recent successes at the Nuneaton Poetry Day with his collaborative poem “ In a Single Moment”, and “Nuneaton”, in which he traced the subterranean flow of the River Anker. He also trailed news of his upcoming project this Saturday 23rd July which will see ten poets travelling around the Midlands writing poetry in a relay race with one poet passing the baton to the next poet who will add the next part of the poem.
The relay starts in Stoke on Trent and then on to Burton On Trent, The next stop is Polesworth where Mal will take the baton before passing it on at Hatton Country world, following with Worcester/Droitwich, Malvern Hills, Bromyard, Highley, Telford and finishing in Stafford. The Poets will travel on a minibus being collected as they take the baton, The poem will be read at each of the locations as it grows on it journey around the Midlands.
The ten parts of the poem will be attached to ten pigeons from the Birmingham Pigeon Project and released in Stafford, back to the loft in Birmingham, the final order of the poem being decided by the order in which the pigeons arrive back at the loft. The event itself is part of a series of events organized in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
As always the supporting cast of open –micers excelled, none more so than Barry Patterson whose lyrical tribute to the Apollo moon landing was a joy. Gina Coates observations on Body Image were sharp, whilst “Citizen Andy Biddulph” kept the home fires of the revolution burning with his customary anti-capitalist diatribes, some culled from his embryonic website “The Luddite”. Fizz 9 meets on September 20th at Polesworth Refectory at 7. 30pm. 19-07-11
Spoken word and acoustic night
The Lamp Tavern, Dudley
Looking at the Lamp Tavern from the road, who would believe that lovely little assembly room was tucked away behind it, I didn’t, until I walked into this charming venue.
We were ‘warmed up’ for the evening by Greg Stokes, who told us a humorous tale of aggression at a Bob Dylan concert. For the younger element, he was talking about a gig by the music guru of the peacenik generation.
Geoff Stevens, first on stage, treated us to a fine selection of his unique brand of poetry, mainly written about Wednesbury and West Bromwich and some of the local customs. One of which I must admit reminded me of my younger days of outdoor courting.
Geoff was followed by Carol Midwood who told us her spooky tale of two ne’re do wells and their attempt to steal a body from the local morgue and Neil Morris, who treated us to some of his lively brand of music – sans acoustics.
The second half kicked off with Greg Stokes reading his story about how the God, God particle was found in the Black Country. Greg has a style of reading that grabs you and drags you into the story, quite fascinating.
Sue Hulse has a rare background in being a Yorkshire lass with Polish blood in her veins and it is this mixture that she showed us in her “Coat tales”, stories from her family. Sue is a light-hearted lady who tells a fine tale.
The evening finished with Brendan Hawthorne giving us of his best, which included a very funny double act with Greg Stokes, as he gave us his poem about his ventriloquists dummy.
All in all a good well balanced evening that could possibly have done with starting just a little earlier, as some members of the audience had to leave early for buses etc. and missed a lot of laughs. 15-07-11
This year the Lichfield Festival has been a curious affair, seemingly top heavy with high ticket out-of –town performers, and light of local talent.
Poetry, save for the appearance of Carol Ann Duffy, has been poorly served. That is a huge shame. Thriving poetry groups operate in Lichfield, Polesworth and Burton with several more close by. Performance poets with a national reputation also perform across the Midlands.
So the appearance of Lichfield Poets at the Lounge cafe and the George Hotel, both in Bird St, for two, free, twenty minute performances, was welcome to all enthusiasts of spoken word- and they did not disappoint.
Performing poetry to an audience of the curious, who are free to leave at any moment, is no easy task. Lichfield poets tackled this by sheer weight of numbers. There were seven performers reading quick fire poems that rarely lasted more than a minute or so woven together by a central presenter who introduced the performers and poems to keep things moving at a brisk pace, and it worked. The art is not one of literary brilliance but of a neat idea and a memorable turn of phrase to hook the audience.
Janet Jenkins opened wisely with the unifying call of “We Want to Be Together” whilst later entertaining with tales of a copulating frog stunned by a mobile phone which she had dropped, and some errant false teeth. The zeitgeist of a mid summer’s downpour was captured by Jan Arnold with “Two Umbrellas”, and she shamelessly flirted with her “Little Black Dress of Desire”.
Two poets stood out with their humour. Brian Asbury has a robust acting resume and his confidence and projection held him in good stead with “The Aardvark and the Squid” and his “Peculiar Pet (pterodactyl)”. Stephanie Knipe maintained the surreal by warning us of the sentience of Wheelie Bins and the dangers of sending gateau through the post, incorporating content which David Lynch might deem preposterous.
“Naughty Naughty” was a thoughtful vignette on what it is like to be a small child and was well delivered by Marjorie Neilsen. Poems about relationships are meat and drink for poets, but Val Thompson was fearless in performing “A Well Worn Marriage” with her husband in the audience!
Perhaps she was hoping that forgetfulness, as explored in her sharply observed “Automatic Recall” would come into play? Yet it was her evergreen “Stylist Theresa” which for me has the authenticity and simplicity of Beatles Lyrics circa “Penny Lane and “Eleanor Rigby”, which shone. The two sets closed with “Lichfield”, an impressive, evocative cinq cinquaine, which had been written, and was performed, collaboratively.
And so the performance drew to a close, in two venues, over two and a half hours. A resounding success, hopefully it will provide a platform for similar such events in the future. 16-07-11
First of all let me tell you what this
isn't. It isn't, in any real sense of the word, a review. It can't be.
Thirty seven performers (plus the MC, Niall O'Sullivan) in three hours
(minus the fifteen minute break) conspired with a room so crowded with
poets and poetry-lovers that there wasn't space enough to make notes, to
make a proper review impossible. Just the name-checks would use up the
London accents, Irish accents, Liverpool accents and American accents . . .
poetry that was prosaic and poetry that was
profound . . .
. . .
straightforward, metaphorical and surreal . . .
saintly, discrete, scurrilous and frankly obscene . . .
rhyming verse and free verse . . .
rapping styles, lyrical styles and singing . . .
structured, unstructured and chaotic . . .
confident performances and slightly nervous performances . . .
poems about sex, god, poverty, celebrity, reality, fantasy, food, fetishism, zombies, flat-sharing, travel, the Government viewed as a boyfriend, the Government viewed as a tyranny, Los Angeles and Chessington, science, art, mathematics . . .
poems where I couldn't tell you what they were about if you gave me sixpence . . .
It was gloriously, wonderfully frantic and intense and what we didn't have - and it's really quite remarkable - was a single poor performance. I got up and did my bit half way through the first half and had a nicely warm response which pleased me given the company I was keeping.
Niall kept a necessarily tight rein on the proceedings and everything went splendidly. For poets and poetry lovers alike if you are in the region of Covent Garden on a Tuesday night I'd recommend it, but, if it's always so well-attended, dress in cool clothes and take your own oxygen supply. 12-07-11
Nuneaton Poetry Day – Various Locations
Enjoying poetry can come in many forms. Sometimes it may be in a good book, on other occasions it may be listening to others at a poetry event, or performing oneself, to the converted.
But it can also be about a challenge. Several weeks ago at Polesworth Poets I was chatting to Rach Goth who told me about plans for the above event, but confided that she was short of professional help.
By chance I had spoken to Slam Colossus Mark Niel a few days previously who had told me that he was looking for festival work – I was happy to play matchmaker, and was delighted to learn that he was available and had accepted a role.
The combination of Mark’s formidable presentational skills, Mal Dewhirst’s organisational talents and local knowledge augured well for the day, and so it proved. Mal conceived the excellent idea of creating a collaborative poem using words supplied to him from as far afield as possible. This type of initiative appeals to me . So I went about contacting some established friends in South Africa, Ohio and France, and made some speculative approaches to people in New Zealand and Alaska. The response was heart-warming, making a modest contribution to the impressive result:
In a single Moment
Collaborative poem from
the world to Nuneaton Summer Poetry Day.
The day itself was a combination of readings in Waterstones, an evening open mic in a pub, a poet-tree , open air readings and the world’s first 60 second open air slam. I was under no illusions as to what was required, a poem which would grab the attention of the audience from the first phrase, and retain it thereafter.
At 11am I scoured the Wikipedia entry for Nuneaton , and by 11.15 it was job done. On the stump, the forensic detective skills of Mark Niel subsequently outed my source material and exposed the absurdity of Jordan’s amorous designs on me but fortunately this did not count against me as I fortuitously won the Slam title against competition modest in number, but determined in intent. Thanks to Colin Hench, Gary Carr and Sammy Joe amongst others for such valiant opposition.
A warm summers day in George Eliot country was the perfect backdrop to a successful event made so by the sheer will, determination and enthusiasm of all involved. And that is something that I am proud , and passionate, about. Taking words and poetry out and about, from quiet corners into the hurly burly of everyday life and making it live.
Nuneaton Poetry Day at the Fountain
Nuneaton I salute you on a lovely summer day!
Your name came when the nuns stopped at Eaton for a rest
For leisure you sought the finest retail inventor
was George Elliot’s Milby too, of writing fame and splendour
The Poet’s Perspective
A personal reflection by Poet in Residence, Mal Dewhirst.
THIS last week saw the culmination of three months work to organise the Nuneaton Summer Poetry day with the event itself. My part in the day was as the poet in residence, observing the events and writing about them on the blog at http://nuneatonpoetryday.wordpress.com
I arrived early to see the market team installing the last of the blue and white gazebos that make up the covers over the market stalls. They had been up far earlier than me to get them all into place so that the stall holders could set out their tables and start displaying their wares in time for the first customers who were starting to enter the town by nine.
As I said, I was early so headed to a coffee shop to grab a much needed eye-opener and to write my first two poems of the day ‘Early’ and ‘Coffee at 9:00 am’, I was joined by my partner in crime for the organisation of the day, Rach Flowers, who was dressed in her spectacular black dress and boots that any female Goth would be proud to wear.
We proceeded to meet the artists from Art Alert who were decorating the benches, inspired by poems that I had provided them, from Michael Drayton to Wordsworth to Blake and some modern poems, including one of my own, one from Mark Niel, the minstrel poet for the day. The benches were covered with cushions made from wall paper and included a newspaper inside of which was a copy of the poems that they used to inspire them.
It was interesting to watch to town folk as they were unsure whether they could sit on the benches and Art Alert had to put up signs to say “Please Do Sit on the Benches”, which I am sure one or two people managed to put the word “NOT” into when they read it.
The easiest way was to lead the way and sit on the bench with my poem on which I had my photo taken. This seemed to do the trick and before long people were sitting on the benches and reading the poems in poems in the newspapers.
I managed to get some words to use in a poem from the Art Alert team and very soon had the basis for my third poem ‘Benches’ which I am sure one or two people managed to put the word “NOT” into when they read it.
Art Alert also brought along a bright blue tree from which we hung poetry kites and other poems to make our Poetree, it was originally planned that the bench poems would hang as fruit from the tree, but as these were now in the newspapers, the tree was a little bare at the start of the day, but as the day progressed the poetry kites became the leaves and fruit and added to the colour of the day.
My base for blogging was the Community Café, which was proving a difficult venue for people to perform as the local people were not sure what to expect, Colin King was holding court in this location story telling and engaging with his audience, getting them involved with where the story went next.
I wrote the poem ‘Community Café’ as I sat and updated the blog, using the line ‘bending his words around the ears of Saturday’, where ‘Saturday’ is used as a collective noun for all that normally goes on in the town on Saturday, the market, the shoppers, the meeting of friends, they are always there.
Colin made full use of the space walking through it and projecting his voice with its wonderful Irish lilt. It is certainly as sense of theatre that helps to engage an audience; Colin was never static and could not be totally ignored.
This highlights the difficulty of working in such spaces, many poets read at poetry events, where they have an audience that has come to listen, an event such as this is challenging because most of the people have come to do their shopping, meet with friends and do their normal Saturday routine. Poets and story tellers can be ignored, unless they provide something that captures the imagination.
People don’t necessarily have to stop to listen; they can still wander along hearing the words as they float through the market stalls. There is also an argument that reading a poem out-loud in the street or anywhere is a ritual and that it does not matter whether anyone is listening, purely reciting the words as an act in itself is a worthy thing to do.
People like, the Brazilian Poet Márcio-André de Sousa, who I had the pleasure to meet in 2009 when he filled the Tin Angel Bar with sound poetry at Night Blue Fruit in Coventry. He ventured out to the Chernobyl Nuclear site in 2007 on what many considered a suicidal trip, purely to read poetry to the landscape, to the shell of this devastation, which he did for six hours.
Whatever your thoughts on performance and the need or not for an audience, then I think events such as Nuneaton Summer Poetry Day needs to cater for both; those who see it as a ritual and those who want to engage with an audience, things to be considered for any future event.
The idea of a collaborative poem came to me quiet early in the process, I did it back in March with the Children at Birchwood Primary School in Polesworth, where we played with Kite Poetry and they gave me words to form the basis of the collaborative poem to be used on the poetry trail. I really liked the idea of words coming in to Nuneaton from all over the world and then being shaped into a poem that in some way reflected the day. Calls for words were put out on Facebook and Twitter and through the blog. Face book friends passed it on to their friends, and thanks to Gary Longden who really took hold of the idea and sent it to his friends in far distant places, many of who responded.
I was interested in the words where they would come from, who else was thinking about Nuneaton and poetry, but could not come to the town itself, I wanted part of the festival to be accessible through the web, that it was a global event with its heart in Nuneaton.
I received words from across the globe, the farthest being from Waipu on the North Island of New Zealand 11,269 miles away, from the words provided I composed the poem ‘In a Single Moment’ which drew its theme from the 60 second slam and the idea that whilst the poets in Nuneaton were performing then around the world at the same time the other events were taking place. Unifying a set of individual acts in to the events at the Poetry Day. It seemed to me that the words were just as important as the places and the people who had sent them and that the poem should reflect this.
Since the day itself, another poet has also taken the words and created her own poem, which I hope to post on the blog in the next few days.
My last poem posted on the day was my poem ‘Nuneaton’, which I will admit was written in the days on the run up to the event rather than on the day itself. The reason for this was that I wanted to present the town with a more crafted poem, .
The poem uses the River Anker, which runs through the town but has been diverted under the streets and so as you wander around you may not know it was there, it uses the poet searching for the river on market day as its theme, and how this once sparkling ribbon in the landscape has now been replaced by the glints from the market stalls, until the poet spots the movement of the people and reflects that they flow as if mimicking the river.
The day finished in the Crown pub with an open mic, compered by Milton Keynes Poet Laureate Mark Niel who organised the slam and kept things flowing at the Fountain poetry stop. The night ended with music from the Folk band, Folklaw who were excellent and should not be missed if you get a chance to see them at festivals and venues around the Midlands.
Mal is organizer of the “Fizz” events run by Polesworth Poets, the next one runs on Tuesday 19th July, Matt Merritt, headlines, for more information: http://pollysworda.wordpress.com/
Little Venice, Worcester
This was the first month that Parole Parlate has run without the formidable hosting skills of the “on holiday” Lisa Ventura. So did the mice play while the cat was away?
Did profanity and sleaze rule? No, because Martin stepped in to deliver an evening that was as well run as ever! A good turn -out was rewarded with a very good range of performers, the ones new to “Behind the Arras” of whom will be highlighted in this piece.
Michelle Crosbie took to the floor and impressed everyone with what she claimed to be her first ever “proper” performance in front of a live audience. Well if this really was her debut, she is going to be something special when she gets going. Blessed with youthful “surfer” looks that would get her an automatic part for “Home and Away”, Michelle commanded the stage immediately with an assured, well chosen set which was well articulated, well performed, and entertained from start to finish.
After warming up with “Story Untold” and the clever “Sail of Love” she hit her stride with “O Dark Pilot Whales” a poem about the lost Pilot whales who threatened to beach in South Uist a few months ago. She skilfully layered an eco- poem with ancient mythological imagery, incorporating Herne the Hunter ( as name checked in Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”) and Sedna, the Innuit Goddess of the Sea, in a hugely satisfying poem before signing off with a sung through offering called “Yes to Love”. Fresh and vibrant, her set was a joy.
STARK AND STRONG
Drugs poems, like drugs songs, are dangerous territory. They risk either wallowing in self-indulgent self –pity ,or glorifying that which they purport to warn against. Fortunately Bobby Parker avoided both traps . His collection of poems on cocaine addiction, entitled “Palpitations”, was stark, strong, awkward and uplifting simultaneously. Disciplined and amusing he also read from his “Smart Arse” anthology, taking in “And Then We Danced “ and “Night Life”.
Static poetry performance can be dull, fortunately Math Jones does not do static performance and instead he paced around delivering a set which was as physically vibrant as the content. It was fun, not comic, and fired a poetic adrenaline shot into the audience. Poems about lust and “All because the lady loves..” were light witty and engaging, whilst “Coat”, a sonnet about the garment left to him by an ex girlfriend ,was wry and painfully accurate. Failed relationship poems from a male perspective are quite rare and this was very sharply observed. “The Boon of Scafell” was a pleasing extended piece whilst his poem on Tarot Cards was fated to succeed.
I had heard about Amy Rainbow before but not heard her in person, and she was quite a treat. Rhyming poetry to a high standard is difficult to do well because there is always a danger that the rhyme is either predictable, or absurdly contrived. Amy’s main device is to use simple rhymes which one might associate with simple subjects- but with a wicked barb which pricks and delights in equal measure, which is very difficult. She succeeds effortlessly.
Performing largely from “Poems of the Unrequited”, she went on a one woman search for love through self mastery that appeared to rule out all men, flattered John Cooper Clarke rotten, and then read a John Betjeman poem that might have been by him- but might not! Her reluctant conversion to the joys of the Women’s Institute was very droll, “Dangerous Verse” was very clever, but my favourite piece from her was “I Don’t”, a withering warning to any man not to propose marriage to her. And I promise you, if you do, you will be cut to shreds by her acid, and very funny, tongue.
Maggie Doyle closed the evening with her usual grace and good humour which included several laugh out loud episodes, but she also injected a less typical serious reflection on the 7/7 Bombings entitled “Why”, which was equally well received. Fellow performance veteran Sarah James never disappoints , and earlier she had romped through her favourites including “Dinner at Chez Per” and “Part of the Furniture” with her customary aplomb. But a new one to me particularly caught my ear, “The Nutritionists Night Out”. Witty and wry she delivered it with brio and pizzazz and a smart pay off line about a “strange Italian dressing”. Sammy Joe also impressed with some bold, challenging material , although she suffered a little without amplification.
Parole Parlate next plays on Thursday 4th August at Little venice, St Nicholas St Worcester at 7.30pm.
If walls could speak
Brendan Hawthorn at Wightwick Manor
It was a gloriously bright summers evening as we assembled outside the front door of Wightwick Manor for our tour. The Manor was looking superb and some in our group of ten, explored the nearest parts of the beautiful gardens, or simply basked in the sunshine, until summoned to the house Lisa Fleetwood opening the door.
Inside, the interior of the Victorian house isn’t naturally light and the change in the light and indeed warmth was striking.
We were greeted by senior staff offering drinks (Pimms or orange juice) before being introduced to our guide for the evening, Wednesbury poet Brendan Hawthorne, who is also Poet in Residence at Wightwick.
Drinks finished, we set out on our tour of the ground floor, starting in the scullery and kitchens, where we learned about the daily life of the kitchen from both Brendan’s poetry and Laura Barker who took on the role of cook.
From there, we moved on to take a look into the Turkish bath before our first encounter with the upper classes in the family part of the house.
In the ladies’ Drawing Room we again encountered Laura Barker as a flustered lady who we had disturbed. And whose character berated us on our lack of manners, especially as we had brought men into the room. The men’s domain was next door, in the library, which housed a good stock of books and a John Wood as a member of family, who greeted us in true Victorian fashion.
From the library, we moved to the largest room on our tour, the Great Parlour which houses a lot of the family objects d’art, including Edward Burne-Jones’ Love among the ruins. Once again, Laura Barker was on hand, this time to tell us that we had arrived early and to make ourselves at home while our luggage was dealt with.
The billiard room was next on our itinerary and provided a much needed chance for the older members of the group to sit whilst listening to the history of the room and Brendan Hawthorne’s poem based on the artefacts we had around us.
The magnificent dining room was laid up for a family dinner in the luxurious style that the Manders would have expected, complete with ‘food’ on the sideboards.
Upstairs, we visited the bedroom of one of the ladies of the house. A pleasantly decorated little room with a four poster bed and almost everything a Victorian lady could need.
A visit to the Nursery caught the Nursemaid (Laura Barker again) getting the children to tidy up before bath and bed. Toys around the room reminded some of us of similar, if slightly more modern, items from our own childhood.
The sluice room was most unexpected as was the ending to Brendan Hawthorne’s poetic observation.
And so to the last room of the evening, the Nursery Bedroom, where heavy drapes prevented the sun from disturbing the little charges’ sleep while we listened to the final scheduled poem.
For the duration of the tour the William Morris clad walls of Wightwick Manor spoke to us, courtesy of Brendan Hawthorne and the staff.
Personally, I’d like to see this
idea expanded to every room, with even more emphasis on how unique
Wightwick Manor is. 30-06-11
Sansome Street, Worcester Literary Festival
I’ve been putting off writing this review of Midsummer Madness at the Word and Sound in Worcester. Not because it wasn’t a good evening but because it was so good, I don’t know how or where to start. In fact, variety and quality were so much the spice of life at this open mic that I think every set might have been my highlight of the evening at a different gig.
It would be fatal last words to claim this monthly/bi-monthly spoken word evening at the Worcester Arts Workshop is the longest established in Worcester but it must be one of the longest established. It is also a true – sign-up on the night, not sets fixed beforehand – open mic. There is an obvious risk inherent in not having acts lined up in advance, but I haven’t been to a Word and Sound yet and not had a good evening packed with performers. And this Midsummer Madness for the Worcestershire Literary Festival on Friday, June 24 was particularly stunning.
The evening at the atmospheric and arty, arched cellar was opened by one of the organisers, Amanda Bonnick, with a fine set of poems, including two in particular that left me with that ‘gasp inside feeling’ – her second, ‘edgy’ poem, and her light-hearted yet incredibly well-written, celebratory gay wedding poem Glad.
Fergus McGonigal’s set, complete with props for a smokin’ piece on No Smoking, was funny, dramatic and totally infectious, characterized too by his customary ability to interact superbly with the audience.
Myfanwy Fox opened with a beautiful solstice poem to mark the midsummer theme and incorporated comedy, word play, politics, and a villanelle to the Emerald Isle in her varied set.
Matt Brockington kept the audience entertained with The Banker’s Song, a long poem on the theme of gravitas which was marked by varying pace, political/social comment and humour.
Why do Women Like Crap Music? was Gary Longden’s pacey and stunningly funny opening to his set, which offered lots of humour – and other Fringe Benefits. Like his opening poem, his ending poem Majorca had the audience in fits of laughter.
I’ve never thought of windowsills as inspiring but Sarah Tamar ‘s poem on the topic was one of my favourites from her varied set, as she turned various plant pot flowers into characters with distinctive characteristics. I also particularly enjoyed the description in her robin poem and how she reinforced this with gestures. And her ending poem had plenty of umph , va-va-voom and laughter!
Dot, from Kidderminster, brought three beautifully formed and well-read poems to the evening, with some wonderful description, not to mention amazing Gusto!
Catherine Croswell’s poem about jogging was fantastic, with great use of pace and comedy, and a biting warning about going out for a run with her mother! Her theatrical kisses poem was very memorable too and full of drama.
Revenge, eye balls as lychees, and diamonds in the dark all added to the wonderful drama of Suz Winspear’s poetry and performance. I particularly enjoyed her family Revenge poem.
The last poet of the evening was Jenny Hope (also one of the Word and Sound organisers) – and what a finale! Her intensely sensual sonnets Six of the Flesh were so stunningly read that I now understand what people mean when they talk about having the audience in the palm of one’s hand!
Last but definitely not least, was Andy Green, who did a series of short sets throughout the evening, confidently alternating serious and comic, song and poem. He rounded off the evening and his wonderful series of performances with real audience participation and his amazing song Get Your Sorry But/Butt Out of My Face!
I’m stating the obvious by saying it would have been madness to miss out on this evening of Midsummer Madness of words and sounds – but it would, so there! 24-06-11
Little Venice, Worcester Literary Festival
It’s 7.30pm, Spoz is cranking up the tension in his own inimitable way, and we are waiting for the first act of the evening. Where are we? The gloriously aromatic Little Venice restaurant in Worcester which has opened its upstairs and made the Worcestershire Literature Festival very welcome and we are celebrating the “Invitation Parole Parlate” – a very special event indeed.
Phew! Sarah Tamar arrives – a little breathless but this adds to her characteristically intimate and friendly set. She gives us four poems and we don’t go away hungry – one funny and wry piece entitled Bubble-wrapped, a lovely poignant tribute to her Dad and a delicately intricate poem Big Girls Don’t Cry with internal rhymes cleverly contrasting the simple heartfelt message. A touching poem about a new grandchild with his ‘mole face bare, uncluttered’ completes a distinctive, funny performance with the occasional sting in the tail, nostalgic but not sentimental.
John Lawrence was next, known also for his forays into the novel form , he amuses with honesty and wit with subjects ranging from life from the point of view of a fish, quantum physics, and his tour de force about his inadequacies at DIY –we can all empathise with! Who was next? Well, modesty forbids me from reviewing the next poet – Amanda Bonnick – I am vaguely related to her – but she seemed to be well received!
Fergus McGonigal’s large presence cranked up the volume and he gave us insight into what keeps him up at night and what wakes him up early – too early – in the morning. His lasciviously performed poem, 4.37am, chronicles the agony of giving up smoking and the secret attractions of that ‘filthy pleasure’. I am beginning now to be worried for Fergus’s health and well-being, because his next poem describes, in almost too much realistic detail, the agonies of a hangover. The last poem pulls him back from the brink, a touching poem to his wife. (ps, don’t worry, Fergus, I know it is your poetic ‘I’ who is talking and that you are the most abstemious of beings in reality!).
Maggie Doyle provides poignant, well-observed and occasionally whimsical verse, with a strong rhythmical and rhyming structure that serves her delivery well. Her signature poem describes in beautifully cringing detail the outcome of a disastrous blind date and provides a humorous ending.
It is certainly an evening of contrasts! Suz Winspear is up next and her own fantastic dress sense and theatrical impact are echoed in her work – some of which is not for the squeamish, especially the poem ‘Eyeballs’. Comic contrast reigns supreme in her piece about the newsreader who loses a second of concentration while ‘on air’as she spirals off in her imagination to encounters with her lover – ‘Last Night’s News’ certainly went down well with the audience.
The lovely images of Colette Grosvenor’s award-winning poem, ‘Sympathetic Smiles’ was a contrast to Suz, and Colette’s performance was a subtle rendition of the winning piece. After the break Allie Sewell not only changed gear but changed genre and delivered an amusing and rather rude short story about the Pinocchio effect of lying – but this time when the young man in question told a porky, it was not his nose that grew! The story ended in a human explosion and an explosion of applause from the audience.
Later participants, Glenn James reading his fiction, Theo Theobald the first Worcestershire Literature Festival Poet Laureate and Zena Edwards contributed to the intimate and exciting atmosphere which Spoz kept at boiling pitch! And the whole evening was enhanced by Spoz’s birthday cake and chocolates! Thanks Spoz and happy birthday again! Thanks must go to Lisa Ventura and the Festival crew for organising such a memorable event.23-06-11
Metro cafe, Bilston
TWO weeks ago I did my final review of City Voices and last night came the time for my final review of Bilston Voices, and it was a splendid one for me to finish on.
The venue, Cafe Metro in Bilston, has always been a friendly place, ideally suited to both new and experienced performers and last night was no exception.
To kick off the evening we had Jack Edwards making his Bilston début. Jack, as he told us before he started, has only been writing poetry since September and is still trying to develop his own style. He's doing a fine job of it too.
His poems have strong descriptive quality that draws the listener in while describing commonplace, everyday things and events. His opener, The Red Bike was description of an abandoned bike. Clear Crossing was a short poem about a woman too nervous to cross the road.
Fog-lights was exactly what it sounds like, a description of driving in fog. He has a fine turn of phrase that lends these descriptions a deeper metaphorical quality. It would be damning with faint praise to suggest that he did a great set for a newcomer because he did a fine set by any standards.
Jack was followed by Lucy Jeynes who described her set as "quite dark" but that was a bit misleading. Certainly bits of it were dark but it was a well structured and varied performance that started with The Invitation a poem about an invitation to a coffee morning in Hades; rattled through The Business of Waiting which perfectly captured the rhythmic boredom of office work; handed us a group of poems that gave a cynical feminist twist to familiar fair tales; suggested in Den and Angie that we watch soap operas to learn how to behave in domestic situations; described the human heart in what was perhaps the only truly dark poem of the set and finished with a humorous pastiche of the Lord's Prayer in, "A Prayer for World Facilities Management Day".
It was confident and thoroughly entertaining.
The following act was an old favourite, Ray Jones, who always manages to please the audience with his well crafted and superbly read short stories.
