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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/
Mouth & Music
Boars Head Gallery, Kidderminster
The Boars Head is a proper old fashioned pub, full of doors and nooks and crannies. It has also become a cultural hub in Kidderminster.
When it first opened in 1888, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Tennyson were alive and writing. It is fitting that as part of an artistic platform which takes in art and music, poetry is now on the agenda in the guise of Mouth & Music, promoted by Heather Wastie and Sarah Tamar.
Sarah took the lead for this evening with quiet assurance and a few poems of her own. Heather concentrated on performing in the Brewers Troupe ensemble who were performing excerpts from Snug, a bespoke piece about a pub.
This was the fourth Mouth & Music and already it is gathering quite a following with over forty people crowded into the first floor gallery space leaving standing room only. The format comprises open mic slots for around three poems for which you can sign up on the night, a few acoustic guitarists, and a headline act which tonight were Brewers Troupe.
The audience was pleasingly mixed including a healthy presence of young talent, the local boho crowd, writers groups and troubadours from Wolverhampton , Walsall and Worcester ( I may have missed other locations beginning in W).
The content was diverse. Jack Edwards delighted with a clever rehearsed performance piece in which the audience heard half a conversation he was ostensibly having on his mobile phone with an annoyed girlfriend. I like Jack. He writes well, performs his work dramatically, but not to the detriment of the content and engages well with the audience.
Furthermore, he understands that “less is more”, after that piece he took the applause and sat down leaving us wanting more. David Calcutt also played the same hand of just one excellent piece, in this case Achillies ,a powerful discourse on death. A chance conversation resulted in him revealing the extent of his stage experience and that acting prowess shone. With no book as a shield, the classical imagery and lyrical verse unerringly found their mark. Also going for the single shot was Dave Francis, who performed an adaptation of Pinter’s Silence, a clever idea, very well executed.
Snug is unfolding as one of the best, and most frustrating projects I have seen. The concept is perfect, an ensemble performance of a collection of bespoke poems about a pub and the characters within them. The characters are memorably drawn, the drama poignant and amusing, the language a delight.
The problem that they face is that with a cast of several, and a script written for the physical surroundings of The Hollybush in Cradley Heath, it is expensive to tour and awkward to make the action fit other surroundings. They overcame those constraints this time by producing a “greatest hits” set which worked well, and left those of us who know the material longing for more.
Emma Purshouse’s anthropomorphic “Conchita the slot machine” is a wonderful creation, and one which the gambling industry would make millions from, if it were allowed. If previously you have never regarded slot machines as sexy, check out Emma in her long black Latino wig. Heather Wasties’ tipsy Edith was, by contrast, understated, but no less effective.
Acoustic guitar songs were performed by itinerant Ali 12 string, Omar Anthony and Kate Wragg, the latter of whom combined the voice of Joan Baez, the edge of Talking Heads, and the lyrical sharpness of Elvis Costello. A strong list of open micer’s included debutante David Hallard who acquitted himself well, Lisa Ventura with a defiant, and enjoyably breezy, “I Will Survive” set ,and the always striking and entertaining Suz Winspear ,whose Evil Trees is fast becoming, deservedly, her signature piece.
Mouth & Music returns on Tuesday the 8th
May, 7.30pm with The Decadent Divas from Birmingham headlining.
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
Poetry Bites has a deserved reputation for delivering high quality conventional poetry.
It is to organiser Jacqui Rowe's considerable credit that this time around she was prepared to take a chance with a more left-field choice of guest poet, which this month was Ira Lightman â€“ and this review is focused solely on her.
Concentrating on a single poet is a first for Behind the Arras at Poetry Bites but having one, rather than two guest poets, Rowe was also able to offer Lightman thirty minutes performing time to enable the audience a proper chance to hear him stretch out in two fifteen minute sections.
Currently from in Newcastle upon Tyne, but previously living in the Black Country and Kings Heath, Lightman is a conceptual poet with a particular interest in public art.
He regularly appears on BBC Radio 3's The Verb, and has three published collections. Phone in the Roll, (Knives Forks and Spoons Press), uses poems spoken into an imperfect dictation transcriber, which produces misheard, transcriptions of the intended text.
Mustard Tart as Lemon , (Red Squirrel Press), draws together work written over 15 years and includes Concrete poetry . Duetcetera, (Shearsman Books), offers twin column poetry which can be read individually, or together, and is written as two voices.
He has also been featured on New York based website www.ubu.com/ubu, a considerable feather n his cap. The Sunday Times named it one of the top ten benchmark websites in the world. There are just five UK poets published there, and Lightman is one of them.
This comes as no surprise to me, his poetic experimentation is reminiscent of the musical experimentation of New York based 1970s New Wave band Talking Heads - they embrace this sort of thing in the Big Apple.