Last night's Thick Barry, a tale of childhood trauma told by an adult who had never learned to read and write kept the whole venue in rapt silence.
You could hear the scratching of my pen, so intense was the concentration he was given. The voice of the character was perfectly realised as he recollected the bullying of his history teacher and the taunts of his classmates. Excellent stuff.
After the break Madge Gilbey took us into the realms of Black Country dialect poetry. It's the kind of stuff that can be tricky to pull off, but the great secret is that the poems have to be strong enough to work without the dialect element, which then just adds a new layer to them.
Madge's certainly were. She started strongly with Man Boobs, a funny piece suggesting that men are gradually changing sex. Bare Facts described how shaken her husband was at the sight of someone's naked backside.
Other poems took us through the trauma of washing cricket whites with coloureds, a state brothel for pensioners, receiving a first ever Valentine's card in later life, and even closed with a farewell to the audience in rhyme. All the poems were clever and funny and thoroughly appreciated by everyone there.
The final act of the night was the remarkable Richard Tyrone-Jones. He gave us a very polished twenty minutes in lively style with wonderful poetry and witty intelligent introductions. His opener was a short and very pithy piece about receiving an odd party invitation.
Most of his pieces were similarly short and clever, delivered as the poetry equivalent of fast paced one-liners from a top comedian. He even gave us a few fast and funny limericks.
There were a couple of forays into more serious territory as he described having a heart attack in his thirties, and they were intense and powerful and every bit as good as the humour that made up the bulk of his set before he returned to making us laugh for the finish. He is a truly original and excellent performer.
And then it was all over. Before the next Bilston Voices I shall have left the area and before the one after that I shall have left the country. I'll be back eventually, and when I am, I look forward to visiting it again. For the moment, I couldn't have hoped for a better line-up to send me off. 24-06-11.
Worcester Arts Workshop Centre, Cellar Bar, Worcester
BILLED as “Midsummer Madness”, this was an event which was part of the Worcester Literary Festival and despite competing with two other events was well attended by both an impressive array of poetic talent and a good sized audience.
The venue itself is an excellent one in the city centre, incorporating The Bliss Cafe, which is licensed, and also offers freshly cooked Mexican food.
It provides a very agreeable pre-gig meeting area contributing considerably to the convivial atmosphere. Although in theory this open-mic event was vulnerable to the vagaries of who signs up on the night, in practice this was not an issue.
One glance around confirmed that the Worcestershire Poetic Literati Glitterati were out in force! Amanda Bonnick hosted the evening with an assured, relaxed, demeanor. The hosting task is not an easy one but Amanda made it seem so.
Normally the job is merely to offer some punctuation between performances, yet occasionally the host has to alter, or set, the mood, and she deftly delivered on both requirements. She also set a formidable standard by opening the evening too, from the edgy “Just Good Friends”, through the whimsy of “A Cat” to the closing “Glad”, a splendid celebration of the diversity of the union of relationships, which always looked strong on the page, but came alive in performance.
Some familiar faces were in fine form. Fergus dominated the room as always with his sharp wit, acid tongue and shrewd observation, culminating in a highly entertaining warning on the dangers of smoking.
Sarah James enthralled with her erudite lucidity and a marvelous pastiche of Philip Larkin on the theme of “Children, they suck you up”.
Two poets in the first half were new to me, both impressed. Myfanwy Fox drew upon her experience running a Charity Shop to perform, “Found in his Things- a Theatrical Programme” a delightful reflective piece, then demonstrated her technical ability with a clever villanelle, “Hearts homesick for the Emerald isle”. Catherine Crosswell offered astute and humorous observations on theatrical life with “When All is Waned” and “Theatrical Kisses” but really cut loose with, “The Dangers of Running”, an extended piece of beguiling linguistic intricacy, tricking, teasing and engaging the listener by constantly morphing its subject matter. Was it about running? Was it about her mother? Was it about her? Was it a comedy, a satire or a piece of verite? You will have to listen to her to find out. I loved it.
After the break, two more familiar poets performed, both thematically linked by stagecraft. Suz Winspear’s magnificent gothic dress and exploding shock of black hair is an instant attention getter as soon as she takes to the stage.
Combine this with an impish self-effacing manner and idiosyncratic material, and you get a compelling performer. From love poetry like “Diamonds After Dark”, to comic gore with “Eyeball” she always has a twinkle in her eye and leaves the audience with a smile on their faces.
Sarah Tamar’s device was simpler; she sat to perform, which in itself set her apart from everyone else. From a physical performance perspective, this can be disadvantageous, but with her rewarding closing poem “I Want to Be” she proved that any performer is only as good as her material.
WELL WRITTEN TRIUMPH
WELL WRITTEN TRIUMPH
A reflection on a middle aged woman’s perspective of young women’s aspirations, subject matter which could have been a cliché heavy minefield, proved to be a poignant light, well written triumph.
To close the evening poetically we had Jenny Hope, another poet new to me, who represented the distillation of all that was good from what had gone before. Jenny performed a collection of six sonnets entitled, “Six of the Flesh”. As Pippa Middleton has trademarked “that dress” so Jenny did with hers. Writing a good sonnet is no easy task, writing six is extraordinarily difficult, but that is what Jenny has achieved. Beautifully performed, the room went silent as she took us through the likes of “Orchard”, “The Morning After” “Picnic” and “Harvest”.
Her performance was sultry, sensual, and erotic, if Beyonce performed poetry, she wouldn’t stand a chance up against this. Jenny’s delivery was exquisite, the language both sparse and rich, crowning a splendid evening of high quality poetry and performance.
The shorter interludes as the evening progressed also warrant mention, Martin lambasted “Sir Fred”, Dot took us to a North Norfolk Beach, and Andy Green provided a series of hugely enjoyable songs, sung unaccompanied, to offer some light and shade to proceedings. Jenny Hope and Amanda Bonnick co-organise, more information on future events may be found on the “Word and Sound” Facebook page. 24-06-11.
Poetry & Music
Bishops Wood Centre, Stourport-on-Severn
Billed as an unbelievable line-up of three published poets, three superb guitarists, one singing angel, a D J and an injection of humour, this evening of Poetry and Music, part of the Worcester Literary Festival, certainly lived up to its claims.
Okay, so at this point I’d probably best admit straight up that I was also one of the poets in the line-up. But in case anyone thinks this makes my review biased, I’ll simply say that I wouldn’t read or perform alongside just anyone. The beautiful and comfortable, relaxed setting was also perfect for this gentle and beautiful fusion of poetry and music organised by Worcestershire poet Sophia Dimmock.
The evening opened with Sophia’s poetry accompanied by background music from DJ Brother Adam (her actual brother, not a monk!). This was an interesting and varied mix of poems with music that successfully complemented the tone and atmosphere created by Sophia’s words. My favourites included her rocking chair poem set to the sound of the sea, and the sinister Metal Tears.
The Very Grimm Brothers Adrian Mealing and John Denton were far from grim with their comic and varied set combining fairytale, anecdotes, comedy, poetry, music and singing. Ranging from political, good cop, bad cop, through peeping toms, music, festivals and moles (I kid you not!) it’s too difficult to pick just one favourite. We laughed and we laughed and we clapped and we clapped. ‘Nuff said!
Ruth Stacey was next up with a confident and assured reading of some very well-crafted poems from her very atmospheric Merry Go Round poem to her beautiful swan poem, and my favourite, Mute. Definitely awesome!
Colin Baggs on the guitar charmed the audience (I’ll resist the temptation to pun and say bagged, though that is what he did!) with a selection of musical pieces culminating with a Spanish flavour, and a joke in its Spanish title meaning I don’t speak Spanish. (Or something to that effect. I can’t tell you the exact translation because I really don’t speak Spanish!)
Singer-songwriter Deb Hodgson was well and truly a heavenly act offering four instruments, four pieces with poetic links and a stunningly angelic voice. She opened with her own song inspired by an area of the Highlands that used to inspire poets like Wordsworth.
The song certainly inspired the audience, as did her setting to music of Christina Rossetti’s The First Day. But my favourite had to be her performance of the jazz piece Autumn Leaves. This was the English version of the French Les Feuilles Mortes lyrics by one of my favourite European poets, Jacques Prévert.
Finally, from Autumn Leaves to full trees, as Jenny Hope opened her set with her beautiful The Forest Seamstress poem combining stunning forest sounds with amazing poetry, expressively reading. She continued her assured set with a series of six wonderfully sensual nature and love-inspired sonnets. This was a wonderful ending to a wonderful evening of poetry and music in tune with the wonderful natural surroundings. 23-06-11
Sarah James was shortlisted for Bard of Worcestershire this year, and is a poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection, Into the Yell, is published by Circaidy Gregory Press. Her web site is: http://www.sarah-james.co.uk
Chris Redmond & The Tongue Fu Band
Worcester Literary Festival
Thanks to Worcestershire Literary Festival, I have been well and truly Tongue Fued!
No, this is not some crazy, new form of martial art, it’s even better than that – this is live poetry and music at its best: spontaneous, improvised, vibrant, exciting.
The idea behind the concept presented to the Worcester audience at the Marrs Bar on Sunday night is that poets come along to an evening headlined (stunningly!) by Chris Redmond and his Tongue Fu band of musicians.
Poets get 30 seconds to tell the band what kind of music/soundtrack they’d like and the musicians cook something up for the poet to perform to. Like I said, this is improvised, live, exciting!
First off, I’ll admit my bias, in that I was one of the poets in the line-up. I’ll say no more about that except that the experience is thrilling. Though it is harder than it seems if you’ve never performed with music behind you before, it’s also highly addictive!
First up, after Chris Redmond’s stunning headline introduction to the Tongue Fu concept was Worcestershire Bard stunner-up Fergus Mcgonigal, now renamed Firstus Mcgonigal as he’s now kicked off three Worcestershire Literary Festival events in a row!
His clear directions to the band combined with his set on the delights of drinking too much and horror of hangovers was an instant hit with the audience.
Jazzman John Clarke, who had performed in his own Worcestershire Literary Festival event the previous night, was the only poet of the evening other than Chris Redmond who’d performed with the band before.
He asked them for all they’d got and that is what he also gave the audience with his pacey pieces demonstrating that “poetry is the jazz of life”.
Next on, was Worcestershire young poet laureate stunner-up Beth 'Knuckles' Edwards with a funky, confident performance based on some really strong poetry. Her Shakespeare poem in particular is one I’d love to hear her perform again – and again and again!
Amy Daffodil Rainbow performed some vibrant pieces from her new poetry collection with such energy, panache and natural synchronisation with the music that she sounded like a pro at performing this way.
Maggie Doyle brought a wonderful change to the tone of the evening with her slower, sad pieces followed by a dramatic set from Andy Green which ranged from political war (Stalinesque music!) through hip-hop to slow and menacing with his wife-beating poem.
Sarah Tamar also brought variety to her performance with her amazing soft blues Leonard Cohen love song followed by a strong, jaunty John Wayne political piece.
Chris then brought the evening to a whooping, standing finish with his hilarious Glastonbury Poo and I/eye poem in a stunning performance that beautifully walked that tricky tightrope between funny and squirming. Definitely a pro at work! 19-06-11
Sarah James was shortlisted for “Bard of Worcestershire” this year, and is a poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection “Into the Yell” is published by Circaidy Gregory Press. Her web site is: www.sarah-james.co.uk
Old Cottage Inn, Burton upon Trent
This was the third event at this new venue, which I suspect means that it is no longer new, and should no longer be described as such.
Organiser Gary Carr was rewarded with the biggest turn-out yet, resulting in a good atmosphere, plenty of readers, and few spare seats. It is encouraging to see that Friday nights can command poetry audiences, and this monthly routine extends across the summer with no break.
Crucially, Spoken Worlds is attracting a core of high quality performers to set a good standard whilst still welcoming those who want to read for the first time.
A first time performer at Spoken Worlds, but a seasoned veteran of the Birmingham/Black Country circuit was Bob Hale. An English Teacher by profession, Bob was making his first and last ( for a year) appearance as he is soon to teach summer school at Harrow and then English in China, so any victory speeches in Black Country English from the Chinese Olympic Team in London next year are down to Bob.
Wisely his first two poems, “On Being Joined in the Pub by Two Female Colleagues whose limited range of Conversational Gambits had Previously Been Remarked Upon” (“I forgot you’re not a girl Bob”) and “Dave” were set in a pub, unsurprisingly they matched the audience’s mood perfectly. “Other Childhoods” reminded of those in other countries less fortunate than ourselves whilst “Waiting for a Holiday to Begin” was a short, sharp reminder of the perils of embarking upon any holiday.
But he left his most impressive poem till last, ”Chaos Theory”, from the eponymous second collection of his work, “The smallest of lies betrays the greatest of truths. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ”, a poem of love and loss, taut, anguished and well executed. A fine set, and well worth the three slots, he will be missed, but equally welcomed back in a year’s time with, no doubt a rickshaw full of new poetry.
Mal Dewhirst was another who read in three instalments, a device which allows a reader to offer a substantial offering of their work without taxing the audience with one uninterrupted performance. ”Ibiza” picked up a Balearics theme which was reprised elsewhere whilst, “Donna, Two am” a story of a Mrs Robinson infatuation, had a painful veritas about it. After pieces about body piercing and time Mal then went into an extended piece about a recent visit to Memphis, in which Elvis and the Blues loomed large.
The Elvis phenomena is an interesting one. His late 50’s career undoubtedly was a defining element in the birth of modern rock n roll. Yet the draft and then a movie career took him out of the musical frontline thereafter even though he continued to enjoy hit records and commercial success for much of the 60’s. Shrewdly, Mal concentrated on the Blues, a back street bar and an aging Bluesman who had never quite made it which unsurprisingly provided the basis for a very good poem.
Colin “The “ Hench is a poet whom I always enjoy, and he did not disappoint. One of the poets to be immortalised on the Polesworth Poetry Trail he revisited his time at Pooley Hall, first with a sombre reflection on the dangers of the Tip alluding to Aberfan, and then with “Alvechurch Mound v Pooley Mound, an allegorical tale of the resistance within the community to the metamorphosis of a once working pit into a leisure park.
John Donne is a man with local connections who managed the apogee of poetic ambition twice by producing two phrases subsequently assimilated into the English language in his poem “No Man Is An Island”, with the title phrase (borrowed by both The Boomtown Rats and Paul Simon) and the closing line “And therefore never send to know for whom, the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. ”. Boldly, Colin tackled the island theme himself – and very successfully he did so too.
But for me his “Student House” poem was his standout offering of the night with a particularly memorable line - when he described the house fabric as being ”shabby as a cowards excuse”
A host of other talent provided sterling support, including Margaret Torr and Ian Ward with some fantasy writing Terri and Ray Jolland with light comedy and Rob Stevens with poetry and music. Spoken Worlds next meets Friday July 22nd, 7. 30pm. 17-06-11
City Bar, King St, Wolverhampton
Well, it's been a long journey that I've travelled with City Voices since I first attended, and performed , way back when it used to be upstairs at the Clarendon. Last night was, at least for the foreseeable future, my final visit, as work will soon be taking me away, first to Harrow and then to China. So how did it go?
Recently Simon Fletcher, the organiser of the event, has been mixing up the format slightly, and last night was another departure, with the whole of the second half being taken up with a folk duo, Billy and Loz. First though we had three readers to entertain us for the first half, all of them regulars at City Voices.
We started with Yvette Rose, a quiet performer of personal poems. She started with several poems about nature - In The Garden, What A Blessing and Hibiscus - which she followed up with the slight, but clever, Love With Maths before moving on to very personal poems about relationships, especially her relationship with her Grandmother.
Yvette was followed by Dorothy Baruch, who read a single poem, followed by extracts from a work in progress, a novel that she is writing.
The poem was a short and quite strong piece revealed to be about adoption only after she had read it. She introduced the extracts from the novel by telling us that some of it is quite dark but she had chosen the "less dark" sections for the performance.
She has a strong expressive voice and a good ear for dialogue. On one hearing of this short section I found it quite hard to work out what was going on but the rhythm of the words and the authentic and convincing way that she read carried me along as she described a naming ceremony for a child in the Caribbean. It was a fine performance.
Finally to end the first half we had Jane Seabourne, a very accomplished poet. Her set was a mixture of some things I've heard before and some that I had not. She opened with a favourite, At the Family Fun Day, which contains the great line "it's rumoured there'll be Morris dancing".
She rattled on through a fast-paced series of excellent poems - Wilfred and I Celebrate Our 40th Anniversary - about how, as a teenager she discovered the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Note To a Non-Cooking Man - sharp and funny with a bitter twist in the last line, Wriggly Monkey - a well observed description of an old man who doesn't "want to be any trouble". She finished the set with two poems about school games lessons and a gently observed one written for, and about, The Race For Life cancer charity.
After the break we had our folk duo, Billy and Loz, or Brian Dakin and Lawrence Hipkiss to give them their full names. Lawrence played the guitar well, adding occasional comments in the gaps between songs, while Brian alternated spoken word with song.
Their songs and poems were all based firmly in Black Country history and were thoroughly entertaining. Drovers was introduced as being a Black Country cowboy song and was precisely that. Rag Time Roll was about old fashioned pub entertainment, The Bricklayers Daughter was a poignant and touching tale of a man bringing up a child alone and Hard Times was a bleak description of workhouses.
My favourite though, my favourite piece from the whole night in fact, was the rousing Shut The Curtains, Gerald which told the tale of Queen Victoria visiting the Black Country and insisting on going through Tipton with the curtains closed so that she wouldn't have to see it.
Excellent stuff. I shall miss it. 14-06-11
Spread the Word
The Voice Box, Forman St, Derby
Spoken word events traditionally major on poetry, interspersed with the odd prose piece to provide a bit of a break. “Spread the Word” turns this concept on its head by majoring on storytelling, and using poetry and music as the interludes – and very well it works too. Organised by Sophie Snell, it is compered by John Fearon, who also tells a few stories himself.
The location itself is excellent, a refurbished hall in an old building, and the open pitch roof offers excellent acoustics rendering amplification unnecessary. Modern kitchen facilities provide refreshments including chocolate cake and tables, and chairs are arrayed informally, creating as friendly and warm an atmosphere as the organisers themselves extend to audience and performers.
First up was Dave Tonge, the self styled “Yarnsmith of Norwich” who entertained us with “The Onion’s Tale”. The bearded Dave often performs in costume, but even without, convinced as an Old English troubadour telling a traditional tale. Dave had travelled from East Anglia for the evening. His warm manner and good humour set a high standard for the evening. He also excelled in his ability to get the best out of the audience in creating creaking hinge noises. My personal tip is that for an extended creak, starting from as low a musical pitch as possible is best.
At that point I was impressed that someone had come from as far as Norwich, until the next performer, Ana Lines, introduced herself as a Brazilian national! Although Portugese is Ana’s mother tongue, she speaks fluent English with a delightful Latin accent which evokes an exotic ambience to her delivery which tonight told “The Farmer’s Tale”, a parable about a treasure windfall and a gossiping wife, universal themes which transcend national boundaries.
She has an endearing presentational device of ostensibly taking the audience into her confidence, and she flatteringly declares assumed wisdom in the audience, drawing us closer in still. Full of poise, and a knowing wink, she tested the audience’s ability to creak too. . . . . .
Sophie Snell closed the first half with “The Teeny Weeny Tiny Old Woman”, the macabre story of a hairy old toe. Sophie writes stories for children and adults and she skilfully drew on strands from both in this gory tale.
Part fairy tale, part horror story and part cookery ingredient guide, she had us enthralled as she sat in classic “Jackanory” pose then aghast as she strode around to reveal the ghastly outcome. “Just a Minute” would hate her – for there was not a moment’s hesitation, repetition or deviation in her story. She has been touring her “ Seven Deadly Sins” show, I have no doubt that an extended set would be an even greater treat. And yes, she got the audience to creak too! However my appetite for the chocolate cake was somewhat diminished. . . . . . . . . . .
After the break Bryan Franks told “Noah’s Tale” with god humour and panache whilst David Brookes gave a more contemporary account of a submarine escape, both aquatic themes but from different eras.
Jim Kavanagh had joined Dave Tonge on the trek from East Anglia but his story was from Ireland, “The Land of Youth”. Drawn from the “myths and legends” tradition. This one hailed from the era of St Patrick and was beguilingly and compellingly told, in an almost confidential manner, and light irish brogue. To close the evening Emma Carlton entertained with “The Monks Tale”, an amusing story of a medieval monk and his shared adventures between two monasteries with very different mores. Flamboyant and brisk Emma shone and was the perfect curtain call for the evening.
The storytellers were interspersed with some poets, musicians and a very confident young riddle teller in the shape of Ben Snell. Not only is Sophie Snell a fine storyteller, but she is also clearly a good alchemist too, as each main performer not only had a distinct style, but also the stories themselves were quite diverse, ensuring a satisfying, stimulating and rewarding evening. “Spread the Word” returns later in the year, more details available at: http://www. flyingdonkeys. co. uk/ 09-06-11
Erdington Library, Birmingham
This evening performance was part of a week -long series of workshops and performances at the library led by Jan Watts. Erdington Library has traditionally been hugely supportive of this type of event and so it was again with a staff who were as helpful and keen to please as ever. Marcus Taylor organised the evening and assembled an impressive array of local talent.
Chris Smith from Sutton Coldfield and Cannon Hill Poets opened the evening followed by Jan Watts herself. Jan took us on a journey including her childhood in Walthamstow, her experience of being closer to ducks from her boat, and her dissolute lifestyle as a lady who lunches.
As always her clarity and freshness of expression shone. “Sunday Express” is a long established open mic poetry event running on the third Sunday of the month at 4pm at the Adam & Eve Digbeth. “Big Bren” Higgins runs it and he brought his rumbustious charm with him whether with the likes of the sharply observed “Ego Trip” or funny, and brief, “Writers Block”. Richard Bruce Clay, a man who never needs a microphone, ripped through poetry inspired by King Lear, “Men are from Venus women are from Mars” excerpts from “Both” and “She’s Alone” and the very funny “Poems are Easy”. Richard runs a spoken word evening at the Hollybush in Cradley Heath on the first Friday of the month.
The second half offered a rare chance to listen to Mal Dewhirst perform an extended set, and hugely enjoyable it was too, probably the best I have ever heard him. “Music & Places” name checked Barberellas in the late 70’s, “Newburn Bridge” a walking holiday in the North East and Liverpool got a mention too.
Although predominantly a serious poet, “The Squatter”, dedicated to his cyber hacker was sharp and “Aspiration Blvd” a marvellous piece of whimsy. Mal runs a poetry evening, “Fizz” at Polesworth Abbey, bi-monthly. Elaine Oakely breezed in, then breezed out again all too briefly before Louis Campbell took the floor. Louis’ appearance was noteworthy for two reasons, firstly he does not run a spoken word event, and secondly he was sans his trademark long leather coat.
What he had brought with him though was his formidable collection of social commentary poetry. ”The Ant that would not Pop” took us back to childhood, “Eyes of a Spider” reminded us of surveillance culture, “Text an Apology” reminded us that saying things in person is always better whilst “Credit” was as searing a condemnation of popular finance as ever.
Before Alan Wales had entertained with a marvellous Welsh pastiche, “Under Deadwood”, Gary Carr was another poet to benefit from the chance to stretch out a bit. Gary runs “Spoken Worlds” on the third Friday evening of every month at the Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent. “Not Having a Ball” was the story of a young footballer whose career was wrecked through injury, “Without You” was a painfully sharp commentary on relationship breakdown whilst the highlight was a wonderful parody of “My Way”.
Marcus Taylor ensured a brisk pace as compere and read some observational prose on his experiences in New York winding up a fine evening which may become a more regular event. 09-06-11
Little Venice, Worcester
THE final Parole Parlate before the launch of the inaugural Worcestershire Literary Festival offered an impressive array of talent to the sizeable and loyal audience of this well-established spoken word event.
First on the bill was Janet Smith, who started the evening with a selection of travel-themed poems. A performer of great poise and fragile elegance, her work is powerfully elemental, whether in her pieces “Bear” or the owlish “The Cry”, which neatly bookended her set, or “Pacific” where the rich imagery which runs through her work worked to tremendous effect.
Tony Judge is a Parole Parlate regular. He read extracts from his two novels, “Sirocco Express” and “The Whole Rotten Edifice”.
The two pieces contrasted well; the first describing a wanted man’s night on the run out in the Moroccan Mountains, and the second told from the point of view of a disillusioned sniper marching through Red Square at the time of Operation Barbarossa. Despite the tension in both pieces, there were also deft touches of humour which characterize much of Tony’s work.
Third on the bill was Ruth Stacey, whose remarkably assured performance was a highlight of the night. Reciting her poetry, she commanded an imposing presence on the stage. Her first poem was the striking “Extinction”, which opens with the arresting line, “Mermaids drown in freshwater…” and is the tag line for her blog.
She really hit her stride with “Rose Red”, for which her timing was absolutely spot on; she barely skipped a beat but also rode the audience’s laughter effortlessly. Her repartee with the audience segued seamlessly into her final poem, “Averse Muse”, dedicated to her husband. We await her next performance with great anticipation.
Gary Longden delivered a set which sparkled with humour, energy and a plethora of memorable one-liners, my favourite of which concerned Cheryl Cole and her “forensic observations”.
The topical nature of his verse, from the Royal Wedding (Victoria Beckham on a bus, anyone?) to a Facebook unfriending via the closure of the last typewriter factory in Mumbai, and the “thinly veiled erotic innuendo” of “Adultery”, about attending spoken word events, ensured an instant connection with his audience which he maintained throughout his set and which showed conclusively that brevity is indeed the soul of wit.
The unenviable task of “Follow that!” fell to Nicola Callow, who made a very good job of it with some wry and caustic poetry , the best of which was “Please Don’t Do a Welsh Accent”, dedicated to Spoz, erstwhile performer at this event. Having provided several compelling reasons not to do the aforementioned accent, she concluded the poem with “it is not funny!” a line which rounded off the first half with a large laugh.
Mr Morrison, whom I had seen the previous month at Hit the Ode, started off the second half with the delightfully clever “Angie”, name-checking Wordsworth, Pope, Hardy, Kipling and Shakespeare; the Angie of the title referring to the audience. His second poem, “Déjà vu”, about a troubled six-year-old boy, was delivered with equal panache. Mr Morrison’s delivery is one of his fortes; he is not afraid to let the space between phrases add weight to his words and thus enhance the impact of his poetry.
The three poems which Chris Guidon read were by turns explicit, touching and amusing. “Upon Not Knowing” was dedicated to his new fiancé, Emma, and his third poem, “Fuck Your God”, was a searing and effective piece, but my favourite was his hilarious homage to adolescent onanism, which every man in the audience related to, apart from the liars. I shall look forward to seeing him again.
Best introduction of the evening went to Beth Edwards, with “I’m Knuckles”; once you’ve heard her poetry, there can be little doubting her when she says that she is “a rocket ride to the moon and back”. Feisty yet sensitive, she is an extremely talented young poet; there is a maturity in her writing and delivery which belies the tenderness of her years and she must be in a very small minority of teenagers who are able to write successfully about the political.
And thus it was that we found ourselves in the capable hands of the evening’s headliner, Birmingham’s former Young Poet Laureate, Matt Windle. A supremely confident young poet, the key to the success of his set was in the variety of choice which he presented the audience: the epic and aspirational “Work in Progress” was juxtaposed with the short and witty “Number” and “Alphabet”; the tension of “That’ll Be the Day”, about a couple who ought to break up but don’t, sat well next to “Cracks”, another brief but witty piece; “Outstanding”, his strongest poem of the night, is a poem which every female of dating age ought to read – if shyness is the kryptonite of this young man, imagine how the rest of them are feeling. Concluding with the “Unconventional”, Matt rounded off an evening of exceptional variety and entertainment.
The Worcestershire Literary Festival Special of “Parole Parlate”, featuring guest performers from the last year, is on Thursday 23rd June, the next regular meeting is on Thursday 7th July.
Hit the Ode
Victoria Pub, Birmingham City Centre
This month’s “Hit the Ode” is reviewed by guest writer “Spoz” . A past Birmingham Poet Laureate, he is a regular on the Festival Circuit, a Poetry Slam and workshop organiser, and has supported the likes of John Cooper Clarke and Attila the Stockbroker.
IS IT dangerous to always expect poetic fulfilment every time one visits “Hit the Ode”?
Could you, surely, be raising your expectations of such an event just a little too high? There must be a tipping point? Enough of the probing questions already! Suffice to say, that tonight’s show was another corker!
As is becoming usual for “Hit the Ode”, you’ve got to get there early if you want a seat, so my son and I stood at the back for the first half. Now there’s testament enough if you ever needed it - my son, Zack, helped me out with a backing track for one of my performances at HTO (the night with Lars Ruppel, Sebastian Rabsahl, Hollie McNish and Polar Bear) and now he’s hooked!
Anyway, Ddotti Bluebell kicked off the open mikers in style, with her hairstyle poem, followed by top Brummie, “Long Lost Frank” with some cheeky queue jumping anecdotes … really refreshing and funny stuff! See you next Tuesday, Frank! Samantha Hunt gave an endearing reading while Laurence Inman treated the audience to a very witty, personal experience of “Education, Education, Education”.
Big Al Hutchins closed the first half of open mikers with his passionate, Birmingham fuelled bravado. His very presence demands your attention, and with a bloke of his size, you give it to him!
And so, onto our first featured act. Oskar Hanska and Laura Wihlborg are from Sweden and have a brilliant grasp of the English language … better than the locals (thanks Oskar!)! Oskar’s “Def Jam” delivery gripped you from the word “gå” (that’s Swedish for ’go’ don’t you know!) and was unrelenting in his parent / child and lover / lover obsevations which were both witty and charming – I especially liked his piece in Swedish, and, although I had no idea of what was being said, Oskar’s animated self left me with a wide grin and warm feeling. Laura was quite different, though still instantly likeable with a more vulnerable yet confident delivery.
Her discourse with ”European Airlines” was great, as was her recorded conversation with travel agents to destinations where ”she could find herself”. Very clever and beautifully delivered with the aid of powerpoint translations. You’ve got to take your hat off to performers who can draw in an audience in another language apart from their own – Oskar and Laura did just that and I salute you!
After a short break, we were back into our open mic slot. Our old favourite (but not in an old way) Louise Stokes opened proceedings with ... something happy! Using her voice / accent skills to great effect, she left me smiling! She was followed by Mr. Morrison – not of supermarket fame but, I wager, soon to be of spoken word fame!
He was witty (really liked the ”I want you like Dawn French wants dinner” line) and poignant – keep an eye out for this guy. Our final open miker was Beth Jellicoe, who announced that this was her ”first time” – so the HTO audience were immedeatley on her side! Her shy yet unapologetic performance left me wanting more.
Luke Kennard was our second featured artist and represented the local scene – though to be fair, I don’t know any Brummies who sound like him. Now, I’ve worked with Luke before, but frankly, he was properly on fire tonight! His posh delivery (”I can’t help it, it’s the way I speak”) was perfect as he apologised for having to ”shoot in and shoot off” due to a mayonnaise incident in his kitchen.
Whether he was reading or ”off book”, his charisma, humour, intellect and plummy tones demonstrated why Luke is a ”must see” of the poetry scene. I’m not sure whether he’s going to thank me for this, but there were moments of Michael McIntyre in his mannerisms and I loved the way he went off on tangents during his poems. Brilliant.
Talking of brilliant, Adam Kammerling, the final featured artist from London, was just that too. From his cakes to his kidnapping of rich gits who don’t tip, aswell as when he was ”on book”, Adam was intellegent, amusing and unassuming. I especially liked his ”this is M&S bin food” piece and his rap that challenged to stereotyped genre of rap itself. Gotta see this guy again – for much longer next time!
So there you have it – as the actress said to the bishop, it was all over too soon. Though as the old cliche goes – always leave ’em wanting more. June 30th will be the next one.
On our way home in the car, my seventeen year old son turned to me and said ”Do you notice how much more chatty and happy we are after Hit the Ode?”. ’Nuff said.
Giovanni ”Spoz” Esposito
Metro Cafe, Bilston
IF YOU like your poetry events in an unpretentious, friendly, welcoming environment, you should look no further than Bilston Voices.
Organiser and MC Emma Purshouse has this uncanny knack of assembling an interesting and varied bill, and then simply letting it happen. There are no vain displays of her own work, and no artificial hype. She performs nothing herself, just offering kind words of introduction and appreciation, she lets the poets do the talking and it is a very effective device.
Kurly McGeachie was an exceptionally strong opener. Hugely experienced, he performed only four poems, from memory, but did so in style. He specialises in soft light rhyming pieces, which were tender with a wonderful, innocent vulnerability.
“Smile” and “You are Beautiful” did as their titles suggest, “Words” explored the joys and torment that words can offer, whilst “Home” was his disguised gem. An opus of epic proportions it starts off as a straight forwards homage to domestic bliss before launching off into several clever and unexpected tangents. Confident, but self-effacing, Kurly’s performance was a delight.
In contrast to Kurly’s campaign medals, Maurice Arnold was making his Bilston Voices debut. His style was wry and reserved as he skipped through several quite short pieces.
“The Poetree” was written subsequent to his visit to the Much Wenlock Festival, “Tipton games” was a localised look at the forthcoming Olympics, whilst “Special Cake” humorously recounted the adverse effect that a cake with hallucinogenic properties had on his partner! Light, fun, avuncular and satisfying.
Closing the first half was Bob Hale, teacher, travel writer and poet. Bob is very good at assembling a set thematically. Previously I have seen him do a Travel Set. This time he opted for an autobiographical collection.
He combines easy, accessible language with sharp observation and a dry wit. His Games trilogy was funny, “Bangkok” amusingly accurate. His well known Bears poem about a collection of teddy bears was as popular as ever but “A Secret Place” stood out for me.
Poignant and evocative it told, of the secret place he had as a child to escape the hurly burly of an adult world. It succeeded because it conjured up the desire most of us experienced as a child of wanting a secret retreat and spoke touchingly of a childhood we all lose. We are soon to lose Bob for a year or so, first to Harrow, and then to China – what tales he will have to tell upon his return.
Prior to Simon Fletcher’s closing set, Mark Reece read from his recently completed novel “Sub-Prime” featuring Mike, a dodgy insurance salesman, in an even dodgier insurance company. Simon himself promised us a quarter of an hour of butterflies, birds and flowers - and was as good as his word.
Including selections from “The Cherry Trees of Wye”, “Some Fine Old Ways To Save Your Life” and “Butterflies of Shropshire”. His nature poems are distinctive in that he revels in exactitude of description rather than fullness of lyrical description. “Moon Daisies” was a delight, whilst “Welsh Poppies” memorably combined the flower with the politics of Welsh invasion.
“Woodcuts” was his most satisfying piece, about a beech tree carved with lovers initials and messages at the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfalls beauty spot in Wales. He created a marvellous sense of place, beauty and occasion, whilst being unable to resist using the word dendroglyph ! Assured and urbane, Simon delighted an appreciative audience.
Bilston Voices next meets on Thurs 23rd June.
A 42 Special Dedicated To The Life & Work Of Douglas Adams
Boston Tea Party,
This 42 special entitled “Vogonesque” was actually one in a week long series of events organised by 42 Genre Arts as a tribute to Douglas Adams under their banner of “Hitchhiker’s Week”.
I’d already been to the first three live readings at Waterstones in Worcester by Glenn James of 42 Genre Arts of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and enjoyed them immensely, so I knew that this night was going to be special, especially with such a great line-up including Suz Winspear, Fergus McGonigal, Hitchhiker and The Shambolix to name but a few. Towels were optional, although with it also being Towel Day many of the participants and audience were carrying their towels and displaying them with pride.
First up and to start off the evening was Craigus Barry with his rendition of the theme of the TV series to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, followed by the event organiser Glenn James, who complete with towel and dressing gown recited a prose piece in tribute to Douglas which included the fact that Worcestershire was actually mentioned in the book in the form of stinking bishop cheese, a piece of writing which made me laugh out loud in parts.
LOOKING THE PART
LOOKING THE PART
I have to congratulate Glenn on really looking the part and for finding a dressing gown to wear for the occasion that was very close in colour and design to the one that Martin Freeman of “The Office” wore in his role as Arthur Dent in the film of “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”. It is this kind of attention to detail that really brought the evening to life.
Glenn was then followed by local writer John Taylor, who read a short story called “First Thoughts”, a haunting tale of how a loner called Frank set off a nuclear strike and then wondered why his friends did not return to him and a poem called “Dear Mr Camping”, a funny and very true rendition about the 89 year old man called Harold Camping who predicted the world would end in 1994, then again on May 21st this year, and now he’s saying it will be in October this year.
Mr Camping can well and truly shove his predictions up his a**s, as the last line in the poem states, a view that is no doubt shared by many. After encouraging John to share his prose and poetic works some years ago it was very nice to see him standing up and reading to an audience. “Parole Parlate” perhaps…..?
Suz Winspear is always a delight to see live and her performance complete with a sensational costume did not disappoint at all. She stuck to prose this time rather than poetry and wrote a special piece especially for this “42” special, although she did finish off with one of her poems. Hitchhiker consist of music duo Sean Jeffries and Anna Mason, and they did two of my favourite songs by them called “Arthur Learns To Fly”, which is dedicated to Douglas Adams and “Photo 51”. It was nice to have the spoken word performances nicely broken up with some music that tells a story from Hitchhiker.
We were then treated to a performance by some of the members of Narcoleptic Penguin including Jez Mort, Ed Steelefox, Craigus Barry and others which was set in the restaurant at the end of the universe in rather hilarious form, but the real treat of the night came from Fergus McGonigal, who gave us his own take on Vogon Poetry.
Vogon Poetry, according to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, is “the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent, of his poem, Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning, four of his audience members died of internal hemorrhaging, and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council, survived by gnawing one of his own legs off... The very worst poetry in the universe died along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex... in the destruction of the planet Earth."
There was no danger at all of any of the audience members dying of internal haemorrhaging during Fergus’s performance, maybe from heavy and raucous laughter, but certainly not internal haemorrhaging. Fergus’s unique take on Vogon Poetry was first class, and the phrase “Oh yell! I’ve wet my conks” sticks in my brain like superglue and causes me to roar with laughter every time I think of it and of Fergus’s magnificent performance last night.
My staff in my office have been giving me strange looks all morning, and I am still chuckling now whenever I think of his Vogon love poem “A Huffyolet”. “Darling, I’ve written a love poem for you” takes on a whole new meaning if the recipient was confronted with the hilarious words of the “Huffyolet” that Fergus composed. I wonder what his wife would make of it . . .?
The evening was closed by a performance by The Shambolix AKA Craigus Barry and Ed Steelefox, and although it took a bit of time for them to set up their kit it was a nice end to a rip roaring stunning and splendid evening.
Organisers Glenn and Angela James at “42 Genre Arts” are on to a sure fire winner with this format that celebrates the gothic, sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, and I’m already looking forward to the next “42”, which may, just may, be under the banner of the forthcoming Worcestershire Literary Festival next month, although this has not been confirmed as yet – so watch this space!
It only remains for me to say so long, and thanks for all the fish. Now where did I leave my towel . . . ?
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
POETRY Bites is an event which “Behind the Arras” has been meaning to cover for some time. Finally that moment arrived. The venue itself I was familiar with and exudes Bohemian bonhomie.
It hosts bands, historians, comics, musicians and storytellers. The approach via a gardening display also gives it an unique ambience! The staff are friendly with a good range of inexpensive alcoholic, and non-alcoholic drinks available, as well as snacks. The off-set floor space adds to the charm, but does require performers to make a conscious effort to work the audience.
Long established, “Poetry Bites” is hosted and promoted by poet Jacqui Rowe. Bravely, there was just one headliner, and numerous open-mic spots, which can make quality control hazardous. Yet such is the reputation of the event that most spots were taken by seasoned performers and established poets, many of whom I knew. So in practise the bill was guaranteed to succeed.
Jacqui herself opened the first and second halves, taking the opportunity to launch her latest Flarestack Poets collection “Paint”. The writing has been inspired by Jaqui’s recent residency at Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, the ancestral home of the Mander family who made their fortune producing paint in the 19th century.
Curiously Theodore Mander married Flora Paint, so a title for the pamphlet was not hard to come by! The poetry itself is inspired and beautiful, with the pamphlet available from her website. She also took the opportunity to perform her contribution to the Polesworth Poetry Trail – “Black Swan Possibility”, something which she had been unavailable to do when the successful poets were announced.
Headlining was Midlands troubadour Heather Wastie. One of the pleasures of commentating on the Midlands poetry scene is watching performers evolve as time goes on, and Heather is not one to rest upon her laurels. Heather has just been shortlisted as a prospective “Bard of Worcestershire” along with open-micer Maggie Doyle.
Performing a split set at the end of each half suited her as she combined poetry with music, played on keyboard. Host Jacqui Rowe introduced Heather by revealing that Heather had taught her daughter to play the recorder – although she wasn’t produced to accompany Heather as she played!
Her material combined new work with established material from her two collections “Until I Saw Your Foot” and “The Page Turner’s Dilemma”. A professionally qualified and accomplished musician, comedienne and poet, she effortlessly slipped between disciplines to offer a show, rather than simply a reading.
“The Music Stand”, about her trusty ancient apparatus was poignant and wry, “Ping Pong Neo Natal ICU” her most daring and successful piece. Yet despite the cleverness and humour which run like rich seams through her writing her authenticity is perhaps her most endearing quality. “Love in the Garden” is light, fey, but heart-felt.
No-one who heard it cannot help but have thought to themselves “that IS what love is about” and not had a warm feeling. Which is exactly what listening to a Heather Wastie performance invariably does.
The open-mic slots were very strong, with forthcoming headliners David Calcutt (Author of “Crowboy”, “Shadowbringer” and “Map of Marvels”) and rising poetic star Anthony R Owen from Coventry (“The Dreaded Boy” collection), both performing short teasers. Naomi Paul is the scarlet pimpernel of local poetry, she appears, she dazzles, and then she is gone for a while. Her material is very good. She was able to dust down “Icelandic Eruption” from last time (as was Heather Wastie with her volcanic offering) along with the mellifluous “The Truth About the Goddess of Rhyme”, the witty “Displacement Activity” and the nostalgic “Grey Rabbit”. Sarah Tamar impressed with the harrowing “Just 22” and Spoz entertained with “Housefly” as did Maggie Doyle with “Motherhood”.
The evening was not short of social conscience either. John Lane performed very strongly with “Spring Awakening” about the Cuts Protests, and “Tender” about the privatisation of the NHS. Fine, serious poetry was also in evidence from Jan Watts, Penny Hewlett, and Janet Smith. The latter of whose quartet “Frost Struck”, “The Edge”, “In the Priest House” and “The Cry”, another Polesworth Poetry Trail winner, impressed.
All in all, a splendid evening, effortlessly eased along by Jacqui Rowe. ”Poetry Bites” meets bi-monthly on the last Tuesday of the month, next event, Tuesday 26th July 24-05-11.
Old Cottage Tavern ,
THE second event at The Old Cottage Tavern, “Spoken Worlds” is settling in now just fine at a venue to which it is well suited.
“Behind the Arras” has covered individual performances quite closely in recent months, this time I offer more of a view on the flavour of the occasion. One of the things which I most enjoy about open mic events is the uncertainty. Who is going to turn up? What are they going to do? I suspect that this frisson of excitement is shared in a somewhat different way by organiser Gary Carr!
“Spoken Worlds” offers what the name implies. Poetry, prose, monologues, book extracts, drama and comedy sketches, occasionally the spoken bit is stretched to accommodate the odd song or two too, but with the emphasis on the words- all on an open mic, ” first come first up” basis.
This time around, the amount of non-poetry had a far greater impact than usual. Colin Henchley set the standard here with a short play, “Sin”, that has been accepted for the second phase of a competition run by the Nottingham Playhouse. Performed by Colin himself and Mal Dewhirst, it is a dark, claustrophobic piece, set in the Second World War.
It was powerful, and worked well. Apparently part of the competition process may involve expanding it. How he achieves this will be interesting. I am a huge admirer of Colin’s writing and what always impresses is his attention to the mechanics of what he is writing. Each word and phrase is measured. Stretching this short play without redesigning it will be a challenge, but a challenge at which Colin will no doubt excel.
Author David Calcutt made his debut performance reading both poetry and an extract from his novel “Shadowbringer”, he has also had “Crowboy” and “Map of Marvels” published. “Shadowbringer” is a psychological supernatural thriller aimed at the teenage market, but can be enjoyed by inquisitive younger children and adults alike. The hero is Nathan, and his grandfather’s advice is to stay out of the attic. . .
David revels in character and this was wonderfully demonstrated in the extract he read. The two poems he read were river companion pieces.
The first, “Acheron”, one of David’s finest, told of his real life physical walk in that river in Greece. Acheron is the name of one of the five rivers that flow through the realm of Hades. The name means "river of woe", and is often metaphorically used for Hades itself( “Here the shades are ferried across by Charon”, Virgil VI, 107). And as he walked, so reality and myth become inter twined:
“The stones that stared up at me from the
His second poem recounted a visit to Stratford on the occasion of Shakespeare’s birthday (not when Shakespeare was alive, obviously, David isn’t that old!), it particularly made reference to the River Avon, but this time David mysteriously resisted the urge to jump in it. Lyrical and rich, it was the perfect companion to “Acheron”.
Terri and Ray Jolland specialise in light “Terry & June” styled comedy, and do it very well. Their comedy sketch about naturists skilfully played on stereotypes whilst being fresh and entertaining. Combine this with Mal Dewhirst delivering “Pop” in an American accent, Dea Costelloe singing in “Lament”, and Janet Jenkins reading from “Silver Words” and you have a sense of a very varied occasion.
The variety that evenings such as these offer is to be cherished. There is always something to surprise and delight. Even the regular established talent can trip you up, the normally comic Fergus McGonigal used his “previous” to sledgehammer dramatic effect by embarking on a poem about a schoolboy which we assumed was going to be light - but wasn’t. Fergus has been shortlisted as a prospective “Bard of Worcestershire”, all at “Spoken Worlds” and “Behind the Arras” wish him luck. “Spoken Worlds” next meets, Fri 17th June, 7. 30pm. 20-05-11
Polesworth Poets, Polesworth Abbey
The evening began with Richard Meredith reading a poem written by Theo Osborn, his nine year old grandson titled ‘The magic and beauty of Malvern’ which was beautifully scripted and befitting of nature.
The New Polesworth Poets, who consist of 16 poets, performed their work in the order which they may appear on the trail, creating a vocal trail for the gathered audience. Within the audience were local historians, park rangers from Pooley Country Park and local coal miners - who’d inspired the poets with recollections of their mining days.
Brick Making Remembered by Peter Grey. Peter’s poem remembers the Polesworth Brickworks that was on the site of Ensor Drive and Kiln Way.
Pooley Hall by Gary Londgen. Gary’s poem reflects on the history of Pooley Hall and its association with the Cockayne Family with hints at a more recent resident Edwin Starr.
Unrippled by Sarah James. Sarah’s poem takes the theme of the canal and the swans and builds a link between the Abbey, the original poets and Pooley Pit.
Advice to a Geordie Lad at Pooley by Barry Patterson. Barry’s poem takes the theme of the migration of Miners from the North East of England in the 1950’s and 60’s to the Warwickshire coalfields.
Living Echoes by Gina Coates. Gina’s poem reflects on the roles of women, some once miners and then later as wives and mothers, describing their hardship and fears.
Pooley Miner’s Tale by Barry Hunt. Barry is a songwriter and musician whose father once worked in Pooley pit, his poem takes the form of a folk song incorporating the lives of the miners and their families along with the regeneration of the natural environment. As Barry was unable to attend the evening, Peter Grey delivered the song in a befitting manner.
Women’s memories of Mining Menfolk by Dea Costelloe. Dea spent some time talking to the wives and daughters of the ex-miners for inspiration, from which she created her chatty monologue poem that is rich with memories of ordinary lives.
Pooley Pit Ponies by Margaret Torr. Margaret compares the lives of the Pooley pit ponies with that of the wild ponies of the Carmargue, who are seen as a “Gift of God”. It shows a really different outlook from the ponies’ point of view.
In their footsteps by Marjorie Neilson. Marjorie’s poem explores the generations of miners that followed each other into the pit, also reflecting on the feelings of their mothers.
Jutt by Bernadette O’Dwyer. Bernadette’s poem is also about the pit ponies, one in particular who was down in Pooley pit and would only pull six loaded wagons.
A Cry by Janet Smith. Janet’s poem is a conversation between the poet and a female owl and reflects the majestic freedom of the owl.
Them up there don’t know us down here exist by Gary Carr. Gary’s poem takes the motorway as its theme and reflects that in the rushing lives of the travellers, they do not realise that the country park exits.
Aloft by Janis Kind. Janis’ poem takes the view point of a buzzard circling Pooley mound and reflects on its view of the motorway.
Black Swan Possibility. Jacqui’s sonnet harks back to Drayton’s poem that is on the first part of the trail, and that in Drayton’s day it was thought that Swan’s could only be white and that a black swan was a myth, and begs the question that swans could be a myriad of colours. As Jacqui was unable to attend the evening, the poem was delivered by Margaret Torr.
Ladies of the woods by Terri Jolland. Terri’s poem takes the silver birch trees as its theme and how they have recolonised the Pooley site. The trees take on a mystical presence as they perform this miracle of regeneration, often held in myths as protectors against witchcraft and at the same time used to make witches brooms.
Dreams of Alvecote by Colin Henchley. Colin’s poem talks of the delight and legend of Alvecote priory as place where dreams are born and enacted in this tranquil enchanting ruin.
Kite – a collaborative poem by Malcolm Dewhirst and the year 3 children at Birchwood Primary School 2011. Malcolm was commissioned to work with the children, exploring what it would be like to be a kite, then helping the children to make their own poetry kites. The children gave Malcolm most the words to use in this poem, which explores the idea of the wise wind being the teacher and the kite being the pupil learning to fly.
Mal Dewhirst thanked everyone involved with the Polesworth Poetry Trail project, bringing the first session to a close. After a brief interval, the open mic session provided a suitable contrast enabling a host of poets to perform their work.
Andy Biddulph performed two pieces; the first a humorous account of lightning - the second called ‘On the lump’.
Terri Jolland performed her poem ‘Canal Child’ which captured the colourful imagery of life associated with the waterways.
Gary Carr read three short pieces, ‘The Other Night’, ‘Caught in Motion’ and ‘Window lickers’, which depicted the world of the poet behind glass or an invisible boundary eager to capture the passing detail.
Sarah James, from Droitwich, who performed two stunning pieces; ‘The trapped bird’ and ‘Instrumental’ each detailed the precise movement of emotion, motion and a child, her son.
Gina Coates’ poem ‘War of the roses’ retold the history of Cockayne and Burdett’s fatal duel in fields near Bramcote.
Tony Owen’s poem ‘To the East’ evoked strong emotions in relation to women of war. His second poem, ‘My father’s blue eyes’ recalled touching childhood memories of a coal mining father.
Alec Simpson’s read a short extract from his autobiography ‘A Boy at War’ recalling a tale of being lost in the fog - a warm account of his upbringing in Arbroath, Scotland.
Gary Longden’s ‘Royal Wedding’ provided a humorous slant on royal reporting. His poem ‘To whom it may concern’ was a fitting tribute to a typewriter factory which recently closed after 134 years of production.
Margaret Torr was assisted by Dea Costelloe, to deliver her poem ‘Lamant’ which depicted the tale of a mother raising a boy to becomes a miner, followed by the darker voice of the mine who takes the miner into her eternal womb.
Janet Smith recited her poem’s ‘Withen’s Walk Music’, ‘In the Priest House’ and ‘Washing off a Seam’ each beautifully tailored for performance, depicting her talents for capturing the smallest of details.
Dea Costelloe recalled a bygone age along ‘Miner’s Walk’, describing their walk to work amidst Pooley Park’s nature and the sturdy oak trees grown from their strewn apple cores.
Peter Grey delivered the harsh realities of ‘A Brick maker’s Lot’ relaying the working conditions, the unknown dangers and back breaking work in each shift.
Ian Ward delighted the audience with his short poem dedicated to home ‘My York’, then ignited the atmosphere with ‘Delta Devil Blues’ a favorite piece for several of the poets.
Hench gave a dramatic finale to the evening with his poem ‘The reflection strata – the little veins of Pooley park’ consisting of four poems, four styles and four stanzas, representing four strata layers beneath Pooley Park.
All in all, a fabulous evening crammed with the very best poetry, all home grown and honed within the Midlands area. The next Poetry Fizz 8 is on Tuesday, 19th July, at Polesworth Abbey refectory and will feature Matt Merritt – doors open at 7ish with a prompt start at 7. 30pm – everyone is welcome! For further details: Mal Dewhirst’s blog, http://pollysworda. wordpress. com/ or http://secretwriter1. blogspot. com/
Rhymes – Milton Keynes Invasion
Station Pub, Kings Heath
BIRMINGHAM has had more than its fair share of national and international poetry talent in recent months. Lorna Meehan with Rhymes continued that trend by inviting the best of the poetry talent from Milton Keynes to perform, the self styled Milton Keynes Massive aka Bardcore.
Those familiar with the emergence of the Punk movement in the mid 70’s may recall the Bromley Contingent, suburban punks who made good in the big city, and there was a touch of that with Bardcore, as they arrived to make their mark.
First of the quartet was Donna Scott whose modest, self-effacing style belied some excellent poems. ”Poetry Crush” was fey, girly and fun, “What’s in a Name” mocked what had possessed her parents to call her Donna, and “50 Ways to Leave Your Labour” was a clever pastiche of the Paul Simon song inspired by a colleague who had walked out of her job.
Although two old favourites “Slob” and “Cake Shelf” delivered as she knew they would, it was “Geek” that stood out for me. A serious piece about child bullying which demonstrated her ability to write powerfully, and not just amusingly.
Fay Roberts was an unknown quantity for me – and an absolute delight. Her writing is rich, sophisticated, and multi layered, opening with a part sung chant, she zipped through hay fever, foot tapping percussion with “Moving as One”, and a clever exploration of “oh” in “Oh”!
The love poem “Song from the Sea” she had introduced hoping that it would resonate with the audience, and it did, a beautiful and evocative piece, but it was the closing “Dedication”, a poetic “I Am What I Am” declaration which stood out for me. Her performance was assured and serious, but warm and engaging too. I suspect we shall be hearing more of Fay.
Poetry Kapow (“kapow!”- you had to be there) is an event and website co-hosted by Fay and Danni Antagonist who opened the second half. Danni’s energetic and confident manner was the perfect pick-me –up after the break, her material very varied. “You’re Never Too Young For a Mid-Life Crisis” was classic performance stuff, and very well done. “Repent” asked where all those harbingers of doom carrying sandwich boards and placards proclaiming the end of the world had gone, whilst “Concrete” was a more reflective observational piece about her time in London. Yet for all her front and pizzazz “Bless This” stood out for me.
The emotional tale, told in plangent tones, of helping her father clear out family bric- a- brac subsequent to her mother’s death. In order for such a personal story to work it has to have an Everyman quality which reaches out to all – and it did.
To close the evening we had the first ever Milton Keynes Poet Laureate, and ever reliable Mark Niel. I have seen Mark perform on several occasions, his reputation as the UK’s leading performance poet is deserved. And although he may now be a Poet Laureate, he is not sitting on his laurels. He is moving beyond a straight poetry performance to deliver a one man show style performance incorporating music, storytelling and anecdote. The favourites such as “The Lozells Prayer”, “Poetry Voice” and “My Half of the Fridge” are still there, but we now have a far greater sense of cohesion and an enhanced platform for his talents. He is even inventing his own words – PILF! His act was a fitting climax to a very good show.
Rhymes returns in two months on
Wed 20th July with performances by Jody Ann Bickley, Tony
Stringfellow, Fifi Fanshawe and Janet Smith. 18-05-11 .
City Bar, King St, Wolverhampton
This month gave us a very different City Voices as a combination of intention and circumstance threw the normal format out and replaced it with no fewer than nine performers, five of whom didn't appear on the printed program.
The first half was taken up completely by the Scribblers writing group, of which I'm a member, launching our latest anthology with a selection of readings from it as well as a few additional pieces from our individual writings. Silvia Millward kicked off the proceedings with two pieces from the anthology and a brand new poem. They are fine poems but her rather quiet delivery was done no favours by the noisy air-conditioning from the bar. She writes and reads very well but still comes over as a little tense and stilted in the links and will be even better when she is able to relax more into the performance.
She finished by introducing Andy Moreton who read both his pieces from the anthology - a short anti-war poem and a long and amusing story about a dirty old man. Both were very well received with the short story generating frequent laughter from the small but attentive audience. Andy was followed by Janet Bogle who chose not read her story from the anthology but gave us instead her accompanying poem and a second short poem from her other writings. Both pieces were excellently crafted and very perceptive, characteristics of all of her work.
Jill Tromans was next delivering a dialect poem about buying a new oven that had the audience chuckling and her lengthy and amusing piece documenting a month in the life of a computer. This was not the easiest piece to read, having a rather awkward structure but it had enough about it to please the audience.
Neil Howard followed in his first public performance. He read his slight short story "Tiger Waits All Night" and a poem reflecting on mortality, "Gone", before introducing my section.
Years of teaching mean that a noisy environment is no match for my loud voice but, having performed last month and with one member of the group still to come, I kept my offering quite short. My three poems, two about homelessness and begging from the anthology and a third about Alzheimer's from my collection, Chaos Theory, were very well received and drew gratifying compliments in the break from a number of people whose work I respect a lot.
In turn I handed over to Mike Narroway who has a pleasant mannered delivery and gave us his poem, "The Garden" in which an exasperated Eve has a conversation with a rather naive Adam. It was a good end to the first half.
If the first half had been different in form by intent, the second was different by accident. One of the billed performers Jonathan Collings had failed to turn up leaving the other one, John Thomas, to carry the bulk of the time. After an introduction that was, perhaps, rather too long, he read three sections from his modern gothic novel "Beyond This Wilderness". The writing was rather stylised and reminiscent of the classic era of gothic writing but the necessity to set the scene and explain the background, combined with the descriptive nature of the chosen extracts made it all seem a little slow and ponderous though he read with confidence and conviction.
To fill in for the absent reader we were treated to a set of poems from Jane Seabourne who is one of the most accomplished of the regulars at City Voices. It was a short but varied set including poems about butterflies, staff training, dogs and a walk in the woods. the one about being expected to sit through training in an aspect of your job that you have done for years, given by someone who has never done it, struck a particular chord with me.
All in all another fine night out. City Voices meets the second Tuesday of the month, 7.30pm 10-5-11.
Hope - Benefit for Japan
The Public, West Bromwich
THE Public has had a fairly rough ride since opening with criticism both of structure, and purpose. Fortunately, as time progresses, that identity is being found.
The theatre and performance space is particularly impressive and was a good venue for this event. Organised and promoted by Sue Hulse and Tracey Smith, a strong spread of performer and act was assembled for the evening, the purpose of which was to raise money and awareness for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Headliner, and star turn, was undoubtedly Al Barz. Al is an unique talent who, armed with a good programmable Yamaha keyboard and some clever spoken lyrics delighted the audience with a remarkable set. “If I Could Be a Racing Driver” had shades of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”. “The Whisper of Your Name” lifted the bass line from “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”,and “Dadumdadumda dum” (not to be confused with “De Doo Doo Doo, De Dah, dah dah” by the Police”) borrowed the melody from “Nellie the Elephant”, with Al’s distinctive brand of Block Rocking Beats stamping his own identity on the number.
Whilst neither Keith Emerson nor Fyfe Dangerfield will feel their keyboard pre-eminence is under immediate threat, Al was inventive and entertaining in equal measure. His tongue was firmly in his cheek throughout, and looking like a cross between Father Abraham and Thomas Dolby’s Dad, he had the audience on his side from start to finish. Despite the fun, which we lapped up, his straight poem “Spring Friday” reminded us all of why we were there with a simple, powerful piece. A great turn.
Music was well served by Emma and Kieran (the latter of whom looks like classic boy band material), and Phil Challoner who despatched three standards with effortless aplomb, as did Craig Hegan and Phil Churchill on guitar.
“Johnny Don’t Smoke” were a trio who benefitted from a lead singer with “Blondie” looks, the more folky East West Infusion, Phil Cross and Caroline Waldren offered traditional folk fare of a very high standard, with Caroline’s vocals a delight. Earlier Anna and Steve had established a folk presence exploring territory opened by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Bros and Alison Kraus.” Inspiration”, a community based dance trio inspired.
Poetry was well served by Black Country stalwart Alfie Small whose local themed material warmed a home crowd. Janet Smith read the beautiful “Pacific” a three part poem demonstrating, as usual, that fine serious writing can find a place with the best of rival art forms.
The “Don’t Go Into The Cellar” Theatre Company excelled with a hugely enjoyable romp through “The Tale of Spring Heeled Jack” in full costume. Louise Stokes gave another wonderful outing to Uncle Dirk, this time accompanied by Farouk (Nadeem Chugtai) who was droll, and looked as though he shares headwear stylists with Princess Beatrice! Louise’s fine writing, and eye for detail on costuming and characterisation continues to impress.
All in all a considerable artistic success which
Tracey and Sue, and the supportive staff at the Public, should be proud
of. 07-05-11 .
I-Slam Poetry Women's Special
The Hubb, Birmingham
Fatima al Matar was a judge for I-Slam Poetry Womens’ Special and agreed to review the event for Behind The Arras. She is a rising star in the Poetry Scene, and is currently working on a project for the BBC which will appear on Ian McMillan’s The Verb on Radio 3. Her published collection is entitled, The Heart and the Subsidiary.
I-SLAM women's special was brought by Soul City Arts which was founded by Mohammed Ali a.k.a ‘AerosolArabic’ the renowned graffiti artist whose work has reached the United States and the United Arab Emirates, his dream was to bring art to the community in Birmingham city, so he established The Hubb, a beautiful gallery, where talks on the subject of art, exhibitions for creative art form and poetry events take place.
Mohammed has been showcasing i-slam for the past three years, taking it to Walsall, Luton, London and of course Birmingham, however, he noticed the underrepresentation of women slamming at i-slam poetry and that’s where the idea of i-slam poetry women's special came from.
Charlie Jordan started the evening off with an audience of 80 women, l3 of which were competing for the slam. Charlie noted how glamorous the audience and contestants looked, pointing out the beautiful styles all the women were dressed in and how different it was not having scruffy men in t-shirts for a change.
She then introduced Zeena Edwards, the internationally renowned spoken word artist who does not like to be labelled! Zeena began with a few words of encouragement for the women in the audience and urged them to write, then recited a poem called “Settle Down”.
Zeena has a beautiful singing voice and did a wonderful job incorporating her singing into her poetry performance. It was then my turn to give a few words and a short poem before the slam commenced, acknowledging Aisha Iqbal who had worked very close with Mohammed Ali on making the event happen.
Aisha did everything from finding sponsors for the slam, providing very valuable gifts for the winner and two runner ups, she also took care of smaller details such as preparing cakes, sandwiches and drinks for the audience.
The competition started with Afroze Zaidi-Jivraj, she read two poems the first entitled ‘Death of Trueth’, the second “I will Smile”. Afroze’s style came across as quiet but eloquent and showed a lot of confidence in her delivery.
Next we had Anna McCrory who is from Manchester and has previously won a slam up north, her poem ‘Geeks United’ was very funny and clever as she playfully reminisced how she and her nerdy friends in school dreamt of being the cool.
After that we had Beth Edwards a.k.a ‘knuckles’ who was the youngest slammer at the event, only 16 years old, Knuckles performed a very mature political poem entitled ‘Child’s Play’ where she impressed the audience with her strong opinions on relevant political issues, the poem also had to be performed in two voices: the lying corrupt politician’s voice and the dissatisfied commoner; Knuckles managed to perform her poem with skill making good use of the performance space.
Cassandra Wiggan gave us a touching performance with her poem ‘Having a Voice’ telling a story of survival in a world of poverty, hunger and fear, her delivery had a fast rhythm rap style which was very likable.
Next came Ddotti Bluebell with her poem ‘V for Villain’ portraying heart breaking images of human slavery in gated communities in the U.S. Ddotti’s poem was unique and very specific in its subject and her delivery powerful.
Then came Huda Hassan who is from Somalia, Huda read ‘Preach before Erosion’ her poem was also a very humane one talking about the struggles of her people in Somalia. Kesha C also read a very profound poem about the hardship she and her sisters and brothers face being born in black skin, her poem was truthful and honest and had a very strong sense of belonging, conveying pride in one’s roots and race.
Samantha Hunt really shone at this slam, she read her nameless poem about waiting for her one moment in time to shine, the images in her poem were beautiful holding so much hope in them. Sana Abbasi, who appeared very nervous at first, gave a very emotional reading of her poem about her father’s death and consequently made many of the women in the audience cry! Saleha Begum, who described herself as still searching for herself! read a beautiful poem on women’s ambition to achieve, her reading was very powerful and the imagery in her work was strong and thought provoking.
Remi, came all the way from London to perform, she gave a very lovely and touching reading of her poem ‘I woke up missing you’ a beautiful poem of longing for a loved one. Selina who concluded the first round gave a very good performance of her poem on faith and believing in God and relying on his wisdom, and being grateful for his blessings.
The first round ended and there was a ten minute break for the judges: Zeena Edwards, myself (from the audience) and Sumayya Khan to add up their scores. The women with the five top scores were to compete again in the second round to finally bring it down to a winner and two runner ups.
Easing the audience and contestants back into poetry mode, Charlie Jordan performed a beautiful poem about words and how they can be as sweet and as succulent as ripe fruit. Then, the five women with the highest score were announced: Saleha Begum, Samantha Hunt, Ddotti Bluebell, Sana Abbasi and Selena.
Each one of them gave another, even more powerful performance than their first; Saleha with her resonating voice told the story of rebuilding a broken village after war. Samantha in her poem ‘You loved me the best’ provided a sweet and bitter romantic addition to the many different styles. Ddotti’s funny and lively poem ‘Hair’ evoked loud belly laughs, so cleverly performed with different characters, different voices and accents from her past, telling her story as a young girl dissatisfied with her naturally curly hair.
Although Ddotti’s poem was funny it was also moving as it touches on girls’ insecurity about their looks and appearances, something every woman in the audience has been through. Sana Abbasi described her beloved, giving a very misleading description of his love for her and his support for her in everything she does, only for us to find out in the end she was talking about her love for Allah! Salena ended the second round with another faith poem about how to hold on to hope.
Allowing the judges to add up their scores, the first guest poet Zeena took over the stage, singing and filling the room with her angelic voice that had the women swaying and dreaming.
I then ended the evening with three poems and Charlie gave thanks to all who made the evening happen before finally announcing the winners; Ddotti Bluebell won the first prize; a £50 voucher from Selfridges, and some books from Birmingham library. Saleha Begum the 1st runner up won a number of books from the library and so did Sana Abbasi the 2nd runner up. Both runner-ups will also have myself as a poetry mentor -for a limited period of time –to provide feedback and constructive criticism on their writing.
LESS INTIMIDATING PLATFORM
As the first women only poetry slam, i-slam women's special was hugely successful, without any exception, every woman leaving the venue asked when the next one will be. The idea of providing a safer, less intimidating platform for women was a very welcomed idea in Birmingham, a lot of the slammers explained, that as first timers not having men in the audience while they told their heart wrenching, emotional and sometimes highly personal experiences through their performance made it less frightening.
But the project was not only advantageous for first timers, other performers with some experience found the evening pleasurable and described it as the perfect girls night out, they also added that women competing against men in slams shy away from issues to do with feminism as a subject matter for their poetry, as female issues may not be received very well by a male audience or male judges, e.g. a beautiful poem performed by Afroze in the first round entitled ‘I will smile’ tells the story of a wife doing household jobs willingly and lovingly for her husband but alas her efforts go unappreciated, a poem such as this was very poignant for many of the women in the audience, however, might go entirely un acknowledged and maybe even misunderstood by a male audience.
Poetry, in addition to being beautiful language put in the most beautiful order is very effectively therapeutic, and seeing those women tonight shine, watching them after the show had ended and doors were closed in the dark car park, standing in the rain, sharing with each other short thoughts and poetic inspirations which they have noted down from the evening on their “smart phones”, hoping that they too will gather some strength and confidence to perform their poem in the next i-slam women’s special, really did put it all into perspective. 06-05-11
Fatima Al Matar
Little Venice, Worcester
LAST month’s event was a resounding success with a strong contingent of imported Birmingham talent. This month, promoter Lisa Ventura focused on local talent, and produced a diverse and equally entertaining show.
Parole Parlate prides itself on diversity, and this month had a much more significant prose/ story telling element. As a form, it is much more difficult to shine in. The extended narrative is often read, there are no bite sized verses, and no chiming rhymes for the audience to hang onto. So the challenge is to create a story and performance that will engage.
Talia and then Allie Sewell opened up, the latter of whom was performing in public for only the second time, and who told an authentic story of a girls night out in Worcester. Her “Plumage versus privacy” dilemma on the dance floor was nicely put. If you have ever considered a trip to France or Wales then Tony Judge is your man, who offered his own take on the merits of the two countries.
Mark Ellis fell foul of modern technology when his e-reader failed to find the work he was hoping to read. What he did find, “Museum” was good, but the preparation does need to be as good as the material. The strongest of the “narrative” based performers was Richard Bruce Clay, a man for whom amplification is rarely required. Author of “ She’s Alone” and “Both”, he combined an extended prose passage with a couple of shorter poems “Drum & Bass” and “Poetry of Manly Virtue”. His confidence, presence, delivery and material shone throughout.
BARD OF WORCESTER
After the interval Lisa’s commitment to diversity was rewarded by the Jeffrey/Mason duo called “Hitchhiker”, a tribute to Richard Adams accompanied by guitars, which was slick, well sung and offered some welcome light and shade. Supporting the Headliner was the self-styled Bard of Worcestershire, Fergus McGonigal, whose considerable talents have been well documented in “Behind the Arras”.
As usual he commanded the stage. His repertoire seemingly strengthens by the week. In addition to the tried and tested “Lawnmowers”, and “Ode on a Six String Guitar” we also had “the Truth About Love “ and “A Makeover”. The latter was a very clever and contemporaneous pastiche on Bin Laden’s assassination, the former a delightful whimsy taking in Auden, the Beatles, Marti Pellow and Roxy Music!
Headlining was Spoz, whose popularity can be gauged by the fact that he was back by audience demand from the previous month. Another “Behind the Arras” favourite, he did not disappoint his fans, drawing on a number of lesser performed gems, and staples from his collection:” The Day The Earth Grew Hair”. His politics came through in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, his humour in “Rabbits Dressed as Chickens”, and his word play in “The Ballad of Brian the Balloon Boy”. But it was “Limerick versus Haiku” which showcased his talent. A brilliant idea, simply told, with wit and warmth, which neatly summarises his performance in the round.
The “find” of the evening however was someone whom I had not come across before, performed earlier on, and deserves a wider audience. Suz Winspear starts with two considerable advantages. Firstly, a striking Gothic fragile image, reminiscent of Siouxie Sue (surely they are not related?). Secondly, a wonderful ability to bring character to her speech, reminiscent of Debra Stephenson. My favourite poem was “A Seduction is Attempted”.
Few poets choose Ostend as their writing milieu, but not only did it provide the framework for a razor sharp and atmospheric piece, Suz later informed me that she has a collection of pieces on Ostend! She was at pains to point out that she does do some cheerful material, “Things to Make or Create” for example. I was struck both by the richly eclectic powers of observation in her poetry and the freshness of her viewpoint. A tribute to the Japanese earthquake victims “the Needle Spell” was inspired by a trip around a Rag Market, whilst a playfully malevolent piece on Murder, “Dear Bridget” ensures that I will be extra careful if Suz ever invites me around for tea! Do look out for her – and I await her “Ostend Special”.
The next Parole Parlate is on 2nd June, 7. 30pm and anticipates the Worcester Literary Festival which is being co-ordinated by Lisa Ventura. The evening will not only be worthy in itself, but it will also provide visitors a sneak preview of the best of what will be coming up from Lisa, and afford, no doubt, the chance to network with audience members who will be performing in and attending several of the events. 05-05-11
Hit the Ode
Victoria Pub, Birmingham
The “Hit the Ode” soubriquet name-checks in parody a 1960’s hit made popular by Ray Charles.
But maybe event impresario Bohdan Piasecki should think about re-branding it after Peter Frampton’s 1970’s hit “Something’s Happening” ? Because the buzz before, during, and after this event, was quite extraordinary for a Spoken Word evening.
National Poetry Day Director Jo Bell had travelled down from Manchester even though she was flying tomorrow to the Strokestown Poetry Festival in Ireland in which she is shortlisted for a prize, Ray Antrobus had travelled up from London, Phoenix had travelled from Leicester and Lisa Ventura from Worcester, all to see a brilliant headline bill ( and those are just the ones who handed their travelogues to me!).Three hours is a long time to listen to Spoken Word performance, and it is a tribute to the variety and quality of what was on offer that the time flew by for a packed house.
Topping the Bill was Polarbear. Although a writer, performer and poet of national, and international, repute he is also one of our own, now living in London, but originally from Birmingham. So this was very much a home-coming performance with plenty of acknowledgements to friends in the audience.
He might have spoken his work on stages all over the world from Glastonbury to Kuala Lumpur via Ljubljana and California. But tonight at the Victoria he was where he belonged, back on home turf. He did not disappoint. Looking unnervingly like Mick Hucknall, circa “Holding back the Years”, he enthralled the crowd with his trademark hip-hop tinged stagecraft and lyricism.
At one point he stopped to describe himself as a storyteller, and that is a fair observation. A storyteller who uses rhyme but who specialises in the moment. There is no conventional narrative, although the stories are linear. You hook up for the ride and then get taken to wherever he decides to take you, where you started from, and where you end up, are less important than where you are at any given point in his poem, the ultimate in living for the moment.
He took us on a time travelling retrospective of his work from 2005 through to the present, including “About David”, “Candlelight”, “Heartburn” and “The Scene”. His stand-out piece was “Jessica”, a wonderful timeline poem in its own right which closes with advice to a little boy which sums up “Polarbear the Poet” perfectly: “
The spaces between words deserve to shine.... speak what you know, breathe deep as you flow.....Make sure that when you are gripping the mike you make sure that you write for right now.” All of which are pretty much the Polarbear manifesto. A captivating performance, appreciatively received.
Co-headliner was Hollie McNish from Cambridge who instantly won the hearts and admiration of the audience – and then, after a magnificent performance, left us all yearning for more. Hollie is an exceptionally interesting young performer.
She graduated in French and German, more recently
specialising with an MSc in Agricultural and Political Economics. Since
then, she’s been performing around the UK and Europe and running
educational poetry days and workshops on topics from racism, homophobia
and drug politics to cookery, riversides and bumblebees! She also works
as poet in residence and event organisor with Shape East, an educational
charity focused on sustainable and ecological urban planning and youth
inclusion in decision-making.
A subsequent piece about the prejudices which The Daily Mail panders to highlighted the political awareness which she prides herself on, whilst the hilarious, “Willies are More Dangerous than Guns”, combined that political edge, with rib tickling warm humour, which not only closed her set, but left us cheering for more.
Hollie performed with conviction and a fragile
beauty. Her strength is in combining a strong sense of narrative, easy
rhyme and an uncompromising message. A rising star if ever there was
Jo Bell revealed that she is either very well read,
or has had an extraordinary range of lovers, in the hilarious,” Coming”.
From Leicester, Phoenix read the chilling and serious “Don’t Shoot the
Messenger” and “Hold Me”, with the Red Poet form Birmingham offering
lighter fare with “Have you been haunted by love?”. Just before the
break, American Anne Rose MacArthur recited an unusually original piece
“Have You Ever Been Kissed” a lengthy, but hugely rewarding poem
interweaving the power of a Tennessee deluge with the power of an urgent
Metro Cafe, Bilston
The performances were of the same high standard that
we have come to expect and so we were treated to five more excellent
sets in our evening's entertainment at the Cafe Metro.
Other poems covered various aspects of her experience as a poet - how she became a poet, the stress of writing and so on but by far the oddest was a rapping villanelle about child slavery.
Before I heard it I'd have sworn that a rapping
villanelle was an impossibility and the subject matter added an extra
level of improbability. Nevertheless it was a fine piece of work, both
technically and as thoughtful entertainment.
It was wonderfully and mesmerisingly done with
intense flashes of anger contrasting sharply with almost prosaic
descriptions of violence. He followed it with a brighter poem about an
inspirational teacher and an extract from his new novel in which he
convincingly described a visit to a rather dodgy car dealer. It was a
varied set and all very well done.
Old Cottage pub, Burton-on-Trent
This was the debut of the new venue for “Spoken Worlds” at the Old Cottage Public House, and very agreeable it was too.
Organiser, MC, and Poet, Gary Carr had previously defied conventional wisdom by holding this event on Friday evenings. This time he took that defiance one step further by holding it on a Bank Holiday Good Friday, the assumption being that Spoken Word must play second fiddle to other things.
That assumption ignores the pull of this event. He was rewarded by a very good turnout which augurs well for the future well- being and success of “Spoken Worlds” in it’s new home. The room itself is a first floor function room, soundproofed from the hurly burly of the Pub downstairs, and away from casual interlopers or disinterested regulars, yet with the bar and toilets within easy reach. It also had the benefit of a PA system too.
With some thirty performance slots (some poets performing more than once) the evening flew by, two breaks providing time for reflection, recharging glasses and socialising.
Malcolm Dewhirst stood out tonight with an exceptionally varied presentation. “Kites” drew on work he has been doing with local schoolchildren as part of the Polesworth Poetry trail at Pooley Country Park. Sadly Mal decided not to re-enact the moment when he ran around a playground with the children pretending to be a kite.
“Fulcrum” was a tribute to Alfred Williams whom Mal has been studying as part of a project to resurrect interest in forgotten poets – who shouldn’t have been forgotten. Alfred Mason Williams (1877 – April 1930) was a poet who lived in the vicinity of Swindon. He was almost entirely self taught, producing his most famous work, “Life in a Railway factory” (1915), at night after completing a gruelling day's work in the Great Western Railway in Swindon. He was nicknamed The Hammerman Poet.
Williams was born in the village of South Marston, the son of a carpenter, and grew up in poverty after his father abandoned his wife and eight children. He became a farm labourer at eleven, and then, when he was fifteen he entered Swindon Railway where he worked in the Stamping Shop for the next twenty-three years.
Married in 1903, Alfred pursued a demanding schedule of full-time work and private study. He published his first of book of poems in 1909, Songs in Wiltshire, but his health declined and he left the factory in 1914.
Williams produced a total of thirteen books but died in poverty in 1930 in South Marston. Life in a Railway Factory has been described as "undisputed as the most important literary work ever produced in Swindon, about Swindon."
Although Williams could write in Latin, and the poet performing before him had lauded the intricacies of the language, Mal decided to keep his Classical language skills under wraps this time round and perform “Fulcrum” in English. I think Williams would still have approved.
In a departure from material which I have seen him perform before, he finished off with “Our Town”. A lengthy piece neatly inter-weaving an irreverent assessment of the merits of Tamworth with those of modern living generally, and hundreds of towns like it. Stark, dour, but compelling, it worked very well indeed.
The Polesworth Poetry Trail provided the material for two other poets who performed. Host Gary Carr read” Those Up there Don’t Know About Us Down Here” about the M42 scything through the Country Park, Margaret Torr looked at the Wolf Spider and a particularly strong piece on the fate of the Pit Ponies.
A new venue deserves new contributors and Ian Ward from Lichfield Poets had the benefit of being able to present material from his substantial body of work to a new audience. “Ice Queen” and “The Withered Wychwood” took us into a fantasy world of death, destruction and desecration, whilst the more succinct “Mothers Grow Old” was a very effective observation on dementia.
One of Ian’s trademarks is song references, but in “Ghosts” I found no hint of The Specials or Japan. Yet he came good with his closing “There’s Always An Echo” inspired by Prog Rock and a workshop with the critically acclaimed Julie Boden. Pink Floyd were there with “Echoes” and “Time”, Genesis with “Ripples” and Coldplay with “Clocks” but I am sure there were more I missed. Catching the musical sub-texts is always a pleasurable extra dimension when Ian reads.
It is a truism at Spoken Word events that the best poets often reveal their work most sparingly. This is certainly true of Colin Hench. His “Silentium Agonomi” was raw and powerful. “Thoughts on a Bear Cave” an exceptionally strong exploration of existence through sex and death.
He left us wanting more. A similarly tantalisingly sparing performance came from Tony Keaton whose companion poems about “Big Jugs Weekly” and “25 Beautiful Homes” was clever, sharp and very entertaining. It also introduced us all to the concept of “The Merkin”.
Part of the success of “Spoken Worlds” is an overt desire for variety, and it delivered once again this evening. Roy sang a poem unaccompanied, and then performed a very funny duologue with Terri, Brian read monologues whilst Rob and Andy both accompanied their own work with acoustic guitars.
Such fare attracts people from afar, one of whom is Fergus McGonigal from Worcester. His opus soliloquy on grammatical pedants was a delight, his “Ode on a Six String” struck a chord, and as for “There’s Nothing Worse”. Well there’s nothing worse than forgetting your glasses, is there Fergus?
“Spoken Worlds” next meets at 7.30pm on Friday 20th May. 22-4-11
-Gothic, Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Open Mic Night
Sansome Street, Worcester
atmospheric cellar of the Worcester Arts Workshop played host to “42”,
an evening of spoken word dedicated to alternative genre writing (www.facebook.com/42openmicnight).
The evening was compered by Glenn James; if you’ve come across his work
before and are a fan of the art of story-telling, you’ll know why I was
so keen to come along.
Smoke and Mirrors: The Second Coming
Malvern Youth Centre
Whether relaying how love can transform the backdrop
of an NCP car park to something altogether more magical or the simple
pleasures of … fruit, she had the audience transfixed.
The Western Pub, Leicester
SHINDIG is a collaborative venture between Crystal Clear Creators, represented at the gig by Jonathan Taylor, and Nine Arches Press, represented by Jane Commane and Matt Nun.
Recently relocated to “The Western”, the venue is one of the ground floor bars which is commandeered by the organisers for the evening. It was packed out with an audience wholly dedicated to the poetic proceedings; a good PA system ensured that everyone could hear clearly.
The format was a shrewd and proven one. Two sets of headliners with local links, and short open mic slots beforehand. This cleverly ensures that a combination of non-billed poets, as well as the entourages of the headline acts, swell those in the audience who have simply come to listen.
A stall is provided to sell the published works of those performing which tonight did brisk business. The headliners were split, two closing each half, in a women versus men juxtaposition. Jonathan Taylor acted as MC for the first half with brisk efficiency, although perhaps just this once, it should have been the audience who advised the MC to ensure that his mobile phone should be switched off during readings!
Kathleen Bell closed the first half of the evening. Kathleen is a widely-published poet including work in “Poetry in Nottingham” and “The Coffee house”. She is also a, critic, prose writer and Principal Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University.
It showed. Her nine pieces, themed around Illusion, war and ghosts were stylish, considered and richly sourced. Illusion took us into the world of Victorian magic tricks, “Restoration” was particularly memorable, whilst her affection for Paris manifested itself both in “The Station of Montparnasse” and her poems on the German occupation of the city.
Before her, birthday girl Maria Taylor had entertained with a very accomplished set. Maria is a poet and reviewer from Leicestershire. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the TLS, Coffee House, Under the Radar, Obsessed With Pipework, and others. Her first poetry collection will be published by Nine Arches in 2012.
Her trademark is short, concise neat poetry which bustles with joie de vivre. “Soap Sud Island” visited her erstwhile home district of Acton in London and its status as launderette to the more upmarket Chelsea and Kensington. “Getting Rid” told of the disposal of a troublesome bee in her bedroom, or was there a metaphorical dimension to this tale? Whether she writes about endless school holidays in “Six Weeks Lasts Forever” (my highlight of her set), or a Murderous Cook in gaol, she entertained and engaged with a magnetic economy of expression.
After the break Jane Commane assumed MC responsibilities with chirpy enthusiasm and a supply of open-mic poets which took even her by surprise. Introducing the male headliners, Matt Merritt was first up.
Matt is a poet and wildlife journalist from Leicester, whose second poetry collection, “Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica”, is published by Nine Arches Press. His interest in ornithology ran through his set with a particularly fine piece on Swifts. “Things left in a Hotel Room” rang painfully true, whilst “Waiting to Cross” was a beautiful snapshot of islands created by the tides.
Bravely he chose to perform a couple of
contributions to the NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day for a
month, a challenge alien to most poets who fear their work is never
quite complete. I favour the aphorism that there is no such thing as a
completed poem, just work in various stages of abandonment. Matt chose
“Smoke” and “Custard Apple”, the latter of which was my favourite of his
offerings and the final stanza of which I quote:
Who could resist that?
Closing the evening was Mathew Stewart. Mathew is a British national who splits his time between West Sussex and Extremadura in Spain, and his poetry is coloured by that experience. His set centred around his recently published pamphlet “Invented Truth”, published by Happenstance. He explained the phrase “Invented truth” by quoting Julio Cortázar:"I knew I'd never reach the invented truth...if I convinced myself that a new country was a new life and love is changed like a shirt,” and his poems revelled in exploring identity and self.
“Foreigner” in particular was a delightful vignette on the flawed aspiration of seeking to speak another language with no trace of a native tongue. And although his poetry told of beautiful Spanish landscapes and delicious paella, he also told of “Driving on the M25 after Midnight” and “Last Chance”, his stand-out piece, a soliloquy from a second-hand book in a second-hand bookshop. His claim to like playing with identities to enable him to bounce poems between concave mirrors, distorting their points of departure so as to reach somewhere revealingly new was satisfyingly realised in a sophisticated, assured reading.
All the above was supported by a dozen or so open-mic poets who complimented the evening with their discipline in performing two poems only, and the quality of their work. Many were worthy of headline status in their own right.
“Shindig” undoubtedly offers a Poetry Evening with an unique character. There was virtually no Performance Poetry per se, and everything was read. The standard was uniformly high, almost highbrow, but with no sense of self-importance, and provides a welcome, and all too rare, platform for serious poetry with a warm and friendly welcome for all. “Shindig” meets again on 27th June at 7.30pm at this venue. 18-04-11
This debut event at the Mac was billed as pushing the boundaries of emerging UK poets and focused on three of our best young local poets in Jodie Ann Blickley, Matt Windle and Fatima Al Matar.
It was directed by Amanda Wilde from Red Earth Theatre who said: “ I have been working with 3 dynamic, committed, talented and tireless performance poets on the Lit Fuse project, initiated by Apples and Snakes and Mac Birmingham, exploring how far the boundaries of performance can be pushed for spoken word artists. For Red Earth this is a project working outside our comfort zone and that's a good thing; it energises and gives us new perspectives.”
The Hexagon theatre at MAC is a small, intimate space, with steeply tiered seats, overlooking a small stage; It was just right for the select audience, which included several well known poetry performers. The whole event was MC’d by Bohdan Piasecki, Regional Coordinator for joint organisers Apples and Snakes, who welcomed and encouraged the performers, but did not perform himself on this occasion. Each poet had one long poem to perform, which had been especially written to the brief for the evening.
Jodie Ann Blickley started with an emotional poem which she introduced as being inspired by Cinderella. It told in heart wrenching detail how she ‘was not over you’, remembering a lost love and seemed to pour out emotions raw and believable.
Fatima Al Matar was next, and she used a prop of a baby blanket, caressing it and telling the ‘baby’ how she was destined for a life of sadness and abuse, using a chorus of ‘Baby baby baby’ to great effect and apologised to the baby for her ‘past’ .
Matt Windle combined his skill as a boxer with that of a poet to deliver a riveting performance of a tale of an ancient Greek battle with Leonidas, King of the Spartans, imagining the thoughts and feelings of the soldiers and acting the fighting parts in a physical way which emphasised a very masculine performance.
All three poets delivered emotionally draining performance pieces and I was wowed by their depth and clarity.
The small stage and lighting effect were used to
enhance the pieces and having seen Matt and Fatima perform previously, I
can truly say that they were pushed beyond any boundaries I have seen,
as were the audience! The whole event was quite short, less than an
hour, but the poets stayed and chatted afterwards, all of us needed a
break and a wind down! 16-04-11
Ghost Town Music by Bobby Parker
I WENT to a book
launch last night, in Kidderminster, the town I had some of my blackest
moments in, It's a hate-hate relationship, anyway the poetry book is
called Ghost Town Music and the poet's name is Bobby Parker.
The first poet was from the Black Country, forgive
me for forgetting his name, but he spoke lines that were comic and he
had some precise observations of society. Heather Wastie gave a slick
and confident performance, the first person perspective of an
apostrophe! Sarah James was excellent as usual, she performed a vivid
poem about the tiger and her stand out poem for me was the darkly comic
'10 things to do before you die.'
GENEROUS . 14-04-11
Reproduced with permission from Ruth’s Blog: http://mermaidsdrown.blogspot.com/
Spoken Word & Music
Hollybush pub, Cradley Heath
I’VE BEEN promising my good friend and host of this night, Richard Bruce Clay, that I would attend this event for some time, and so, armed with a babysitter (at home) and a baguette (on the bus) I began the journey with fellow poet Brendan Higgins from Birmingham to the homely Hollybush in Cradley Heath.
It's a small, intimate venue where the jukebox plays Johnny Cash and the real ale is a very reasonable price. Candles, friendly locals and a landlord, Dave Francis, with a passion for spoken word make this a friendly, inviting and cosy evening. A strong bill included: BoBo Pilar , John Gow, Malcolm Jeffrey, Phil Cervi and Jonathyn Morgan.
First to take the stage was the bard himself Brendan Higgins, reading first from his published book 'The It Factory', a satirical take on the 'X Factor'. The first chapter was well received and the hits kept coming with a set that included old favourites such as 'ill', and newer poems about art and lifestyle.
The set was received to much laughter, and it says something of Higgins’ status that he turned up , and a member of the audience was wearing the now infamous 'Shopping' T-shirt. Needless to say, both were delighted to meet each other in the flesh.
So then to me. I was terrified at the prospect of reading to a room full of men as most of my poems are generally from a feminist/maternal standpoint. However, as I opened with a new piece about love, it was so well received that I felt comfortable to run through a list of both newer and older poems, all on different themes, from God to sexual abuse. I have to say this was the moment where I "became" in my mind and thanks to the audience really got into my stride. Afterwards, I was blessed with praise such as “this was the best I've ever seen you". In turn this was largely thanks to the audience who responded so well to every poem that the reaction established the set’s momentum.
Next up was comic poet Long Lost Frank- who opened with a piece about shoes on bus-stop roofs, and delivered some of his signature poems with his trademark animation and passion. A poem about being an expert swearer went down well with the audience, as did one of my personal favourites ''Work Shy'. Frank mixes clever rhyme, storytelling and social commentary with expert performance and is always a delight to watch.
All in all a typically strong night where free admission and a relaxed supportive atmosphere made for a hugely enjoyable evening. Next playing; Friday May 6th, 8.30pm.
Little Venice, St Nicholas St, Worcester
THIS monthly event has been attracting an increasing level of interest in recent months. A combination of a strong bill, curiosity, and a personal invitation from organiser Lisa Ventura moved me to check it out, and I was not disappointed.
The venue itself is a good one. Set on the first floor of an Italian restaurant, the space is airy, private, and has its own bar and toilet facilities, with the added advantage that a meal beforehand, or just a snack, are both to hand (the latter very difficult to resist!). The restaurant itself is located right in the middle of the City with several bustling pubs and car parking close by.
The first half was closed by Amanda Bonnick who offered an accomplished performance. She opened with “A Day in Art”, a very clever piece themed with artistic imagery, each reference having a resonance which no doubt varied according to the sensibilities of the listener. Intriguingly, she later revealed to me that it was a poem of which she was uncertain.
I thought it was her best work. One school of poetic thought suggests that heartfelt passion and emotion produces the best poetry, another that sometimes a more dispassionate, considered and deliberate approach works best. I found “A day in Art” meticulously composed and very satisfying. Amanda seemed determined to show her variety of poetic inspiration in her poem selection. “The Ballad of Cara” told of an encounter with an outwardly feral young teenager in a park whose eyes told a different story to her words.
It was a sparse, moving description which echoed far beyond the page. Whether she was (amusingly) exploring the loneliness of Lane Swimming, the whimsy of the allure of shoes and of a little girl dressing up, or the natural majesty of a kingfisher in the wild, sharp observation, economically told, was her hallmark. The enthusiastic response from the audience was richly deserved.
Before her, Caroline Ferguson opened with strong material, the performance of which she should take time to evolve, as it can work much harder for her. Ddotti Bluebell is a very distinctive performer with a trademark delivery of a rap/sing-song tone. Her inspiration comes from personal experience including that of her brothers in “Nintendo”, or her struggles with her hair. Her confident delivery will have inspired other younger aspiring female poets in the room.
David Calcutt by contrast performed a single “narrative verse drama” entitled “The Desire of Women”. A bold and risky gambit, it was a triumph Witty, nuanced and very well told; it also benefited from a strong punch line.
After the break two young female poets caught the ear. Beth Edwards, imposing, confident and charismatic, went for powerful diversity. “I’m the Dealer” was a strong street piece, the “Plagiarism Poem” an enjoyable literary romp, “My Two Left Feet” a tender, emotional love poem. Laura Dedicote is more restrained in manner, but no less effective.
Elegant and assured, her work with Spoz ( of which more in a minute) was evident with her “Cuts” poem, it is good to see that a political radical edge is apparent in today’s youth, and persuasively articulate she was too. Yet “Home” and “Secrets and Silence”, a teenage take on teenage life, were mature but authentic, and heart-warming, all at the same time.
Opening the second half Neil Richard delighted with a “Ramones” inspired set in which he was able to recite about four times as many poems as anyone else in the same time slot! Short, sharp and edgy, Neil stood apart from all others, and was the better for it.
To close the evening we were entertained by a past and current Birmingham Poet Laureate. “Spoz” is a consummate performance poet. Engaging with the audience from the start, he galloped through “Brummie Rotunda”, an ode to Daisy Waugh, a raunchy homily to Miss Davies a school Science teacher, before giving us “fibre” advice with “Bad Diet”. Spoz has worked with John Cooper Clarke, and his poems often reflect the tone of Clarke’s work. Tonight I realised that he is starting to look like him too! Spoz’s humour and humanity went down a storm.
Last on was Roy MacFarlane whom I have seen performing on several occasions. Invariably strong, this was the best I have seen him. I suspect he would be pleased by my assessment that he defies conventional categorisation.
His skill lies in a remarkable ability to be inclusive in his work, whilst not hesitating to work with marginal subjects. He tackles Black heritage in an accessible way to all, his poems on fatherhood, motherhood and love ,( “I Wanna Walk With You “ is a delight) are warm and wry. But his middle section on injustice was the highlight of his set, and the evening, particularly with “Daily Bread”. A banker who met Roy at the gates of St Peter would be in for a VERY rough ride.
All of this was efficiently, confidently, and expertly overseen by the effervescent Lisa Ventura, who kept things moving, on time, but always ensured that her poets were the stars of the show .A full, enthusiastic, house was a just acknowledgement of her efforts. “Parole Parlate” next plays on Thursday, May 5th at 7.30pm. 07-04-11
Patrick Kavanagh Public House, Moseley
NEW theatre company, Don’t Go Into the Cellar specialise in Period theatre. This show, a sister to “Gothicana”, has a bawdy theme, as the show title suggests, but is still presented in a Victorian context. Part Gothic Macabre, and part comic Variety show, the space offered by the first floor performance room in the Patrick Kavanagh was ideal to showcase their talents.
Madame Morganne, played as a psychic cross between Mystic Meg and Marti Caine, wonderfully realised by Rachel Green, acts as de facto MC for the evening, cajoling the audience and amazing everyone with her (lack of) Spirit World prowess. Jonathan Goodwin provides the star quality with two very strong interactive monologues, first as Van Helsing, then as Lord Byron. As Van Helsing we are treated to a tranche of Vampire gags, as an inebriated Lord Byron, Goodwin very skillfully plays the crowd in an impressive ad lib section in which he creates rhymes and rhapsodies around the names of female members of the audience.
ZEST AND VITALITY
ZEST AND VITALITY
A surprise highlight of the evening was "Lizzie", played by Kaz Luckins, who sang two great songs in "was I standing at the Church” and “Ann Boleyn with her head tucked under her arm in the midnight hour”, injecting much zest and vitality into the show in a one woman ball of energy. In a contrast of styles, Matt Pritchard enthralled with a straight magic act.
Gary Archer, as William McGonagal, performed two humorous poems, “The Alleged Assassination of the Queen”, and “Glasgow” , around a substantial and entertaining character piece, ”Aiden the Nutter” performed ”The Freaks Tale” in a powerful tale of the macabre.
The show was funny and substantial, running to just over two hours with a half time interval. Well costumed, a few members of the audience arrived in Gothic garb themselves, a trend I suspect may grow in the future. Licensed premises suit this show with Lizzie Luckins returning for a sing along finale which was lustily entered into by the entire audience. It’s combination of monologue, theatre, magic, music hall song, poetry and Tarot Card reading is unique and very effective. Crucially, each show is different with a rolling roster of performers, Louise Stokes and Jade Cole played supporting roles tonight. An off-beat treat.
“Ghouls Aloud” returns to the
Patrick Kavanagh on Thursday 28th April at 8pm, “Gothica” returns to the
Shakespeare Memorial Room Birmingham Central Library, Tuesday 26th April
at 7.30pm. 31-03-11
St Martins Church
The hall of this famous, landmark Church is now a fine venue in its own right with excellent public address and lighting as well as a bar, cafe, formal and informal seating. Compere Penny Hewlett, leader of Smart Poets did her customarily skilful job in showcasing the groups talents whilst at the same time bringing in talent from across the City.
Poets are not renowned for their timekeeping, or memory. Penny dealt with absentee and late performers with effortless ease to put on another fine evening. Ben MacNair was the pick of the Smart Poets with a neat quartet of poems, two of which were Jazz themed, “Blue & Green” and “Thank You Miles”.
The former a wry expose of jazz pretentiousness, the latter a straightforward paean to the great Miles Davis. Laurie Spencer looked back on “London Pride”, Graham Stubbs lambasted the “Big Society” whilst Penny herself read an understated but poignant piece about our economic hard times entitled “Lament”.
Naomi Haworth played an accomplished trio of her songs on keyboard before accompanying Katriona Heatherington on the epic, classically inspired, “Psyche”. Samantha Hunt offered an ambitious personally inspired long piece with “Hotel Across the Street” which continues to mature and evolve in each succeeding incarnation.
After the break Lorna Meehan was able to get her teeth into her own set for a change instead of running her own event, “Rhymes”. The cavernous space and wildly disparate audience presented a challenge for all performers, Lorna wisely decided to do a bit of everything generically from her repertoire.”Stephen Fry for President” is a great homage to the qualities of one of Englands great contemporary artistic figures, “Eyes Closed” a more personal piece, and yes she still yearns to share sonic screwing with Mat Smith in “Dr,Dr” ( Not to be confused with the great Thompson Twins hit). Her best moments came with the closing extended “All Stories Are About Love”. Clever, fey, erudite and passionate. Yet it is such a good poem that it feels like a stand-alone work. One where you want to enter into her world on a solo journey, unencumbered by what has gone before.
The finale was a quick fire open mic session. These
always are the organisers version of Russian Roulette, with each
performer stepping up to the podium often as unsure as the audience as
to whether they are going to fire a poetic silver bullet, or a blank.
Amongst many, Pauline Morgan borrowed from ancient mythology for
“Don’t Look Back”, Charles Wilkinson read a very entertaining “Not By
Me”, and David McLelland freestyled with a Bardic “Greetings”.Cream
always rises to the top. Past Birmingham Poet Laureate Chris Morgan
exemplified this with his readings to close the evening, not least with
I've reviewed similar events on many occasions and as a writer I attend as a means of relaxing within the company of other wordsmiths - each time I come away inspired and eager to focus upon my own writing.
Anyway, The Lichfield Poets - nine poets attended representing the local group and they were a delight to behold. They began with a selection of poems relating to 'Battles':
'During the War' by B Asbury -
such precious memories infused with colour, such as the
kingfisher, brought the imagery to life.
George Barbrook's poem 'Scout
Camp' was crammed with images of fun-hungry scouts running a muck
between games of 'maggots'. Margaret Torr delivered three poems 'Home
run', 'Empathy' and ' Hidden agenda' each beautifully crafted - leaving
the audience wanting more. Ian Ward's 'Lifestyle' and 'The
Traveller' and Dee Costello's 'Memorial to the ordinary' and
'Arrowheads' were befitting the tribute and theme of the evening. Steph
Lunn's three poems 'One more day', 'Something must have happened' and
'The magician's wife' brought yet another tear to my eye - I
really must be get a grip but hey that's the beauty of poetry.
Hit The Ode
Victoria Public House
John Bright Street, Birmingham
HIT The Ode in Birmingham has only been running for three nights so far and as I run "Parole Parlate: The Spoken Word" on a monthly basis in Worcester I thought it would be good to pay a visit to the Victoria and oh boy was I in for a treat!
This fantastic and diverse mix of cultures, nationalities, spoken word and performance poetry is what makes Hit The Ode such a unique event and one that has placed itself firmly on the spoken word calendar as a must be at experience.
The evening opened up with a few open mic spots starting with Spoz, a former Poet Laureate of Birmingham. Now anyone who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of Spoz, and his new poem "Science" which was a world exclusive complete with synthesiser sound effects and telling the story of his crush on his old science teacher was a joy to behold.
He was followed by Joe Coghlan and Hayley Stephens, before leading into the bellowing overtones of Richard Bruce Clay, who reminds me of a young Brian Blessed, except with a strong Brummie accent. I still have the taste of Bovril flavoured coffee in plastic cups in my mouth two days after the event.
After another open mic slot from Al Hutchins the first featured act of the night was Daan Doesborgh and Ellen Deckwitz. Both are rising stars on the Dutch poetry scene and have travelled extensively taking their poetry across Europe. The ability to take the mickey out of themselves and their native country made for some hilarious performance poetry and their rhythmic trance like stance drew me in like a moth to a flame. They are both Poetry Slam Championship winners and they are more than worthy of winning such accolades. Amazing stuff.
The second half kicked off with Lorna Meehan and segued into a side splitting rip roaring performance from Richard Tyrone Jones, arguably one of the funniest of the open mic performers at Hit The Ode.
Once he cleared up that Ronald McDonald was not his Dad (well not his real one anyway), and that the first poem he was going to read was a found poem (explanation: a poem that has been found), he then went on to read a poem consisting of pieces of advice given to him by his Uncle, including "never trust anyone who doesn't have their own teeth, because if they can't be trusted with their own teeth what can you trust them with" and "never employ fat people, they never do anything, that's why they are fat".
Close to the mark yes, but extremely funny nonetheless.
James Barnett, Anna Rose McArthur and Naomi Paul finished off the last of the open mic slots and the next featured poet surprised me with his infectious reggae overtones and his positive, bright attitude. Moqapi Sellasi is a well known poet on the Birmingham circuit, a veteran on the scene and is a founding member of the Conscious Poets Society and the New October Poets Society.
Now I must confess that I sometimes suffer with low self-confidence from time to time. I worry about everything and get nervous at the slightest thing sometimes, such as having to perform my poetry live in front of the Mayor of Worcester, which I am going to be doing tonight (well okay, that's quite a bit thing really). But no matter, because I now have plenty of CONFIDENCE, charm, personality and eloquence, thanks to Selassi's reggae inspired tones. I lost count of how many times I shouted out CONFIDENCE at the top of my voice and I felt so inspired and uplifted by the time it finished I felt I could write a whole book that night. Perhaps I should have.
Last up, and well worth waiting for was Dizraeli, who is a BBC Slam Poetry Champion and Farrago UK Slam Champion. His hip-hop mix of poetry and music was catchy and infectious, and although I confess to being more of a heavy metal chick than a hip-hop one, Dizraeli's mastering of rap infused with thought provoking poetry and music was hugely enjoyable.
I'm already very much looking forward to the next Hit The Ode on April 28th featuring Polarbear, Hollie McNish, Sebastian 23 and Lars Ruppel. I have a feeling that I will be making the pilgrimage from Worcester to Birmingham every month from now on. 24-03-11.
Lisa Ventura MCIPR
Cafe Metro, Bilston
THE FIVE performers on offer at Bilston Voices played to the usual packed and appreciative house at the Cafe Metro in Bilston. First on the bill was Louise Stokes. I've seen her a few times now and she usually performs character comedy in the guise of one of her alter-egos. Character presentations, however well done, are just not my thing so I have been indifferent to some of her past perfoamnces.
Last night, however she he did only one poem in the voice of Kimmy-Sue Anne, oneof her most popular characters, but chose to perform most of the rest of the set as herself. I enjoyed it all the more for it. Her poems are often on very serious topics. Whether it is the pain (rather than the pleasure) of love in "Stay", or how mental illness can cause you to push away those who most want to help in "Meltdown", they are powerful and provocative.
She finished with a rather self-knowing poem about
writing in the voices of those other characters, interspersing verses in
different voices with verses in her own. It was all very clever stuff
and worked very well. A fine performance that had me warming to her work
much more than on previous occasions.
He followed with a couple of pieces that employed a device he often uses - poems that seem to start out very serious but suddenly have a twist that undermines their seriousness. So, for example his poem about Tigers initially seemed as if it was going to be lyrical but changed rapidly with the introduction of Tony the Tiger, the well known cartoon breakfast cereal salesman.
He raced through a set of humorous verse on subjects as diverse as new babies, adultery (another poem that gradually warped from sounding relatively serious to something much lighter and funnier), stealing stuff from work and Anne Widdecombe not to mention a new piece about an unfortunate encounter with a pub condom machine. Good stuff.
BAD BLIND DATE
BAD BLIND DATE
The first half was rounded out by the gentler and
quieter humour of Maggie Doyle. Like Gary, she started with a serious
piece, reflecting on her memories, but soon moved on to a set that
meandered humorously through her life. We had the ever popular poem
about a disastrously bad blind date, the slightly more serious one about
someone missing out on life because of living with her mother. She
finished with the lengthy and accurately funny "I Want To Retire And
Write Poetry". 24-03-11.
THIS was a valedictory occasion for the last “Spoken Worlds” to be held at this venue. The unavailability of Rangemore House going forwards has prompted a move to the Old Cottage Tavern, just a few hundred metres away down Byrkley St, for future meetings.
Rangemore house itself has proved to be a good host, a drama studio with modern toilet and refreshment facilities, wholly self contained and private, a sympathetic place for Spoken Word. But poetry and pubs have been easy bedfellows since the time of Chaucer. A private room, a bar, and free entry, close to their old home, strikes me as being a winning move which will only serve to build on the success of the existing event.
Poetry/Spoken Word evenings are quite difficult to get right. Straight page poetry can be hard work, performance poetry only can seem lightweight and ranty, multiple monologues boring, and music and sketches “off message”. The trick is in getting the alchemy right, and that is what organiser ,and MC , Gary Carr gets right at “Spoken Worlds”. On Friday we were treated to a mix of all of the aforementioned- and it worked well.
Mal Dewhirst is a distinguished presence on the Midlands poetry scene. His economic ,evocative poetry, particularly a memorable description of a waterfall scene in Yorkshire was a treat. Performance poet Fergus McGonigal had endured a two hour journey up the M5 on a Friday night to make his debut performance at “Spoken Worlds”.
But his arduous journey was not apparent in a sparkling , humorous, rehearsed set ,including pieces about the tell-tale signs of middle age and the delight that we take in seeing other people’s children misbehaving.
Janet Jenkins , leader of Lichfield poets also made her SW debut including a delightful nature poem and a cautionary tale about the perils frogs face when copulating from falling mobile phones ( you had to be there).
Rob Keogh from Buxton, combining the physique of a Manchester cocaine dealer with the finesse of a Saville Row tailor, delivered wry humour that was consistently a delight, Dea Costelloe enthralled with her monologue, and Andy Biddulph used his flamenco guitar skills to atmospheric effect during “Condor”. Jeannie Jordan performed the second part of her drama with Jo imagining the fate of Shirley Valentine’s husband, and Margaret Torr read a poignant piece on deafness. All that provides a by no means comprehensive flavour of what was on offer on another very enjoyable evening.
Next meeting Friday April 22, at The Old Cottage Tavern, 3b Byrkley St, Burton-on-Trent, DE14 2BG, free entry, 7.30pm, open mic and thereafter May 20, June 17, July 22 and August 19.
Rhymes Out of Town National
South Birmingham College
This event represented a bold departure for “Rhymes” organisers, Rogue Play, who had imported non-Midlands poets to entertain, rather than concentrating on local talent. Artistically it paid off with four very different performers taking to the stage, compered by Lorna Meehan with her customary skill and poetic interjection.
Brighton based Oliver Gozzard, used his book “The Commuters Tale”, a thriller in verse inspired by the life of Byron , in which a careworn commuter abandons his humdrum life to embark on a voyage of adventure with a rapper he meets on the train, as his centrepiece.
The simple, rhythmic, rhyming verse was easy on the ear whether recounting his efforts to get a haircut like Byron, or his imagining of an illicit love affair inspired by the train Tannoy announcement, “Will the Guard Please Contact the Driver”. His wry, laconic delivery appears to have evolved by a process of osmosis from his daily rail commute to London, although I suspect that the sneakers he wore are not for the City. His poem about a cocaine snorting goat called Elvis was surreal, his reply to Wendy Copes’s “Bloody Men” entitled “Women” a little restrained.
MC and poet, Jack Dean was born in Tooting, raised in the southwest UK, likes to wander all over the place telling stories of love, loneliness, nostalgia and midget porn ,and is a Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion. He currently calls Bath his home ,a location slightly incongruous with some of his material.
I imagine that there is greater concern in Bath over the temperature of the Chablis than the “heat on the street”. “Moths” was by far his best poem in which his youthful, zestful performance best dovetailed with some very neat word play to maximum effect. “Selly Oak” reprised Oliver Gozzard’s railways theme.
George Lewkowicz, aka “Superbard”, from London is a multi-media performer using some recorded music and sound effects to support his material. A strong performer with credits for appearances on “Newsnight”, “The Jeremy Vine Show” and Radio 4, he promised us his political set.
The bankers jibes probably were a bit of a soft target, but his “Favourite Films” section was a tour de force. In Edinburgh he was the only storyteller to reach the Hammer & Tongue final, and that grasp of the big picture, and his desire to present it in an innovative way, shone through.
Headliner Richard Frost from Milton Keynes is one of the most distinctive poets on the performance circuit. In the mould of Byron Vincent , he delivers a complete performance from which his poems emerge from amidst stories and apparent stage asides. This is considerably more difficult to pull off than it might sound, but Richard does it in style. Content includes the absurdity of signs saying that “this sign is not in use”, the trials and tribulations of being a Dad in “Weekend Dad” ,and the symmetry between gerbil socialization and that of humans in his most accomplished piece. Not only does he use repetition of phrases like “nature is a great teacher”, “the only permanence is change” and “All things must pass” ( no obvious George Harrison connection) within poems , he also reprises them in between other poems, and sometimes within them! It was a hugely satisfying, relaxed performance which rounded the evening off splendidly.
Rhymes plays again on 18th May, check the
Facebook page for venue details. 16-03-11
Bloxwich Library Theatre
A splendid evening in aid of the “Born Free” charity whose patron, Virginia McKenna,OBE, sent a generous message of support.
Organised by local writer Helen Calcutt, the event featured several poets from across the Midlands at this excellent venue. The serendipity of World Book Night falling on the same day meant that there were numerous free books available too. Richard Bonfield, Born Free’s Poet in Residence headlined with both passionate poems in praise of the tiger, and a fascinating insight into the Charity’s work, including the involvement of fellow sixties glamour girls Alexandra Bastedo, and scourge of Labour Ministers, Joanna Lumley.
Although the evening was tiger themed, poets entertained with a range of work, some loosely connected others just worthy, or amusing, in their own right. Jenny Hope took an arboreal tangent, Ruth Stacey was inspired by her children and Lucy Jeynes mischievously borrowed Charlie Sheen’s tiger twitter status to lead us through a contemporary and very funny romp.
Prize for dedication to the cause definitely goes to David Calcutt who produced a sequenced quartet of tiger poems starting with a childhood dream, Jacqui Rowe made a customarily refined contribution, some of which will be available in metal engraving, whilst Julie Boden drew on her own significant body of work to offer tiger poems and pieces on crows and bears!
Janet Smith stood out with two poems, the first, “Owl” is a clever and powerful composition with only one polysyllabic word in it. Janet delights in efficiency in her work and excels at producing the maximum energy from the sparsest of words. “Owl” is a case study in how to say more with less. She also gave her prize winning poem “Between You and Me” its first public airing – it did not disappoint.
Helen Calcutt remarked that to her surprise the quantum of poetic contributions had far exceeded the Art contributions. The range, variety, quality and differing interpretations of the theme of the evening were a tribute to the power of the spoken word. 05-03-11
The Oxford Chapter of Hammer and Tongue kicked off the 2011 season in exceptional style with a double headline act line up. Hosted by the ebullient founder of H&T, Steve Larkin, the packed audience was treated to a night of that epitomised the best of the current spoken word scene.
After Steve Larkin had welcomed the audience with “Live in Leeds” a poem that pays tribute of northern university towns, but takes a dim view of students who are quick to leave their radical uni beliefs, was time for Byron Vincent to take the mic.
Byron has a conversational style to his sets, with lots of funny chat between his poems. Indeed he says he is hard to categorise beyond “spoken word artist” as he is ‘not clever enough to be a poet, not funny enough to be a comedian’.
He is though a charming and engaging presence with plenty of self-deprecating remarks (‘look at me, I’m 90 per cent twiglet’) sprinkled before the poems. Vincent’s poetry covers modern culture and topical subjects touching on KFC, football, marketing slogans and the pope’s visit and he was well received by the Oxford crowd.
H&T are one of the foremost hosts of Poetry Slams with six regular venues stretching from Brighton to Cambridge and tonight was no different with ten poets doing battle in a one round slam.
Tina Sederholm guided us through the Slam section, explaining the rules and scoring before introducing Mark Niel as tonight’s ‘sacrificial poet’ (a poet who performs but is not part of the slam so judges can set some bench marks to get their eye in).
Mark is a familiar face on the poetry circuit and he took the opportunity to try a couple of newer poems in front of an audience. ‘Popping the Question’ took the voice of a nervous suitor plucking up courage to talk to a girl and laid the foundation for a delicious twist in the last line.
Mark also gave us ‘Poetry Voice’ which pays back-handed tribute to a certain type of open mic reader. It was now time for the Slam proper .
The ten poets competing represented first timers and experienced hands with material that ranged from Folk ballads to humourous tales with plenty of political points made along the way.
FUNNY AND RAUNCHY
The main contenders were Katie Byard whose poem lambasted an ex-boyfriend and had plenty of funny and raunchy touches. A strong contingent from Milton Keynes had made the journey across country and Danni Antagonist, Ian Freemantle and Richard Frost showed just why MK has become a significant centre for poetry in recent years.
Richard was best favoured by the judges with a poem that used Gerbils as a parable for a failed marriage (Sounds weird but you have to hear it to see how it all makes sense). It is funny and moving and extremely well delivered. Richard was followed by Pete the Temp. Pete gave us “Angry Pedestrian”, one of his established pieces which encourages and received audience participation. In the end, Pete emerged the winner with Katie second and Richard third.
Time was now at a premium so a second interval was spurned and we welcomed AF Harrold as the last tranche of the Slam sandwich.
AF Harrold has become a stalwart of the contemporary poetry scene and it is testament to his skill as a writer and performer that repeated viewings does not dull your enjoyment of his sets. I have seen him many times and he always seems to sparkle.
I don’t know if it’s possible for a voice to twinkle, but if it can, his does. Clever wordplay and quirky humour are perfectly married when he’s on stage and even simple brief poems meant for children are well crafted. Harrold has such a body of quality work ranging from breathtakingly sensitive love poems to comic literary pastiche that he can mix and match to fit the mood of each performance.
Even his collection of “poems not good enough to be in books” would be enviously coveted by other poets. And so the gig finished in fitting style, in the hands of a poet who knows how to hold a crowd and demand laughs or our attention as befitted each poem. If this is the benchmark, it’s going to be a great season for Hammer & Tongue. 23-02-11.
Cafe Metro, Bilston
Bilston Voices provides a platform for local poets to perform their work, yet such is its reputation that performers and audience are drawn from far and wide.MC Emma Purshouse invariably combines established and emerging talent. Tonight was no exception at a full Cafe.
Elaine Hickman-Luter was a strong opener who was clearly prepared to suffer for her art. Although restricted by a broken arm in a sling, she employed the cricketing equivalent of a “batsman’s runner” to turn her pages for her in a very diverse set.
It encompassed the pastoral with “The Trees”, the whimsical with “Moving to Mars” ,and the humorous with “The Friendly Elf”. Her stand-out piece though was “Tapestries of Time”, a reflection on Dudley Castle which evocatively embraced that castle’s resilience over the centuries. Her craft, honed with Dudley Writers, showed.
By contrast Ness Tobin was performing for only the second time, but what she lacked in experience she made up for with charm , brio, and lots of short poems.. She has a verite style telling of everyday life, a poetic Lilly Allen of sorts, swinging from the incidental “Rich Boys” one minute to the altogether darker “The Child Who Never Was” the next. Her quick-fire delivery was enjoyed by all.
FULL OF CHARACTER
FULL OF CHARACTER
The first half was closed by Peter Hill, stalwart of both Bilston Voices and City Voices in Wolverhampton. Peter opted for two long pieces which were both full of character, and entertaining.
The first told of the shortcomings of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” fable, the second of his wife’s enthusiasm for painting things which had resulted in his having a pink garden bench! Peter’s manner is that of a skilled raconteur and his material close to monologue in parts offering a welcome change of pace before the break.
The first of the two second half performers was Silvia Millward of Bilston Writers who opted for quite diverse material. Her best was “Eels and Minnows” a tale of childhood camping in the Lake District.
Fond, faithful and persona,l it had an elegiac quality to it, which combined the specifics of her experience, yet reached out to us all, in a very effective poem. Her strength lies in some striking imagery. Camping they were as “fearful as minnows in a bucket”, in “Red White & Blue” the young soldier’s widow had “mascara as thick as tar”.
Top of the bill was Simon Lee performing from “Tales of the Half Expected”. A seasoned performer, Simon veered from the knockabout crowd pleasing material about bankers, superheroes and his inability to dance to altogether weightier matters. It is the eternal dilemma of the Performance Poet. Almost all have work of substance to share, yet an audience is there to be entertained as well finding the balance is fiendishly difficult. His best two poems were his serious ones, ”I want to See Poetry” and “The Waiting Game”, the latter an agonising, baleful take on the “Time waits for no-one” theme. Nonetheless, his set closing “I Want More Moore” a fond celebration of Sir Patrick Moore’s fifty year stargazing career was a guaranteed winner – and so it proved.
Bilston Voices meets on the last Thursday of each
month at the Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston, next meeting 31/3/11. It is
not open mic, to take part contact Simon Fletcher,
Cirencester Love Slam
It’s a poet moot. I’m deep in conversation with one of my slam rivals when Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” signals the entrance of organisers Marcus Moore and Sara-Jane Arbury.
We all clap along enthusiastically. Smiles all round followed by that butterfly feeling in my stomach when the first 3 poets’ names are drawn from the hat.
Not me .... please. The first poet is .... Mac McFadden. Mac is not me, neither is Kurly nor Sue, phew. Mac kicks off with “A girl called Sid”, sits beside me and agonises over a fluffed line which no-one noticed. Kurly smiles, dances and sings a love poem to his wife, and first-timer Sue confidently reads her two pieces. Judges sit scattered throughout the audience. Scores are added up, combining marks for writing, performance and audience response, and Mac wins the heat.
Now the heat’s on again. Three more names to be drawn. My husband Geoff plunges his hand into Marcus’s hat. There’s local discussion as to what I would do if he drew out my name, so Marcus has a look - no, it’s not my name. Phew. He announces the names. Colm McCarthy, not me. Heather Wastie .......... ah.
Colm’s delivery is intimate, eyes closed. Up I get and perform “Dave’s half”, encouraged by the sound of laughter. Then up steps Dominic Berry who clears the stage of microphones to allow space for a very mobile, compelling performance which I know will get more marks than mine. Sure enough, my marks are good, but Dominic’s are better. My only chance of getting to the semis now is as highest scoring loser er non-winner.
Onwards. Peter Wyton stylishly brandishes love hearts, calling them old fashioned. Crispin Thomas and Peter Tickner give assured performances, and Peter Tickner wins the heat. Mac points out that I got more marks than he did. He’s confident I’ll get through. I’m not. Next up is Tim and I’m struggling to spell his surname.
Before I know it, Wild Bill Balding is making Mars bars sexy and Steve Rooney is talking about his shirt. Marks are revealed. Wild Bill is through .... and I’m not. Tim has more marks than me.
Right, now I can relax and think about writing this review. Emma Purshouse shows her superbly sexy personification of a one-armed bandit, Catherine Crosswell dwells on the mechanics of saying “I love you” and Theo is sweet-talking in H&M. Emma is through to the semis. Tim also makes it as highest scoring non-winner. Marcus shares his knitted poem in praise of libraries and we all cheer.
After an interval, during which I catch up with more poets, the semi-finals begin. First out of the hat is Dominic who once more empties the stage of microphones. His second poem is delivered whilst riding a virtual bike, the one with stabilisers on, which he had as a young boy.
You can see the wind in his hair and hear him learn to trust both two wheels and his step-dad. This is exhilarating stuff. Then Emma Purshouse twitches her way through another superb impersonation, “Getting to the nub of it”. Tim Brewis (got the spelling now) rants eloquently about decadence, and exceeds the 3-minute time limit, being stopped just short of the end by Marcus’s whistle. “I hate doing that,” says Marcus.
Peter Tickner is next with his comfortable-sweater armchair-humour - except it’s not. With a twinkle in his eye, his material is surprisingly naughty. The last line of his poem is a perfect illustration of the importance of punctuation - “What is this thing called, love.”
Every poet gets a short introduction from Sara-Jane. In round one, these are supplied by the poets. In round two, Sara-Jane, relishing the pun, cleverly combines elements from the poets’ descriptions and the material performed to make new intros.
Wild Bill Balding’s confectionery inspired poem from round one results in his introduction in round two as the “Mars bard”. Wild Bill gives us two poems for his daughter, as a teenager (“I was, like, O my god”) and a small child being visited by the tooth fairy. Great delivery, and I’m enjoying the poems very much but he too slips over the time limit, and demonstrates something I’ve seen before - a difficulty in not finishing the poem.
The Mars bar man (calling out the remainder of his set from the gallery) was followed by the clever Mr Marmite, Mac McFadden. Sarah-Jane delivers a short poem while marks are collected, and we’re on to the final.
Tim and Emma go head to head. Tim wins the toss and elects to go first. His vivid portrayal of a war zone in Afghanistan is gripping and sends shivers through my body. Emma, in complete contrast, delivers her side of a telephone conversation in which she tries hard not to mention the ‘p-word’. It’s excellent, but Tim is a worthy winner, by 5 marks, and proves that it isn’t always a comedy performance that takes the top spot.
Prizes are awarded and every poet goes home with a
packet of (old fashioned) love hearts, having seen a wide variety of
performers of a high standard and had the chance to meet writers from
many walks of life. On the way home in the car, I start writing a new
poem which will emerge for a future Spiel Unlimited extravaganza.
Thanks, Sara-Jane and Marcus. You always put on a good show!
Rangemore House, Burton upon Trent
Conventional wisdom is that Spoken Word events are not held on Friday nights as people have more attractive options at the end of the week. “Spoken Worlds” organiser Gary Carr, neatly turns that proposition on its head by ensuring that his event, held on the third Friday of the month, IS that more attractive option.
He was rewarded this evening by a full room, and an audience and performers who had travelled from the likes of Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Essex, as well as from the immediate locality. Burton upon Trent may be famous for its brewing, but it appears that news of its Spoken Word event has spread far and wide too.
However good the event, and however talented the performers, there is a limit to how long any audience can concentrate on the unaccompanied solo voice. Gary Carr wisely manages this by organising the evening into “Three halves ”, limiting each performance to around five minutes, and allowing for generous intervals for the audience to chew the cud on performers and performances. Gary, Comperes the event , topping and tailing the evening with his own poems. His well crafted contributions set the standard, and he cunningly squeezed in some more work by allowing his daughter, Kirsty, to read some further contributions of his. “Airports” was evocative, “Without You” eschewed the schmaltz of the Nilsson song with the same title, and “ He Who Lasts Last Lasts Longest” was a fitting evening closer.
Modern popular poetry events are the battleground of the Performance v Page poetry debate. Generally Performance Poetry wins, yet “Spoken Worlds” is characterised by a stubborn and pleasing determination to take page and serious poetry seriously. The challenge is that the best page poetry may not be revealed aurally, spoken by someone else, it’s magic and artifice instead best explored by solitary reflection and exploration. Thus, serious spoken word has to work doubly hard to compete at evenings such as these.
Fortunately Margaret Torr had the material to do just that, particularly with “Blind Spot” and “Running Parallel”. Both relationship poems. Poets are very fond of baring their souls with tales of their own emotional experiences. The problem is that just because an incident mattered deeply to them does not mean that it is going to matter deeply to the audience. Margaret succeeded by writing her narrative in such a way that it drew upon our universal experience and demonstrated what we may have felt, and seen others feel, first and foremost.
The trap of self-indulgence which can cripple such themes was avoided. We were there with her in the car park, or on the river bank. Combine this with some well chosen, original imagery , in poems which were cliché free, and you have one of the stand-out performances of the evening.
By contrast, Richard Young is a Performance Poet, and a very good one at that. He recites from memory enabling him to use his obvious drama skills to maximum effect. Strong material is supported by even stronger delivery, the master of the pause, a sideways glance, or a “stage aside”.
Popular performance Poetry depends upon subjects which engage, and Richard scored each time with this. Morrissey once sang, “We Hate It When Our Friends become Successful”. Richard hilariously reprised this theme with “Bruce Byron”, the actor with whom he studied at Drama School and whose subsequent success has clearly been the subject of some angst for Richard. I googled him – he does exist! “Fantastic Felicity” also entertained whilst “Computer Programming” had an altogether darker humour and sinister edge. Richard confided to me that he had a shortage of material, but with poems of this quality, he needn’t worry too much about that.
The diversity of talent impressed enormously. Andy Carroll is a performer and author who likes to stretch out, and fresh from a recent appearance at “Rhymes” in Birmingham, he performed an extract from his book ,“Once”, set in Smethwick ,Birmingham, whilst Jeannie Jordan , and her friend Jo, offered a clever piece imagining the role of Shirley Valentine’s husband. Poems about animals, and pets specifically, are difficult to pull off.
Maudlin sentimentality lie in wait to crush the efforts of hapless writers. But Dea Costelloe succeeds with two of her cat poems, “Distinguished Visitor” and “Against All Odds” ( no sign of Phil Collins), from the “Cat Lines” anthology.
Colin Hench writes with a fine traditional, but eclectic , style with challenging thoughtful themes, his reminder that “perfection is for the gods” amongst them, “Flotsam to the Door” stood out. Simon French veered from the light and satirical, to the dark and powerful “Druggie”. Tony Keeton gave us the light “Crimes Against Poetry” juxtaposed with a brilliant period poem, evoking the ghosts of Sharpe and Flashman with “Uncle Crispin Barrington Bruce”. The ever-reliable Andy Biddulph shone with “Armistice Day”, Joanne Hoare’s reading of her daughter Jenny’s “The Short Straw”, was evidence of a burgeoning youthful talent.
The setting , Anne Lee’s Drama Studio at Rangemore
House helped enormously to provide an environment for performers to
shine. Although the next event will take place there on Friday 18th
March at 7.30pm, Gary Carr anticipates that beyond that a new
venue may need to be found. For more details check the Facebook
Group “ Burton Spoken Word Nights”. 18-02-11
Bring & Share Valentine's Evening
Reigning Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy MacFarlane masterminded this prestigious free event which avoided the pitfall of an overdose of syrupy love poems with a shrewd choice of format and poet.
The organisational energy of Roy ( and his wife) combined with the support of the Birmingham Library Service who sponsor the Poet Laureate ensured a strong turnout on a cold evening which was soon warmed up by the performers and performances on stage.
Roy himself is a very fine poet. In a show of admirable self-restraint, he limited himself to his signature piece, “Where You From ? Birmingham !” , a wonderful celebration of the diversity of our City ,and “I Wanna Walk With You”, a beautiful love poem with shades of the great Smokey Robinson’s love song “Being With You” echoing thematically.
From opening with the reigning Birmingham Poet Laureate, we then moved to the reigning Birmingham Young Poet Laureate , Jordan Westcarr. Only 16 years old, he was the youngest performer of the evening, yet gave an assured performance. Wisely, he concentrated on what he knew, teenage love, delighting his contemporaries, and jogging the memories of the old ’uns! “Long Enough to Smile at you” and “Kid” stood out, sharply observed, yet soft, and performed with conviction. A young man with a very bright future.
Matt Windle, a past Young Birmingham Poet Laureate is only a little bit older, yet asks for no concessions for his youth - because he doesn’t need it. Hammering out words at a rate per minute that would have a shorthand expert operating at full stretch he skipped through relationships with “That’ll be The Day”, and teenage shyness “Outstanding”, before disappearing in a blur. Like Jordan, he sticks to themes he knows best, and is building up quite an audience of peers on the back of it. Yet he also expresses himself with a maturity which resonates with all age groups. Quite a skill.
PAY HER DUES
PAY HER DUES
“Behind the Arras” has been championing “Fatima Al Matar” for some time now, and this venue and occasion was perfect for her. Although more than happy to pay her dues in Slams and Pub poetry nights, a proper theatre, with good acoustics, and an audience that has come to listen, is Fatima’s milieu. That was her platform for the evening. Once again she excelled. Her poetry invariably has a mystical tinge to it, and so it was tonight.
We were treated to a child’s love, an exploration of the definition of love in “You Let Us”, and a deeply sensual “How We Loved”. Performing serious poetry successfully is extraordinarily difficult, a good poem is not enough. Fatima combines incredibly strong material with charisma, presence and a remarkable self –awareness of how to use the pitch and modulation of her voice to maximum effect. Rarely have I seen a poet whisper – and notice the entire audience lean forwards to catch the words – as if they were meant for them, personally, which of course they are.
Closing the first half we were treated to a rare appearance by Sue Brown. Her elegant and dignified bearing was in perfect harmony with her poems. “For the Love of Auset” was a marvelous piece borrowing from the Classical Myth of Osiris and Isis who flew too close to the sun. “Death is only a breath away from life”. Intricate, and unafraid to borrow from arcane tradition it was an ambitious and powerful piece, and probably the literary high point of the evening, yet with the likes of “Some Other Day” she also demonstrated a mastery of a simpler, but no less effective, form.
Hazel Malcolm is a stalwart of the Wolverhampton literary scene and showed just why with a powerful trio of poems. “Blues in the Black Country” was a lyrical, evocative remembrance, of Afro-Caribbean parties in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, whilst “All Black Men” was a bitter sweet journey around a tired stereotype told with love and affection.
A great strength of the evening was its unpredictability, never was this more in evidence than in the performance of Phil Simpson whose earthy poems would have made Chaucer blush, the highlight of which was “Cocoa Butter Queen”. The BBC recorded some of the evenings performances for use on their Big Screen, Phil now has the distinction of producing the first “R 18“ rated poetic performance. A cry of “Are you available for Mothers Day?” as he left the stage brought the house down on what was a memorable set.
Shaila Sharif is enjoying a national reputation for her poetry form Tower Hamlets to Edinburgh. She expresses her Bangladeshi heritage in a traditional English form offering an unique expression of her culture. She scores with universal themes, touchingly with “Hala” about the loss of a beloved aunt, and tales of loss friendship and adulterous relationships. That two out of her three pieces were untitled was a slight drawback as in short sets, titles do provide an initial focus for the listener.
“Behind the Arras” has been proud to record the growth of Spoken Word in the Midlands, so it was a particular pleasure that Jo Bell, Director of National Poetry Day should take time to break her trip from London to Macclesfield to attend, perform and generally support the occasion. As Roy MacFarlane does in his local role, Jo does so much to promote poetry nationally that it is easy to forget what an accomplished poet she is in her own right. Tonight she gave us a timely reminder. Waspish, wry and laconic, she specialises in a faux verbal ennui, like a wise predator luxuriating in its lair, waiting, before pouncing to devour its prey.”The same Damn Thing” being a perfect example.
“Floor Spot” poets of the highest standard popped up to deliver single offerings in addition to the advertised bill. Adrian Johnson excelled with old favourite “The Jam”, with Leonie, David Stackhouse, Sue Challis, Denise Williams, Lucy Jeynes (“A Maiden’s Prayer on Valentine’s Day” was great knockabout fun) and Jane Campion-Hoye also performing.
In order that the others were made to look even better than they already were,, I was asked to close the evening with, “Love Sonnet #1”, “Cheryl Cole” and “Adultery” winding up proceedings.
And so the evening ended. A resounding success in
terms of attendance, calibre of performance and performer, diversity of
material and desire to be heard! Roy is hoping to put on more such
events both to meet the demands of those who were unable to perform due
to time constraint, and to continue to support Poetry in Birmingham and
the Midlands. “Behind the Arras” will let you know as soon as dates are
Big Bilston Love Slam
I guess somebody has to be first. I just wish that on my first proper slam, it hadn't been me! Yes, the random draw for the running order put me on as contestant one of heat one of round one. At least it means that I get the awkwardness of reviewing myself out of the way quickly.
So what about this Bob Hale fellow? Any good? Well I think my poems were pretty good and they were certainly well rehearsed but I'm coming to the opinion that they are fundamentally unsuited to slams. It was noticeable, as it often is, that the few people who, like myself, did serious pieces (i.e. not funny) consistently scored lower than the people who made the audience laugh.
The other poets in my heat were Heather Wastie and Steve Rooney. Heather, who I have seen quite often, did a longish piece about eating her partner's bread pudding in her usual accomplished style. Steve's piece, about a girlfriend being unimpressed with his new shirt was also very funny but suffered slightly from being a little too slight for its length. Unsurprisingly, Heather got through and I came last.
The second heat also went as it should. Tom Jenkins seemed a little less confident in his material than usual, though his very clever piece constructing a love poem from terms used in chemistry was very well received. Simon Lee followed with a poem about being in love with his dentist, which he assured us was OK as his dentist is also his wife.
And Peter Wyton who concluded, and won, the round gave us a poem that started slowly but built very well into a lively and animated performance, an unlikely outcome for something that was about updating the messages printed on Love Hearts.
GLOOMY IN TONE
Heat three had Hazel Malcolm, an old friend of mine Donna Scott and Roy McFarlane: not a good draw for Hazel or Donna given that Roy is the Birmingham Poet Laureate. Hazel's poem comparing love to molasses was the first properly romantic poem of the evening, though perhaps a little gloomy in tone.
As one of the more serious pieces it again suffered from the audience predilection for humour. Donna's poem fell nicely half way between the serious and humorous camps and was a good piece about love in the 1990's, filled with popular culture references and performed well. It inevitably suffered from being followed by Roy who did the two love poems that he had practised last week at City Voices. His greatest asset is his rich, deep voice and combined with his passionate performance it saw him through to round two.
Marion Cockin, Louise Stokes and Theo Theobald were up next. Marion, a seasoned performer but taking part in her first slam, gave the best introduction of the night - describing her poem with the words "there can be no greater love than a woman who puts her husband's severed head on the mantlepiece".
And that's what she delivered, a poem called Sir Walter Raleigh's Head. Louise, like Roy, gave a poem which she had performed earlier this week, this time at Hit The Ode. I liked it better this time round but, clever and accomplished though it was, it seemed to be more suited to a shorter work and was a little stretched at three minutes.
Still, she is the first to admit that her normal poetry runs to the pessimistic rather than the romantic. Theo followed and though the three minute format limits him - he is much funnier when he has the space to meander around his poetry with long and often hilarious introductions - his "I'm In Love With The Girl from H&M" is an old favourite and went down very well, sending him through in fine style.
The final round one heat saw Yvette Rose give a couple of slight poems - one similar in content to Tom's Chemistry, used mathematical terms as love metaphors and the other was a very traditional romantic poem. Once again more serious and once again suffering in the marking because of it. She was followed by Jo Bell who began by announcing that she didn't do romance and would we mind if she did filth instead.
And that's what she gave us, two hilarious and very dirty poems about former boyfriends and how men make love. Eileen Ward-Birch, accompanied by a pillow and a bad case of nerves, completed the first round, explaining in verse about losing sleep trying to write a love poem. It was a good poem but her nervous performance let her down slightly. Jo ran out the worthy winner of that heat.
After that we broke for the highlight of any night at the Imperial, the curry: - and very nice it was too. Reflecting on the first half I felt that in every heat the correct result had come from the judges. All the performances had been good but the right people had, ultimately, gone through.
The format for round two saw all six performers - the five winners and the highest scoring loser, Peter Wyton, compete in one big round. Their poems reflected their first round performances. Jo gave us an alphabetical list of words from her phone's custom dictionary which sounds as if it couldn't possibly be any good when described like that but which was in fact very cleverly done and really rather good.
Theo followed with a poem listing the possible illnesses and symptoms to claim to have when "throwing a sickie". It got a good audience reaction though, as with his first round, I felt that the three-minute slot doesn't really do his kind of performance the justice it deserves.
Peter's poem, like the Love Hearts poem from round one, started slowly and built well as he compared the people on holiday in modern Greece to the ancient Greek Gods. For me it seemed to lack a proper climax though which may have let him down.
Heather, in multiple voices, became the various icons and symbols that we see on our computer screens talking to a frustrated user. First the spinning symbol when something is loading, and then, by turns, the hour glass, the hand and the arrow. It was clever though maybe a little repetitive, though that was probably the point.
Roy followed with a poem about his wife's lack of sympathy with him when he is sitting writing and waiting for inspiration. Though his performance was as powerful as ever he badly misjudged the time and became the only person of the night to actually be "whistled" off before completing his recital. Simon, the highest scoring runner up concluded the round with a better piece than his previous one, an elegy to the late Richard Whitely, of Countdown fame.
When everything was counted and the dust had settled our two finalists, and it must have been a tough decision, were Jo and Theo.
Jo opened with a nicely observed poem comparing real life to Facebook and real relationships and interactions to computer ones. Her description of someone having only eight friends, but one's she'd actually met, echoed my own sentiments on the subject.
Theo put on a fisherman's hat and proceeded to give us a cleverly constructed poem based around the names of the places in the Radio Four shipping forecast. It played to his strengths of humorous one-liner gags building a very funny and very well written piece from what was essentially a series of jokes. (Though, of course, the Rockall joke is an old one!)
And so to the result. It was a close run thing but overall Jo's material had been funnier and better received and she ran out a worthy winner with Theo only a whisker behind in the scoring a very worthy second place.
A truly excellent night's entertainment with one of the finest collections of poets I have seen in one place. Of course I also need to mention the excellent organisation and splendid MC duties of Marcus Moore and Sara-Jane Arbury who made everything go so smoothly and led us through a perfect evening, perfectly.
And me? Well just as somebody has to go first, somebody has to come last. C'est la vie. 12-2-11
Leicester Comedy Festival
IT IS (in my ever so humble opinion) a true test of a performer’s ability when they play to a small crowd rather than a full house. Every performer knows playing to an audience of 50 in a venue designed for 200 is tough work. Conversely, play to 50 squeezed into a space that should only seat 40 and the gig just seems to fly.
So when Luke Wright brought his one man show Cynical Ballads to the Leicester Comedy Festival and stepped on stage in front of a dozen or so people you can imagine how he felt. I’m pleased to say there was no sign of disappointment in Luke’s attitude and demeanour as he launched in to the first of his ballads about Broken Britain, The Drunk Train.
Luke’s soundscape of modern Britain took us from the X Factor; yobs on council estates to the sometimes questionable morality of the rich and powerful. By highlighting the worst elements of both ends of the social scale he portrays a society you wouldn’t want to live in. The genius of this show is the dawning revelation this IS the society you live in, even though you may be insulated from the crueler and corrupted extremes.
Luke has great stage presence and from the first line he shot off his rhymes with passion and precision. The rolling metre of the ballad form (Iambic Tetrameter as Luke educated us) lends itself to performance which is why at one time, spoken ballads (not the sung version) were the CNN of its day.
News was conveyed by ballad with sales of certain “Broadsides” topping a million copies. Luke’s sharp-suited animated delivery is subtly and superbly complemented by Sam Ratcliffe’s excellent quirky cartoons which engage your interest but do not overpower the narratives.
This is all wonderful, thought provoking stuff; poetry as entertainment as well as art. This well written, dynamically performed show turns many flashpoints of modern culture into contemporary parables. Ultimately, a poetry based show rests on the quality of the verse and here Luke demonstrates why he is a frequent contributor to national radio and other media. His writing is accessible with witty rhymes, solid jokes and even when he’s discoursing on the less palatable nature of modern life he is still engaging whilst never pulling a punch.
Indeed it was during such a tirade that Luke undoubtedly hit his stride, absolutely in the moment as he sprayed the room with rhyme with an evangelical passion, despairing at some of the social injustices we seem to accept as the norm. He’d forgotten he was playing to a huddled dozen in a Leicester pub and we did too. I hope karma rewards Luke for his professionalism and endeavour and that the rest of the tour garners the audience he undoubtedly deserves. 09-02-11
Hit the Ode
Birmingham City Centre
Sponsored by Apples & Snakes, and the brainchild of MC Bohdan Piesecki, “Hit the Ode” is fast becoming an event of significant national artistic credibility, as this month’s Bill bore testament to, with a roster of international talent oozing talent and creativity. Over three hours of performance left another full house entertained, challenged , and content.
The first half was
dominated by Byron Vincent, who hails from Huddersfield, but is
currently based in Bristol. In his publicity material he claims that : ”
he was (poorly) educated within the cloying conurbation of various
northern sink estates. His flowery name and love of language ensured
that his journey was a challenging one. Never a defeatist he fought back
with poetry. This was a terrible strategy and he regularly got his head
He mischievously claimed during his set that he wasn’t clever enough to be a real poet, not funny enough to be a comedian, and not cool enough to be an MC – wrong on all counts. Fresh from his starring spot on BBC Radio 4’s “Wondermentalist Caberet” (Still available on I player) Byron unleashed a slick show, and deceptively laid back manner, on an adoring crowd.
An unique talent, Byron doesn’t really do conventional poetry, he reflects on the Wombles of Wimbledon Common, he rails at the madness of Advertising Campaigns from his time as “Poet in Residence” at a Shopping Mall, and is gentlemanly enough not to describe women’s bottoms as fat – but prosperous. He enthralled, entertained and delighted the audience with a lengthy set which was not a minute too long. Probably the brightest spoken word performer on the scene right now.
The evening had begun strongly with the increasingly confident Matt Windle beginning with a trademark street mood piece, “Untitled (lobster)”, followed by, “Outstanding”. Matt is incredibly self aware for a teenager, confident enough to deliver fey, vulnerable words and sentiments, amidst a boxers shuffle and braggadocio. A precocious and prodigious talent, his word skills matched the best that the later headliners could offer. Louise Stokes’ trademark is “miserable”, so her new piece “Stay” was an interesting departure for her. A fragile but warm homily to love, its longer than usual form, had a defiant ring to it, a welcome addition to her repertoire.
James Burnett made his debut with a quirky memorable appearance which included “Pillow Talk (after DH Lawrence)” and the, “Yes and No Game”, which contained the most memorable line of the night:”She was conceived in the very toilet that she squats to piss in” –yes, it was an “audience reaction” moment! Al Hutchins returned to the stage after a period away with a “Love Death and Buses” theme, and a very bright shirt.“The Headless Chickens Hum” about the Birmingham Outer Circle Bus route, was his best poem, his piece about the discovery of a dead baby’s body harrowing, and his advice on how to shine large stainless steel pots invaluable.
The unenviable task of preceding Byron Vincent was given to the be-suited Fergus McGonigal who played it just right, with humour and self-assuredness. His experience as a father of five that, “The Greatest Pleasure of Being a Parent is Seeing Other People’s Children Behave Atrociously ” astutely recognised the Schadenfreude all parents secretly hold in that situation, with “It Could Have Been Worse”, equally light and fun.
After the break the adorable Jodi-Ann Blickley played with our heart strings with the wonderful “Hold Tight” revelling in a personality that fuses the lovability of Kylie Minogue and the chirpy street persona of Lilly Allen. In a welcome innovation, we were then treated to a quartet of poems from the University of Birmingham Poetry Slam Team who were warming up to take on arch rivals from Warwick University in a forthcoming Slam (who were in the audience scouting) in a local derby scheduled to take place at the University of Birmingham Guild hall on the 4th March. Unsurprisingly, Andy Cook, Sam Murphy, Sean Colletti and James Bunton were rather good, Colletti’s “The Product” particularly so.
The mood shifted again with the arrival of American Rappers Professor D ,whose “Don’t Dumb Down My Content,” was powerful, but all too brief, and Kenny Baraka, who had taken a break from his run in “The Rememberers”, to perform a piece which is both an homage to, and an expansion of, hip hop performers like Jonzi D.
“The Rememberers” is set in a post-Apocalyptic time and the actual shows takes place in the base camp of the narrator.“The best way of describing it is to say that it is as if a graphic novel had come to life but with the voice of an MC,” Baraka said. “It is as if the dark side of these superheroes has come to life and we ask ‘what would their story look like? It is illustration, music, soundscape, classic graphic novel, narrative prose and hip hop. I would say that people who are really into graphic novels wouldn’t necessarily see another level but I guess they will be able to read more into it.”
Born in Eritrea and brought up in New York, Kenny has made the UK his home. He is an actor, poet as well as a touring musician with the likes of De La Soul and Supernatural.
Support to the second half headliner was local star Fatima Al Matar, a Kuwaiti who is resident and studying in the UK. Fatima’s stark intense poetry was in marked contrast to much else of what had gone before and stood out as a result. Beautiful, poised and elegant, she assumes an other worldly persona when she performs, exuding a Shamenic quality which mesmerises and transfixes the audience. She combines a commanding, lyrical use of the English language with a mystical Eastern phraseology, reminiscent of Kahil Gibran, whom she name checked during the evening.
“Some Loves Live” is a robust defence of the capacity of love to endure, and “The Self” a powerful philosophical exploration of the inner battle we all face between our “Self”, mind and body. “I Never Thanked You” was a tender reflection on a parent’s pride which brought fond laughter from the audience, something which I am sure Fatima enjoyed. Although naturally a feminist, she bravely tackles “You Only Want The Woman” in which the case for adultery is examined, before a caustic ” Mother”, and her tour de force, “Face”, a beautiful, pained, naked study in female maturity and ageing which has a wonderful universal quality to it.
Closing proceedings was
American Slam champion Joshua Bennett who has performed in the East Room of the White House -- and received a standing ovation from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and about 200 guests. Joshua closed with the piece he performed to the President: "Tamara's Opus," an original poem about his own struggle to communicate with his deaf sister. "I want to leave an impression on people that Josh did it right," Joshua said. "That's the legacy that I'm concerned with: How will people remember you when you're gone?” Some poetry when performed smoulders with sincerity and authenticity, “Tamara’s Opus” was one of those, as was, “Jesus Riding Shotgun” a celebration of the importance of the Christian Faith to his family and his mother in particular, ” She believed in God more than gravity”. A fine closing act for a fine event.
And so finished an astonishing evening of diverse
content, cultural background, and message. There really was something
for everbody. “Hit the Ode” returns to The Victoria on Thursday 24th
Night Blue Fruit
The Tin Angel, Coventry
LAST WEEK, my writing week started on Tuesday evening with a trip to Coventry, I went of my own volition, I wasn’t sent, before you ask. Night Blue Fruit at the Tin Angel is Heaventree Press’ monthly poetry night, its name taken from Joyce’s Ulysses, which itself finds its roots with Homer, and so the poetic air of the event hangs around the doorway of the Tin Angel.
This café come bar is made for reading poetry, it is not an “in your face” place, its low lights and small bar, its hum of Jazz. If Hopper had come to Coventry he would have painted it, with its slight shabbiness, its mix of furniture, the CD bar and posters that show real music is a live and being performed on small stages in Coventry. And so to our temporary stage with its open mic. The seating and surroundings don’t matter, the Jazz is tuned out, it is the poetry that people want to hear.
The night was compered by Barry Patterson who gave us poetry and song from the heart of the woods, his drum beating out the tribal dance of the ancient knowers. He introduced a wonderful mix of poets of all ages. The young Josie Allen whose poetry from the art gallery buzzed with sexual tension, and the not so young Colin Dick whose poetry always entices you into the world of someone with a wise artists eye, his colour filled words trip from his brush tongue, to nostalgic times that could have happened yesterday. Diane, whose monthly poems of her mysterious muse, who wants her, but then never arrives.
There were new faces, all young: Charlene, Anna and Si, all expressing the nervous mellow voices of poets climbing aboard the poetry clipper for the first time.
Then there was me, not one of the young, closer to the old. Taking my time, I got into a place where my lyrics floated from my tongue, my carefully crafted words sent in peace to drift among the ears and into the thoughts of my fellow poets, as they sat on the oddments of chairs, in this unique space.
This is the first time I felt really good about my reading, I didn’t have to act like a stand up comedian, didn’t have to make them laugh, I could hold them with my threads.
Night Blue Fruit is held at the Tin Angel in Old
Spon St, Coventry on the First Tuesday of the Month. Mal Dewhirst's
Poetic Blog is available:
Margaret rose Abri, Digbeth
This now well established quarterly event aims to provide a showcase for short plays, around 15 minutes long, with minimal props, costuming and sets. Once again it delivered in spades with variety, and quality.
“Breaking Free”, by Irish author and playwright Mary Rochford, who was in the audience, was an absolute delight. Largely a single hander, Zofja Zolna plays Nuala, a young Irish woman, trapped watching a tennis match at Centre Court at Wimbledon, when her heart is really with how the Eire National Football team are performing in a World Cup Finals match being played at the same time. Beautiful and feisty ,Zolna’s performance is a veritable tour de force, as with only the Umpire to keep her company, events unfold. Her “Meg Ryan” moment at the end – outdid Meg Ryan! The combination of her acting talents and Rochford’s nuanced script was a triumph.
Aaron Twitchen is a man destined for great things. Already an emerging star on the midlands comedy circuit as a comedic talent, DJ and MC tonight he turned his hand to playwriting – inevitably he is pretty good at that too. Jane Campione –Hoy milked “Cooking” for all it was worth embellishing wry lines with dexterous flashes of her eyes or hair ina marvellous dialogue.
Louise Stokes is another established fixture on the Brum performance circuit and is a playwright and author with several distinguished productions and books to her credit. Instinctively she loves the dark side of life, but her piece “For Pete’s Sake”, about a mysterious telephone call is a bit of a departure, a light effort with a wicked twist at the end, and was very well received.
“The Ghosts of Pere Lachaise” by Stuart Zola continued his proud tradition of fine drama. His ability to combine character with circumstance is uncanny, this time the twist was that he was dead, railing about the unsuitability of Piaf and Bizet as fellow plot sharers, and wishing that instead he had Marcel Marceau for company! My only complaint was that it was not longe nough
Sam Hunt Is a young emerging poet and playwright who draws upon her own dramatic personal experiences to play out the fictional role of “Amanda Jane”. Tonight she combined discipline with talent, and pathos with structure. Her strongest work, and performance, to date.
The next “Espresso Theatre” is in two months time, details available on the Margarett Rose Abri Facebook page. 04-02-11.
Poetry @The Cafe
Margaret Rose Abri, Digbeth
Paid events are proliferating around Birmingham at the moment, but this open mic evening defiantly bucks the trend affording new and established poets and writers the chance to present their material with no door or performance charge.
John Richman epitomises the zeitgeist of the event, his first public performance at all , let alone of the piece he delivered, entitled “Procrastination”, a rehearsed, spiritual reading was well received by all, and promised much for the future.
At the other end of the spectrum David Calcutt performed a selection of largely new work. Best known for his novels, “Crowboy”, “Shadowbringer” and “Map of Marvels”, David offered a series of new poems inspired by his walks in Walsall Arboretum, a wonderful selection of the pastoral lyrical and naturalistic. David is next appearing at the Library Theatre in Bloxwich in support of the “Tiger Tiger “ project on the evening of Saturday the 5th of March.
Janet Smith’s performance authority seems to grow each time I see her. This time, in a varied and characteristically intense set she included her signature “Bear” with the new “Lucifer”, which had a beguiling Shamenic quality and is sure to become a staple of hers for the future. Penny Hewlett’s style is equally distinctive personal and domestic territory is her home ground, always sharply observed, and never sentimental. Her reflections on her own, compared to her daughter’s experiences at university a good example of her style, warm, witty and universal in sentiment.
A common question is where Poets derive their inspiration from. Bob Hale is inspired by travel, and whether it is incapacitation on a hill walking holiday, Bear Museums in Alaska, or “Mountains of Friendship” in North Korea, he never disappoints. Another poet on a different type of journey is Ian Ward.
Originally his staple material was vampires, Armageddon and contemporary pop culture. His latest love poetry , which will no doubt be repeated at the Bring & Share Poetry Night at the Library Theatre, Birmingham City centre, on the evening of February 14th, was inspired, and his “twin poems, “Truth 1 &2” were a clever development of the pop culture theme. Brendan Higgins and Stuart Favell offered their customary stirling support. Stuart Zola facilitated, next session, Thursday 3rd March. 03-12-11.
Green Note Café, Camden
The themed poetry nights Utter kicked off their 2011 season in superb style at the Green Note Café in Camden: “Utter Sickness” This was a show where Utter founder Richard Tyrone Jones took centre stage for once with a first reading of his debut one man show.
The event was expertly hosted by Mark Niel, known as a headline act in own right and he warmed up the audience with his New Year Hate poem. This call and response piece wishing good riddance to all the celebs and news making non-entities who spoiled 2010 and it was enthusiastically received by the audience.
Mark then introduced the first guest of the night, Niall Spooner-Harvey. Niall is an award winning poet who has featured on BBC Radios 1 and 3 and he brought his own unique take to the night’s theme with funny and moving poems about growing up with Cerebral Palsy. His first poem however was a British version of the current revolution in Egypt. The understated “A Polite Request” captured the repressed characteristics we Brits would bring to a civil uprising. However it was the personal pieces which were most affecting. The burden of a condition that isn’t visible but still impairs your ability to function as expressed in “Disco” (It’s like writing with boxing gloves on) was well communicated. Any small achievement becomes a landmark (tying your shoes is like tying up the ends of world peace). Niall’s quirky, animated delivery was sure-footed and energetic, tinged with enough humour to leaven the uneasy moments such poems inevitably bring without diluting the message.
Niall was followed by Fay Roberts. Fay won the last “Utter” Ajar Mic and this paid gig was reward for her triumph. Fay hails from Wales and after cutting her performance poetry teeth in Milton Keynes and establishing the successful Poetry Kapow! events, she now lives in Cambridge.
SOFTLY SPOKEN WORDS
Fay is a quiet voice in an arena where ranting is often mistaken for talent. It takes a special wordsmith to let softly spoken words do their work and hit the mark as forcefully as a shout. Fay uses inspired images to thoughtfully invoke such emotion you feel you are eavesdropping on a confession such as “Cobwebs of muffled rage thicken in the throat”. Fay brings a quiet assurance to the stage and if you have the chance to see her, make sure you take it.
After the break, Mark Niel settled the crowd down with “Poetry Voice”, a too-familiar parody of a certain type of poetry reader which drew many laughs of recognition from the audience. Then is was time for the main event as Richard Tyrone Jones (RTJ) gave his first public reading to his debut show “Richard Tyrone Jones has a Big Heart”. It recounts Richard’s experience of being a fit, active, non-smoker who after feeling ill for a while, found his condition degenerated and ultimately he was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of thirty. You may think this is grim or uneasy material on which to base a show and indeed there is a certain degree of “frank medical terminology”. However RTJ seems to strike a good balance between verbatim story-telling, humour, the moments where he faced his own mortality and the relief at surviving without becoming too saccharin sweet.
Poems are dotted within the narrative and though RTJ was reading from notes, it is clear he has the makings of an excellent heart-warming (boom-boom) show. It is by no means the finished article but neither is it meant to be yet. There are weak puns that should have a DNR* notice and the pacing and transitions will improve as the show progresses. I’m sure that there are plans for visuals and sound that will further lift the dialogue. Having said all that, this was still a well told and constructed tale with great flashes of humour and humanity and well worth the ticket price as it is. I look forward to seeing the finished article which I’m sure will grace any Festival. 01-02-11.
Metro Cafe, Bilston
BILSTON Voices started this month with Jackie Evans who gave us quartet of poems and then one of her prose pieces. The short poems - about the moon, butterflies, Valentines day and blackberries - were very nicely done and very traditional but, for me, what I like to hear from Jackie are her very warm and human tales of her life.
She is in the process of writing an autobiography and her memories of incidents from her life in her wheelchair are warm, humorous and an absolute delight to hear.
On Thursday her tale was of two brief brushes with the law when she was younger and were as charming as ever. I rather hope that one day she completes and publishes her autobiography as I, for one, will be at the front of the queue to buy it. I suspect that everyone who has ever heard her read will be there with me.
Jackie was followed by Ron Davies who, in previous performances, has usually given us very Black Country oriented writing but on Thursday gave us a very funny tale of two people visiting a particularly seedy guest house in Weston-super-Mare.
I chuckled all the way through it and laughed out loud a a couple of the funniest parts. It was a portmanteau view of some of the worst places that most of us will have, at one time or another, have stayed in.
Jane Seabourne was next.
Her poems are diverse and thoughtful and covered topics as far apart as why we throw coins into fountains (or indeed, as the poem suggests, into just about any bit of available water), the story of King Canute, how fossils are formed and, as with Jackie, butterflies.
Her quiet, relaxed style perfectly suits her poetry and, as I've remarked before, the venue - Cafe Metro - perfectly suits the style with its comfortable surroundings and attentive audience.
After the break we had a slightly more lively and animated performance from Naomi Read who was the only performer of the evening that I hadn't seen before. Her poems, and her one song, were also diverse in tone and content but were great fun.
Perhaps, though, fun is the wrong word, given that the content of some of the poems wasn't exactly cheerful. I was particularly taken with her poem about libraries which included the great line "a novel a day keeps the fascists away". She finished with a tale of a trip across the USA on a hippy bus. It was a great performance from someone I hope to see perform again.
We finished with Dave Reeves who mixes poetry and music in the most entertaining way. Some he recites unaccompanied, in other cases he uses a harmonica to punctuate the verses or an accordion to provide a pleasing backdrop like a frame for a great painting.
So he gave us the story of Good King Wenceslas, retold from the peasant's point of view, a rant about living in a home with thin walls. His final piece, this time with the accordion, was a marvellous piece about going home in the rain on a cold day in 1953. It reminded me greatly of Ivor Cutler or, perhaps, Viv Stanshall. I was pleased to find that he felt this to be a compliment because that's certainly what I intended it as. 27-01-11.
Hollybush Public House, Cradley Heath
This was a site specific live performance which combined theatre with poetry for a production which used the Hollybush pub in its entirety as its stage for the first of two sold out nights. The brainchild of Emma Purshouse and Heather Wastie, “Snug” is a celebration of the pub – in a pub!
Trudy King acts as Narrator and leads us in to proceedings by introducing an evening where the traditions of the pub are looked back upon, with the audience as time travellers ,dipping into the past. The cannon of pub characters are wonderfully brought alive. Heather Wastie wanders in to wryly reflect on, “We had a bust up” and “You’ re sitting in my seat”, the latter the perennial cry of the disgruntled regular, to ease us into people and situations which many of us are familiar with.
This is a performance of many moods. Brendan Hawthorne delivers a tour de force spot with the “Retirement Speech of a Black Country Ventriloquist”, filled with pathos and introspection, before Emma Purshouse rips through “Concheta”, a hilarious spoof on a fruit machine which comes to life. The site specific pieces work particularly well, “Pool Life” around the pool table, “Nubs” around the discarded fag ends in the smoking area and memorably “Bogs” by the bogs, performed by landlord Dave Francis.
The writing is very strong, as is the acting, with Heather Wastie an astonishingly convincing drunk binge drinking Mayor ( you had to be there),and Brendan Hawthorne oozing regret and vino veritas through the bottom of a glass. “Old boy regular” Geoff Cox is never far away doing the crossword either.
Bold, inventive and fresh, this production has
enormous potential to evolve and grow. It was warmly received by an
audience who revelled in being part of the show, and where having a pint
was entering into the spirit of the evening. The divide between
narration, live action, poetry, prose and dialogue is marvellously
blurred resulting in a fusion of styles which constantly holds
everyone’s attention as the performance dynamic shifts, twists and
turns. A little gem of a show. 01-02-11
Scribal Gathering Special at Stony Words
The Crown, Market Square, Stony Stratford
The Inaugural Bardic Trials
SCRIBAL Gathering is a vibrant Open Mic night featuring Music and Poetry that has carved out such a niche for itself, it’s amazing the think it’s only one year old. It is to the credit of Richard Frost and his colleagues for devising a formula that allows music and spoken word to share the night without alienating either fraternity. Stony Stratford has a long folk music tradition as evidenced by the popularity of such events as Folk on the Green and Stony Live!
However this special edition of Scribal Gathering was part of the Stony Words Festival and the spoken rather than sung word took centre stage. It was pleasing to see as big a crowd as for the regular Scribals but this wasn’t just any poetry open mic, it had a purpose: to elect the first ever Bard of Stony Stratford, a role recognised and supported by the Stony Stratford Town Council. The Bard would be elected to serve the community for a year and a day.
The night consisted of a traditional round of Open Mic poetry. Fay Roberts, Ken Daniels, and matthew michael taylor (founder and editor of Monkey Kettle a cottage industry poetry and short fiction magazine which is credited for inspiring so much of the current scene in Milton Keynes) all established their credentials as part of the judging panel. Chair of the judges, Mark Niel gave us The January Black and Blues a poem inspired by the annual media fuelled phenomenon of Gloomy Monday.
With the Open Mic over, it was time to get down to the serious business of electing the Bard. Northampton veteran of the Bardic tradition Justin Thyme set the scene with a headline set bursting with anarchic energy which welcomed in the spirit of Awen before hosting the Bardic trials. Justin then enlightened us about the Bard’s role in past times and with that the five pretenders made their claim to the title and Bardic Chair.
Danni Antagonist kicked off her challenge with Bless This, a moving evocation of remembered childhood inspired by the clearing out of the kind of old “stuff” we all have squirreled away in attics and garages. Danni’s understated and well-timed delivery made for a moving performance that in less skilled hands could have been overly sentimental.
Danni was followed by Steve Hobbs who delivered the stand out piece of the first round. Steve served the library service in the Milton Keynes area for many years and the proposed closure of Stony Stratford library and the recent protest had stoked his pen. (A campaign was launched to get people to go and check out their full allocation of fifteen books in order to empty the shelves of all 16,000 books. They managed this in just four days and made the national press). Steve delivered a heartfelt polemic that ranged from righteous indignation to humour and set a recurring theme for the evening.
Next up was Hilary Colie (apologies if I have mis-spelled the surname) who performed an extended monologue about a naïve underage girl’s first sexual experience and the consequences. This moving piece would perhaps be better suited to a theatrical setting rather than an upstairs room of a pub.
Richard Frost then took the mic with the next instalment of the continuing saga of his family and gerbils. These allegoric tales take episodes from the family interaction with their pets and translate them to the metaphysical. In this case the passing on of a gerbil leads Richard to muse on the transient nature of existence and the untruths we tell children about death, Father Christmas, the tooth fairy etc. As is Richard’s style it was wry, witty and charged with emotional warmth that genuinely moves.
The last challenger was Ian Freemantle (dubbed the dreadlocked protagonist) who opened his bid for Bardship with “This is me”, a statement of his values as a poet and citizen of Stony. The judges judged and the audience voted and at this stage we said goodbye to Richard and Hilary leaving the other three to further their quest.
Danni came out strong with another quality performance and vivid images such as “make shattered glass wait before it hits the ground” evidenced the quality of her writing. Steve turned to lighter subject matter with The 33 Signs of Ageing which garnered many laughs of recognition. Ian took up the Library closure theme with a passionate protest poem.
Another round of judging and audience voting determined that Danni and Ian should face off to decide the competition. Danni read the highly appropriate “Awen” (published in the Anthology “Reflections from Mirror City” ISBN 978-0-9560974-1-5) and Ian finished strongly with a rhythmical protest poem about the coalition government. The Bardic Trials were advertised as open to “anyone who had a voice”. Ultimately Ian’s poems conveyed both passion and a sense of place so he was crowned the inaugural Bard of Stony Stratford as both the judge’s choice and audience favourite.
It was a late finish but there was time for the
presentation and a poetic lap of honour by Ian. Drinks were finished and
the clearing away began on a stirring event that carried a real sense of
history. A wonderful end to a Bard day’s night! 25-01-11.
TUESDAY delivered an enjoyable evening at 'The Fizz 5' a poetry evening at Polesworth Abbey, which if you're not aware is closely linked to poets from the Elizabethan times; John Donne, Michael Drayton and possibly Shakespeare. I know what you're thinking - poets but you're a writer?
Hear me out on this one - poets, writers, song writers - we're all wordsmiths hacking, digging and sculpting the English language so it's an ideal stimulus and down time for any writer. Plus, it enables me to marvel at their craft written in a few lines, when I complain that thirty chapters is a squeeze for the story I wish to tell!
The invited poet was Sarah James, reading from her poetry collection 'Into the Yell' (ISBN 9781906451240) - I was entranced the moment I spotted the Russian doll on the collection's front cover - the perfect symbol for all poets and writers. Anyway, her poetry was fresh, filled with great imagery on a range of subjects; flood water, mermaids, Mandy Jones and Russian dolls. Mal Dewhirst read his beautiful poem, inspired by Fleur Lombard and dedicated to Firefights everywhere - which touched home for me (as hubby is firefighter). I was pleased to see Gary Carr, from 'Burton's Spoken Word' his poetry has a simplistic beauty which always leaves you wanting more. And finally, 'Hench' with his mammoth tale, performed as always with such energy and vigor. All in all, an excellent night of poetry - 'Fizz 6' is on Tuesday, 22nd March 2011 - Polesworth Abbey - it goes without saying, everyone welcome. 19-01-11.
Rhymes Annual Slam 2011
Old Crown, Digbeth
An eclectic mix of the best of Poetic talent assembled once again to vie for the title of Rhyme’s Slam Champion, previously held by Spoz.
A mark of the increasing prestige of the event was the presence of the Farrago National Award Winning poet Mark Niel who had travelled from Miton Keynes to compete – and won.
Yet a slam is defined by its constituent parts as much as by the winner, and so it proved here. Confusingly Mark is the 2010 Champion, even though it was competed for in 2011!
Co-finalists were Ddotti Bluebell and Jodi Ann Bickley. Ddotti has become a seasoned campaigner over the last year or so and it was good to see her competing at the finish. A beautiful and compelling artist she writes about everyday life with a passionate, lyrical intensity, sometimes part sung, part rapped, but always in distinctive style.
Jodi Ann is, by contrast, a relative newcomer. ”Hold Tight”, “I’m an Idiot but I Love You” and her signature piece “Bob Marley & Me” are all relationship based, fey and light, but acutely observed and layered with wry pathos. A poetic Lily Allen, she charmed and delighted in equal measure and is clearly here to stay.
Semi-finalists Matt Windle and Andy Cook by no means disgraced the boys. Matt entertained with a killer tale of why it is so difficult to get a taxi when you are drunk, Andy Cook delighted with “Five Reasons Why We Should Send Singers on Creative Writing Courses” on the absurdity of song lyrics.
A GOOD NIGHT OUT
A GOOD NIGHT OUT
With seventeen poets in total, inevitably some very good contributions did not make the cut. Gary Longden asked “Why Do Women Like Crap music?”, Ben MacNair offered us warnings on modern life, Janet Smith offered a powerful trilogy culminating in the wonderful “Bear” and Spoz had us all laughing to his idea of a good night out.
The multi-talented Heather Wastie knows how to work a good idea. Following the success of “Halloween Nightmare” she offered the sequel, ”Christmas Nightmare” in which the Carol singers were definitely not harbingers of peace and goodwill.
In the second half, Sammy Joe made a solid debut slam performance, whilst the talented American, Sean Colletti, just off a plane from California performed the clever “There is no Mathematics in Facial Expressions”. Louise Stokes never shirks from delivering serious poetry with a message well, by contrast Donna Scott had us roaring to “I like Cake”. Marcus Taylor claimed a girlfriend in every district in Birmingham whilst Najeeta and Keisha closed the opening round with performances of considerable promise.
Winner Mark Niel gave us a master class in how to win a slam and exposed his craft for all to see. His opening poem combined a list of all the things we hated about 2010 combined with a call and response refrain of “why don’t you push off and die”. Contemporary accessible pop culture meets audience participation – you can’t lose can you? His semi-final set piece of a strip tease while explaining how he becomes sexually excited reciting performance poetry, as usual, brought the house down. The pauses and disrobing, all timed t perfection. His “Slam Winner” was a new work about performers with irritating “Poetry Voices” which struck a chord with us all – even if we had been spared the worst examples in the readings previously.
Hosted by the slick Lorna Meehan ( with stage
management by Kim Charnock!) the evening was a tremendous success with
the historic setting of the Old Crown a fitting backdrop. To think that
Queen Elizabeth 1st talked of defeating the Spanish Armada in that very
building, I wonder whether the entertainment was as good back then?
Hit the Ode
Victoria Pub, John Bright Street, Birmingham
This was the second event at the venue, located behind the Alexandra Theatre, organised by Apples & Snake’s West Midlands co-ordinator Bohdan Piesecki.
A packed house of almost 100 people saw a varied and high quality bill of the best of the Midlands, English and European Poetic talent.
The evening was split into two sections with short open mic slots warming up for the headline performers.
Ddotti Bluebell’s street style with acapella sung passages was as smooth and sassy as her new look. The ever reliable Charlie Jordan debuted a trademark, pithy “Words”. Bob Hale entertained us as “One of the Girls”, Matt Windle belied his status as the youngest performer with his uber cool delivery, all warming up for first half Headliner, Sergio Garau.
Sergio Hails from Sardinia, Torino and Berlin and his multi-cultural background is used to full effect in his performance. Speaking in his native Italian, he also performs innglish, German and Russian in a virtuoso multimedia set the highlights of which were “ Kauf Mich” and “Luna Park”. Performing in front of a video screen he loves to blur borders. His physical performance is demonstrative in classic Italian style. When not speaking in English sometimes what he is saying is translated on screen as part of the performance, sometimes not. The screen is an internet tool, as he dates – with himself. So what the audience is not seeing is a sub-titled performance but neither is it seeing a mere audio visual backdrop. Unique, innovative and compelling the sound, rhythm and cadences of other languages are skilfully employed to counterpoint the more familiar English delivery in a brave tour de force. Bravo Sergio!
T EENAGE DATE
The second half opened to Louise Stokes’s moving plangent words, Gary Longden’s knockabout verse, Curly’s wonderful, multimedia “New Horizon”, Maggie Doyle’s wistful homily to a teenage date and Jodi Ann Brickley’s quite brilliant alternative teenage date scene set “ Bob Marley & Me”.
Emma Purshouse is a very clever performer whose acting and characterisation skills wonderfully flesh out her material. Her talent is in taking the most mundane situations and bringing them alive. “Nubbs” tells of an ex-boyfriend’s obsessive pursuit of discarded cigarette butts. Only could take on the character of a fruit machine, complete with Mexican voice and tell a hilarious tale of the thoughts of the machine as it encounters punters in the lounge bar.
Main headliner Ross Sutherland was recently listed in The Times top 10 list of rising literary stars and did not disappoint. A laconic easy going set had as its centrepiece a modern fairytale with animated backdrop interpreting the traditional tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”, and was a fitting culmination to a fine evening.
“Hit the Ode” presents again on Feb 10th, 7.30pm with headliners Fatima Al Matar, Ian McMillan “The Shirley Bassey of Poetry” (TES), and from America, Joshua Bennett who has performed for President Obama. 13-01-11Kay Dents
Poetry @ The Cafe
Margaret Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth
THE opening event of 2011 saw Irish author Mary Rochford debut at the Cafe reading from “ Niamh Takes Ulysses Home”. Although a Dubliner by birth, she studied at the University of Birmingham, obtained a Masters from Birmingham City University and lectures.
Her collection of short stories “Gilded Shadows” was listed in the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and won Birmingham City Library Reader’s Book for Birmingham Award. Her reading perfectly showcased the lyrical style which has won her such plaudits with her affection for her hometown of Dublin, obvious. Her presence was a real coup to organiser Stuart Zola.
Regulars Lorna Meehan, Brendan Higgins, Stuart
Favell and Jasher provided sterling support with Louis Campbell arriving
just as proceedings were drawing to a close. With the increase in
invitation only paid events, Poetry@The Cafe is providing a much needed
platform for new poets to find their feet, and for established poets to
try new material. The next open mic event will take place on Thursday,
3rd February at 8pm. 06-01-11 .
Victoria Pub, John Bright St, Birmingham
Thurs 25th Nov ember,
'Hit the Ode', a new monthly poetry night run by Bohdan Piasecki, launched at The Victoria pub this month and is yet more proof that Birmingham has a thriving spoken word scene. An eclectic mix of styles, ages and indeed nationalities made for an engaging evening which was enthusiastically received by an equally eclectic audience.
Proceedings kicked off with local legend Spoz with his unparallelled knack for making toilet humour charming. Ddotti Bluebell followed, a fantastic talent with a razor sharp delivery of stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
Louise Stokes, usually donning a shell suit to 'chat some chat innit' as her alter ego Kimmy Sue Anne, left her lip gloss at home to perform something more serious, and equally engrossing.
Sean Sheehan got us in a philosophical mood with something hot off the press before the awesome talent of local poetry queen Kim Trusty, who has thankfully came out of her semi-retirement to be the first headliner, kept us on the edge of our seats as she told us the subtle and self-deprecating story of her 'quiet heart'.
It's good to have her honest humour and vivid imagery back behind the mic and she will no doubt be back to hit more odes.
DJ Soesmix provided some quality beats between poets and during breaks, sampling everything from Gomez to Polish Hip Hop, all in keeping with the variety of the poetry.
The second half kicked off with the phenomenally talented Andy Conner, who induced belly laughs with the state of his 'life in progress' before reducing the room to intense silence with his poetic personification of The Unknown Soldier.
Young up-coming poet Kesha C is one to watch out for judging by the rip-roaring applause that greeted her tale of a single mother, and was followed by the equally enthralling Joe Coghlan who took us on a insightful journey through a desperate mans suicide attempt.
The perfect way to finish off this second half with it's mixture of laughs and sharp social commentary was a headline slot from Manchester's hardest working poet, Tony Walsh, who had us cheering through his high octane tribute to Punk Rock to start and had us stroking our chins to some plain speaking philosophy to finish, with everything from kinky confectionery to the heartbreak of bereavement in between. Punk's not dead as long as Tony Walsh is around!
And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, we had the pleasure of nothing less than the World Slam Champion Ian Keteku and his Ukulele playing friend Brad Morden.
A few lines into his first poem, calling upon Justice to answer some grievous wrongs, it was clear why Ian has gained his title.
A tour de force of spoken word brimming over with wit, intelligence, social conscience and the art of great story telling. You don't get poets like this very often and it was clear the audience as a whole felt privileged to see an international talent so close to home.
Each poem was superbly crafted and delivered with effortless exuberance, a particular highpoint being a subversive ode to a Russian beauty called 'K' who morphs without us realising at first from a femme fatale into the Kalashnikov.
Another favourite, in complete contrast, was a witty love ode to the laptop. The slot was split with the equally talented and instantly like-able Brad Morden who taught us how to 'Raise It' with his tales from back home and his cleverly penned justification for daydreaming.
The evening closed with a fabulous mash up of ukulele and hip hop as they took the stage together and left it to thunderous applause.
A fantastic launch night for what is clearly going to be a popular and unique event and it's all thanks to West Midlands Apples and Snakes co-ordinator Bohdan Piasecki, who happens to be an awesome poet as well, who hosted the night with charm, humour and obvious enthusiasm for all things poetry.
Don't miss the next 'Hit the Ode' on January 13th if you want to see some of the best poets in the country and beyond.
Cafe Metro, Bilston
Thursday 25th November
The final meeting of Bilston Voices for 2010 was “Black County Night” where the cream of local talent was scooped up and ladled in one gastronomic delight at Cafe Metro. This event has reached out far and wide into the Midlands Poetic community over the year so an evening of local indulgence was easily justified, and at the evening’s end, gloriously vindicated.
Jill Tromans opened the evening with a very assured start. When poets go straight into poems it can take time to adjust to the subject matter and style. Jill’s easy manner, and engaging explanations of her work, made her performance very accessible whether it was the affectionate look at her family reminiscences with “Our Kid”, her take on modern image obsession with “Plastic Surgery”, or the amusing tale of her visit to the vets.
Eileen Ward- Birch chose eclectic inspiration for her set. “Inspired by Faeries” wondered into fantasy, “Fallout” the Icelandic Volcanic eruption, “Urban Madonna” contemporary street chic but her longer elegiac piece” On the Renovation of St Leonards” really stood out.
Geoff Stevens closed the first half with a Gatling Gun like fusillade of humour and wit. “The Flying Squad” queried what multi lingual translations of Council signs might really say, “Why “Em Darlaston Blokes So Slow?” queried the intelligence of Darlo men folk and “Black Country Chat Line” was as salacious but affectionate, as the title suggests. The stand-out pieces though were “No Faking Out” as all-in wrestling from yester year was recalled and the hilarious “Grandad’s Night Out” giving a whole new dimension to the concept of Club 80’s/90’s nights.
After the interval Mike Tinsley picked up Geoff’s humorous mantle, and placed his own distinctive stamp on it. Looking like a cross between Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Wagner from the X Factor he covered Doctor’s visits, baldness, organ donation, Balmoral and the ability of carrot to be ever present in vomit! Needless to say the home crowd lapped it up................
Headlining was the excellent Brendan Hawthorn. His topics included “Black Country Aspiration”, “Gastric Pubs”, “Health & Safety Inspections” and his mothers Cuckoo Clock. He excelled with “Thank You Letter ‘69” about the virtues of sending thank you letters with greetings cards, taking in fond memories of presents past, in particular the bright orange Space Hopper. He delighted with “Sot –Nav” about the Sandwell Organised Travel Navigation System (European version).
Host Emma Purshouse should take enormous satisfaction that the Black Country can provide such a strong roster for an event such as this, rich in local dialect, reference and humour. Hopefully an audio record of this type of talent will be made so that the content, recollection and delivery of these poems is not lost.
The Mrs T Party
The Margaret Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth, Birmingham
Monday 22nd November :
THIS was a controversial event which brought pre-event protests from Thatcherite sympathisers as it sought to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the departure of Margaret Thatcher from office at No. 10.In conjunction with Birmingham based internet radio Stations Radio Wildfire and Rhubarb Radio.
The evening offered a satirical and bitter sweet
look back at the Thatcher years and featured sketches, songs, comedy
and poetry from a number of local artists as well as nostalgic music
from the era which Rhubarb Radio DJ , Gary Dring skillfully
interspersed with Thatcher speeches.
Radio Wildfire's Dave Reeves also performed contemporary material and played harmonica and accordion. The smoothness and professionalism of the set was in no small part due to the fact that they had just performed it for a live broadcast on Radio Wildfire, repeats of which can be listened to on a loop at: http://www.radiowildfire.com/
A diverse evening also included a part improvised sketch by local playwright Jan Watts and music and comedy by John Langford. Compere Stuart Zola joked, sang, acted and played guitar in his ubiquitous multi- talented way. A good appreciative crowd enjoyed an evening of fond, and not so fond, reminiscence and excellent diverse entertainment.
St Martins Church, The Bullring, Birmingham
Friday 19th November
SMART poets are based at St Martins Church but attract a membership and audience which reaches far beyond the immediate Church congregation. Workshops, multimedia events, as well as performance evenings ,all feature in a varied programme. This evening featured the work of published poet and ex Birmingham Poet Laureate , Sybil Ruth.
Much of her material came from ” I Could Become That Woman”, celebrating desire and the way it disrupts our lives, turning friends into lovers, partners into parents. The poems weave a world where identity is constantly re-created as the imagination hijacks confession, as fantasy and memory collide. Her ancestry of a German Jewish mother and a Welsh father manifests itself in both the angst of the former, and the lyricism of the latter. But pretentious she is not, with a pithy poem about “Socks” the standout performance of the night.
Local professional poet Bob Cooper was reliable, whilst the up and coming Ben MacNair performed the most popular piece of the evening with his “Warning on Modern Life”, a really good performance piece. The well-attended event offered walk up slots to a variety of other talented poets and was expertly compered by Penny Hewlett.
Margaret Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth
Thurs 19th November
RHYMES is now touring its bi-monthly Poetry Evening around Birmingham and this month landed at the Cafe in Digbeth, an established Poetry and Boho hotspot. This bill was probably the most diverse ever, and was impressively strong, playing to a full house in a delightfully intimate, supportive environment.
Opening the night were Andy Cook and Sean Colletti from Birmingham University. Andy excelled with the Urban Angst of “Seven Hills”. American Sean gave us the humour of “Down Hill”, a wonderful existentialist piece and Ginsbergesque “Cold Feet” , and finished with the fine “California What You Mean to Me”, which compared England with his homeland. Surprisingly, and gratifyingly, England came off slightly better than you would imagine! Colletti combines a dry, laconic delivery, with a formidable intellect, witty and compelling.
Fatima Al Matar is attracting considerable attention on the Midlands Poetry circuit and beyond, and with good cause. It is said that when Eric Clapton first saw Jimi Hendrix play, his first reaction was to give up the guitar, his second was to go home and practise. Any poet who sees Fatima perform will understand those emotions.
Born in Kuwait, she combines the precision of expression befitting her accomplished academic background with a mystic lyricism in the tradition of Kahil Gibran. Add in the dramatic delivery of an actress, and you have a potent, powerful performer. Much of her material came from her book “The Heart and the Subsidiary”. “Redundant “ was a beautiful homily on motherhood, “Stains” a vitriolic tirade against an errant love, and “Pebble” a poignant retrospective on a failed relationship. It was an inspiring performance, from an inspiring performer.
Jordan Westcarr is the new Birmingham Young Poet Laureate and was faced with what was probably a daunting experience as a schoolboy performing in front of a seasoned , knowledgeable poetic crowd. Fortunately the upside was that the audience knew young talent when they heard it and Jordan received an enthusiastic reception to a nicely balanced set. He opened with “I’m Listening” and “My Home” and then really hit his stride with his love poetry , “Long Enough to Smile At You” being the stand-out piece. His self- effacing, yet assured performance and fresh convincing material will linger.
Headlining was new Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy Mcfarlane. Roy champions a multi-cultural and international style in traditional format. A charismatic, powerful, engaging performer his material included “Where Are You From”, a celebration of Birmingham’s diversity, “the Flaying of Palestine”, a powerful allegory from Greek mythology, “The Struggle of Normality” a study in mental health , and some good Hurricane poems! This diversity in content will serve him well in his year in office which together with an enormously likeable manner augers well for the coming months.
Rhymes plays again in January, date and time to be confirmed on the Rhymes facebook page or at: http://www.rogueplay.co.uk/
Midlands Poetry Slam
Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton
Sat 6th November
ORGANISED by Farrago Poetry this was a regional heat which culminates in the National Final in London. Very well attended, sixteen poets did battle over two rounds culminating in Theo McRory emerging triumphant. However what really distinguished this event was not the winner, deserving as he was, but the diversity of poetic content.
Richard Frost from Milton Keynes shone with an astonishing opening piece on the cannibalistic habits of gerbils which subtly and delightfully unfolded into a brilliant allegory of separated fathers, following it with a pithy and brave piece, “God”, which reflected on what he would make of the world so far. Slams tend to be dominated by humour, but one of the stars of the evening progressed on content and delivery alone - Fatima Al Matar.
Her opening “Face” a homily on ageing was one of the best poetic recitals I have ever seen. Fragile, intense and with radiant beauty, she whispered, she intoned, she mesmerised a rapt audience, following it up with an equally strong “Woman”.. Emma Purshouse is a fine poet, actress and comedienne, and she combined all three to delight all, in particular with the zany “Nubs”. Last of the finalists was Lorna Meehan, always a wry observationalist poet, this time she tickled us all with her failure to become a “Rock Chick”.
Nationally renowned Slam Champion in his own right, Mark Niel, MC’d the event, and Home Counties based duo the Anti-Poets provided the entertainment. The Anti-Poets, recently seen at the Buxton Festival ,visually combine the fetishwear of Marc Almond with the braggodocio of Adam & The Ants, yet aurally offer sharp poetry from Ian Eccentric supported by the double bass of Ian Newman. They are unique, funny and hugely enjoyable, as was the evening as a whole. Not your regular night out in Wolverhampton I suspect.
Old Fire Station, Highgate, Birmingham
This was the inaugural Rhymes event at the new home of Rogue Play since their move from the Mixing Bowl Theatre at the Custard factory. Although the surroundings have changed the calm, good natured Mistress of Ceremonies, Lorna Meehan, has not, and Lorna opened proceedings with a fine poetic effort of her own “Shoes”.
The first half was split between Kimmie Sue Ann and Afroben, Kimmie delivered a trademark strong opening set of Chav poetry and comic asides and was an interesting contrast to Afroben. The latter’s set majored on a War theme. Individual pieces including “Remembrance”, “Fireworks Over Gaza” and “Grains of Sand” were very strong, but would be even stronger within a balanced set.
After the break Claire Corfield entertained everyone with her comic creation Lady Josephine Whittle. Since graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2002, Claire has worked extensively as a comedy performer; from twisted cabaret theatre company Voodoo Vaudeville, to Rogueplay's improvisation troupe, Funbags.
A politically incorrect “Little Miss Muffett” led into an uproarious “I like killing Animals”, cruelly observed observation on men who wear Speedos climaxing with Grandma Sadie’s Song. Although a relative newcomer to poetry this is a Character Act with enormous potential.
Closing the evening was Apples and Snakes regional Co-ordinator Bohdan Piasecki. Bohdan is, a Polish poet who currently lives in England. He represented Poland at the 2007 Poetry Slam World Cup in Paris and proudly wore the title of the 2008 Hammer & Tongue Oxford Season Slam Champion, and was an artist in residence at the European Poetry Slam Days in Berlin in 2009.
A hugely charismatic and charming performer he delighted the audience with a highly idiosyncratic set. Although English is not his first language he is not only fluent, but crucially understands the mechanics of the language as a student but also its nuances with the deftness of a native speaker. His self-effacing humour won everyone over, essential when you come from a country which is unique in losing a war to Sweden!
“Telling Time” was an amusing exploration of learning English as a foreign language, but it was his decision to perform “ Cisza”, in Polish which really cranked the quality of the evening up several notches ,which culminated in “Almost Certainly”, a poignant paean to the historic troubles of his homeland.
So, an auspicious start to a new era for Lorna, Kim
Charnock and the rest of the Rogue Team for what was a most enjoyable
Hollybush Poetry Slam
The Hollybush is best known for the excellent spoken word nights run by Richard Bruce Clay on the first Friday of the month, and other acoustic, comedy and variety events. This was however the inaugural Poetry Slam event and was organised by “Brewers Troupers” Emma Purshouse and Heather Wastie, both formidable performance poets in their own right.
A strong roster of 15 poets, both seasoned performers and newcomers, went head to head over three rounds. Highlights included, Roy Sadler and his unique “dance flavoured” piece, Naomi Paul’s wistful hippy reminiscence and Carol Ward’s affectionate homily to lost youth. The second round was lit up by the brilliant Long Lost Frank, whose unique brand of Black Country humour never disappoints, his tale of scrap metal dealers doing the decent thing with traffic island modern art is achingly funny. The final separated deserved winner Dave Francis from runner up Gary Longden by 255 points to 253, with young “Tom the Poet” coming a very creditable third.
The intimate, and packed, Snug Bar proved an
atmospheric and sympathetic setting for what will hopefully now become
an annual event. 19-09-10
Cafe Metro, Church St, Bilston
A towering thundercloud hung over the venue as Poets and their audience gathered for the evening providing an atmosphere which no doubt will have had several scribbling in their notepads. Bilston Voices draws its audience from not only the Back Country but far into the Shropshire borders too, which means that it offers a welcome alternative to the established Birmingham Circuit.
Ross Trotman not only opened the evening, but gave her debut public reading performance which will surely not be her last, with a delightful lyrical collection of longer reflective pieces. Gary Longden delivered a set familiar to Birmingham audiences but new to the Black Country whilst Paul Francis from Great Wenlock closed the first half with a thoughtful and diverse set taken from his book collection “Various Forms”.
Paul Francis has been writing poems for fifty years.
From 1967-1998 he worked in comprehensive schools, and is the author of
Beyond Control? A Study of Discipline in the Comprehensive School, the
novel Love and Chalkdust and an autobiography, Comprehensive View. He
proudly pronounced that he thought that poets should be political and
vindicated that view with pieces about the London Bombings and Iraq.
Can a poem about suicide ever have been funnier? Could anyone else write poems using one letter? I think not!
Simon Fletcher topped the bill. Simon is a literature development worker, freelance writer, poet, novelist and storyteller, his work has been widely published and he's performed all over Britain in the last few years. The erudite content, combined with a delivery which was as smooth as a Nigel Havers chat-up line was a fitting climax to proceedings, although Literary Editors may wish to double check his sources!
Emma Purshouse hosted the evening with her
customary grace and self effacing wit. Wolverhampton Libraries with
Simon Fletcher provide welcome and appreciated support for this event.
To take part, or for more information contact Simon on:
Lichfield Literary Festival programme
Oct 5-10 2010
Comedienne Jo Brand is set to help launch the fifth Lichfield Literary Festival as the Lichfield Festival-run event brings the world of books to the city next month.
Brand will launch the eventat Moor Hall Hotel and Spa in Four Oaks on October 5 to talk about the new second part of her life story, Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down.
Other big names confirmed include The Lic field Poets, former MPs Roy Hattersley, Tony Benn and Martin Bell, as well as legendary actor Ron Moody.
Lord Hattersley is the guest speaker at the Lichfield Literature literary dinner at the George Hotel on October 8.
There will also be a Big Read event for children, with free copies of author-in-residence Liz Kessler’s book, Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister, being distributed during September and a chance to meet the author on October 9.
Booking for Lichfield Literature opens on September 6 at the Lichfield Festival office, 7 The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD, by phone on 01543 306270 and online at www.lichfieldfestival.org.
Full list of Events:
October 5 @ 7.30pm: Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down – Jo Brand, The Charter Suite, Moor Hall Hotel & Spa.
October 7 @ 10am: Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers Lesley McDowell, The George Hotel.
October 7 @ 11.45am: Precious – A True Story – Precious Williams, The George Hotel.
October 7 @ 8pm: Lichfield Literature Quiz Night, Darnford Moors Golf Club.
October 8 @ 11am: The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais – Suzanne Fagence-Cooper, The George Hotel.
October 8 @ 3pm: Control – John Macken, Lichfield Library.
October 8 @7pm: Battle Lines – The Lichfield Poets, Lichfield Library.
October 8 @7.30pm: Lichfield Literary Dinner with Roy Hattersley, The George Hotel.
October 9 @ 10am: She-Wolves: The Women who Ruled England Before Elizabeth - Helen Castor, The George Hotel.
October 9 @ 11.45am: Galileo – John Heilbron The George Hotel
Ocotber 9 @ 2pm: A Still Untitled, (Not Quite) Autobiography – Ron Moody, The George Hotel.
October 9@ 3.45pm: The New Optimists: Scientists view tomorrow’s world & what it means to us – Edited by Dr Keith Richards with a foreword by Jenny Uglow, The George Hotel.
October 9 @ 5.15pm: The Cranford Companion – Sue Birtwistle & Susie Conklin, The George Hotel.
October 9 @ 7pm: Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education – Jane Robinson, The George Hotel.
October 9 @ 8.30pm: A Very British Revolution – Martin Bell, The George Hotel.
October 10 @ 12noon: Slave: From book to stage and screen – Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis, The George Hotel.
October 10 @ 2pm Letters To My Grandchildren – Tony Benn, The George Hotel.
October 10 @ 4pm The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome – Roland Chambers, The George Hotel.
October 10 @ 5.45pm Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl – Donald Sturrock, The George Hotel.
October 10 @ 7.30pm Shakespeare On Toast – Ben Crystal, The George Hotel.
Join the Funbags Troupe for
a jam-packed evening of comedy impro, stand up and sketch comedy.
Including the multi-media magic of Matt Pritchard, the highly witty
poetry of Lady Josephine Whittle and the thigh-slapping frivolity of the
biggest flirt in Texas, Darla July Daygwar. As well as sketches by
RoguePlay Theatre and 'Whose Line is it Anyway' style games from the
immensely talented troupe with suggestions from you the audience. Come
on down and have your funbags squeezed! 10 Sept 2010
A particularly diverse evening of spoken word from a wide range of Poets. The Cafe is due to open full time on the 4th October, with the roster of special events in addition to poetry evenings including acoustic music , theatre and comedy scheduled to grow further. Hosted by Gary Longden, first up was Martin Gibberd whose unique, “Rock n Roll troubadour” persona never ceases to mesmerise and entertain with “Berlin” being the undoubted highlight.
Lorna Meehan hosts the “Rhymes” Poetry evenings at the Old Fire Station in Moseley, but her own MC duties sometimes distract from the fact that she is a very good poet in her own right. “Doctor Doctor” and her yearning for a “sonic screwing” is becoming a welcome and trademark closer for her now. However her opener, a wonderful homily to The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, inspired by a discovery of his music and a visit to his Paris grave, stood out for me.
Renowned author David Calcutt once again graced the evening with several fine readings. He is appearing again shortly at the Ikon Gallery in Brindley Place with co-author Jo Bell to launch “Bugged”. In addition to his current novel “Map of Marvels” he is also serialising a new work “The Hunt for the Great Bear” on the Internet: http://davidcalcutt.wordpress.com/
Closing the evening, fellow author Richard Bruce
Clay delivered a typically understated performance of his epic ,“The
Green Wodenese”. In between, Jasher made a noteworthy debut performance.
Stuart Favill always entertains with his Black Country humour and can
also be found at “Bilston Voices”. Michelle Barzey as “Afrobhen”, and
Sam Hunt previewed strong material in advance of forthcoming Artsfest
appearances ,Penny Hewlett gave a customarily strong showing and Stuart
Zola read Afrobehns “Pied Piper of Hamlin”. Poetry@ the Cafe next
happens ,7th October,8pm.Facebook page: Margarett Rose Abri.
Cafe Metro, Church St, Bilston
“Bilston Voices” is an established Black Country Spoken Word evening so I thought that it was about time that “Behind the Arras” checked it out. And it was a very worthwhile journey.
Organised by Emma Purshouse and Simon Fletcher, an organised and diverse Bill played to a packed house of around 40 people. The licensed cafe met all tastes from cold beer to exotic coffees and cakes, and pretty much everything in between. No amplification is available, but a combination of good acoustics, a modestly proportioned room, and a hushed, attentive audience meant that every word was audible.
Carol Ward opened the evening with a light, regular rhyming style, taking in subjects as diverse as Men in Frocks, old age and how youth is wasted on the young ,and the eternal dilemma of the older woman – when to wear purple! Roger Jones hails from Llanelli and his trademark powerful Welsh lilt combined with a fine prosaic style to enthral all. Broadcast work including sketches and reflections on gas masks and rugby alternated with some straight forwards poetry, the pick of which was “The Old Photo” a poignant reflection on an old group picture, and what fate had doled out to those pictured. Closing the first half, the quixotic Bob Hale entertained with a very distinctive collection majoring on quirky museum collections, his enormously varied travels – and Teddy Bears (you had to have been there).
The second half was kick started by Dave Finchett with light knockabout humorous material about office jargon in “The Jargonwocky” ,and a witty piece about telephone options when large corporations are phoned which I suspect had the headliner rapidly re-arranging her set. ”Gorse” visited traditional poetry territory whilst the finishing “Michael Winner”, delivered in an uncannily Winneresque vocal imitation, left the audience both laughing, and wanting more.
Top of the bill was Lorna Meehan who had temporarily abandoned her place as MC and co-ordinator of “Rhymes” in Birmingham, to spread some poetic wonderfulness to the Black Country. “Stephen Fry for President” was contemporary and witty, “Serenity” sharply observed. Her deconstruction of Lady Ga Ga’s “Madonna Lite” persona was as funny as ever, as was her set closing “Doctor Doctor”, her favourite tipple is surely Tennants . . .
And so a pleasingly diverse, and always entertaining, evening came to an end. “Bilston Voices” is held on the third Thursday of the month, 7.30-9.15pm, admission £2. For further information, or if you want to perform, organiser Simon Fletcher is contactable at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Time for a confession
Opium: Confessions of An English Opium Eater
Debuts at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath
This innovative one man show is presented as an audio visual experience with West Midlands actor Jonathan Goodwin in the titular role.
Set in the year 1843, we find de Quincey ailing due to a lifelong addiction to opium and the despair caused by the death of his eldest son Horace, who was killed the previous year fighting in the Opium War against imperial China.
The play itself takes its basic structure from de Quincey's own Confessions of an English Opium Eater, regaling the audience with our hero's first tentative steps into opium eating. De Quincey is at times humorous, almost self-deprecating when describing his experiences of the drug and life in general - refusing to be drawn into self-pity.
As the play progresses de Quincey's mood and behaviour becomes ever more erratic. He is heavily under the influence of opium and his intake of the drug is at an all-time high. In many scenes de Quincey suffers hallucinations, usually these are images from his past and they either haunt him or delight him, depending on their nature. There is a particularly touching scene where de Quincey sees his beloved sister, whose death in childhood greatly marked his early life.
Sometimes the subject of the hallucination is shown to the audience, as when de Quincey talks to his recently deceased son, but usually the stage is empty save for de Quincey.
A DJ plays
throughout, the idea being that the music will not intrude on the
performance but both complement and enhance it, thus providing the
audience with a complete visual and auditory experience. Opens , Hare &
Hounds, Kings Heath, Fri 20th
August at 8pm .
The production is then being taken on a Nationwide tour, details: http://www.jonathangoodwinactor.com/?p 9772
For the record
Birmingham Hippodrome Patrick Centre
Rosie Kay is fast gaining a reputation as one of the finest choreographers in this country and beyond. Her Company “The Rosie Kay Dance Company” won national and international acclaim with her “5 Soldiers” show which explored the mind set and role of our troops in Afghanistan through Dance on a UK wide tour.
This show was groundbreaking in two respects. Firstly, it explored attitudes to Mental Health, and secondly it mainly comprised a cast, drawn from the Community who had never danced before. It was a triumph, played to two full and appreciative houses. Rosie’s personal dance performance was exemplary, exuding grace, style, control and beauty as she commanded the stage in a full dress, styled from Ancient Greece which perfectly complemented her flowing movements.
Her novice amateur company
excelled under her tutelage and instruction. Indeed watching the show it
was like watching the conductor of an orchestra command a performance
with a movement of the hand, a tilt of the head, or the lifting of an
eyebrow. That she trusted her charges to perform was a testament to her
confidence, skill – and six months rehearsal! 23-07-10
Poetry @ The Cafe
Margarett Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth
With the demise of “Rhymes”, Poetry @ the Cafe represents the longest running monthly Spoken Word only event in Birmingham, and is thriving on it. It combines a friendly open mic policy with an ability to draw poets from as far as Coventry, Barnsley, California (USA!) and beyond.
This month, having previously attracted Smooth FM DJ and Poet Charlie Jordan, this month author and poet David Calcutt was in attendance. Novelist and playwright too, David also spread the word about “Bugged” a National project to inspire poetry, fiction , drama and prose which has attracted contributions from Celebrities, professional writers and amateurs, in equal order.
Effortlessly compered by the
masterly Stuart Zola, regulars were delighted to see the return of
Martin Gibberd, an American Style Road Poet whose distinctive tales and
cool Rock n Roll demeanour always delight. Next poetry @ the cafe, 8pm,
Thurs 2/9. Details on the Cafe Facebook page 05-08-10
Margarett Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth
Now an established event, this was the finest incarnation yet of an event which overflows with new ideas and performers. Impresario Rachel Sambrooks also doubles as Theatre Director/ Writer at Birmingham Art Gallery, and she certainly knows her artists.
The multi talented Stuart Zola opened up with his debut as a Stand Up Comic, and survived to tell the tale with a series of witty one liners and humorous stories including an intriguing fixation with Harry Potter. Aaron Twichen is a star in the making. Camp, self effacing and very funny, Aaron romped through a hugely enjoyable set and is surely destined to make the big time, catch him again locally while you can. Throughout, Rachel compered the show and offered assorted comic interludes, the highlight of which was an achingly funny “Blockbuster” routine.
The evening featured around
ten performers. In what amounts to a variety show one of the joys is
never being sure what is coming next. And the surprise highlight this
evening was penultimate performer Claire Corfield who delivered a
hilarious song and gags routine as a prim posh bird who wasn’t at all
sure she should be there. Another one not to miss for the future. Next
Cafe Lafacino , Sat 2/10 at 8pm, details on the Cafe Facebook page.