That experimentation on the night included Homing, a piece half sung to a random musical programme, and an extract from an I- Ching hexagram.
Such forays off the beaten track will not suit all. Conventional patterns are deconstructed and rigid forms explored, often at the expense of conventional narrative. Critics may argue that the primacy of form over content produces a result where the outer shell becomes more important than what is contained therein.
Aficionados of Lightman's work may counter that he is breaking new ground on what is possible, and that what we are seeing are bold prototypes, with value as such. Evolution will come. He is a man who does not accept the sclerotic torpor of mainstream poetic presentation.
Phone in the Roll exploits mishearing as a poetic device. When Lightman dictates, he has no idea how the transcriber may misinterpret his words. For example money was mistranscribed as mummy in a serious piece, to comic effect.
On the one hand the conventional narrative is lost. Equally new possibilities are created. What was the original word? What new meanings emerge? How is the imagined context of the original poem altered by successive mistranscriptions? It is a device of unintended consequences designed to compel the reader, or listener, to ask questions, not to provide answers. Questions are the answer.
RANDOM MUSICAL BACKING
RANDOM MUSICAL BACKING
Homing was performed to a random musical backing track. The objective? To artificially randomise the pace, structure, intonation and therefore meaning of the words, and poem. No two performances can ever be the same. In application this is more sophisticated than at first appears.
A specimen line, â€œThe timing tight, the bus arrived, and we headed for the great noun, BIRMINGHAM, its centre,â€ is written to be broken up, and is disjointed from the start. Hence this is not a deconstruction, it becomes a first time construction- every time.
Lightman did not expand on the mechanics of this, but on the page it appeared to borrow from the â€œcut-upâ€ aleatory literary technique whose lineage stretches back through the likes of David Bowie, William Burroughs and the Dadaists of the late 1920s.
Poems will always be open to interpretation, the random backing track is an external force which adds an aural dimension to the existing intrinsic ambivalence of the writing on the page.
The previous two devices had immediate aural impact in a way that Lightman's I-Ching hexagrams could not. The I Ching, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts dating back to 475 BC.
It centres on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change. Inevitably there are numerous hybrids of the form but the essence is that it is a set of oracular statements represented by 64 sets of six lines each called hexagrams.
Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines, each line is either Yang, an unbroken or solid line, or Yin, broken, an open line with a gap in the centre. With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams represented.
COMPLEX AND DEMANDING
COMPLEX AND DEMANDING
I had the benefit of seeing it on the page, as a performed piece it does not do justice to its incredibly complex and demanding requirements. Some may argue that it is a mathematical, theoretical, form whose benefits are outweighed by its rigour.
However it has an illustrious and distinguished history which predates much Western poetry . Over the decades, poets have always created and battled with new forms. Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 16th Century was obsessed with ancient classical forms as he evolved the sonnet. Lightman, although avant-garde in his approach, has distinguished antecedents.
Duetcetra definitely is a performance piece, and challenging work it is too. It takes two columns running independently down the page, both containing a self sufficient poem, but is also capable of being read across, line for line, as one poem. Performed, this is an onerous challenge for Lightman as he delivers the lines read across in two voices to distinguish between the two poems which have become one.
On the page this can look like a clever exercise, performed with the independent voices, the symmetry and conflict of the two poems come to life. Physically, it places huge demands upon Lightman's voice, especially when one voice is that of a small boy and the other a grown man.
I suspect that finding a sympathetic alter ego to perform the other half of the duet would ease the load immeasurably, whilst not detracting from the scale of the achievement, which is considerable. Read out loud, it was innovative, demanding, funny and a delight.
A good poetry evening should inspire, and Ira Lightman did just that. His allotted time was not long enough for him to explain the background to much of his work, which was a pity, I was eager to learn more of that.
His work hammers at the gates of the Gleichschaltung of the Poetry Establishment and was as rewarding as any conventional lyrical poetry set, but for very different reasons.
Poetry Bites returns on Tuesday 22nd May with Clare Best, before then on 22nd April, Flarestack Press launches new pamphlets by David Hart and Joel Lane at the MAC in Birmingham. 28-03-12
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
Regular poetry events are not easy to sustain. I organised my first event a few weeks ago and was educated in exactly how much hard work goes intomaking them happen.
Those who organise them regularly are heroes, and that includes Gary Carr who promotes Spoken Worlds. A key ingredient is creating something which is unique, which makes you want to attend, and feel that you are missing out if you don’t go. At Spoken Worlds, as well as having “three halves,” that defining characteristic is providing a platform for performers to experiment with new or reworked material.
Steph Knipe from Fradley is a quirky delight who specialises in off-beat poetry about microwave ovens, food sent in the post, and wheely bins. Her poems are regularly published. Tonight she sprung a surprise by bringing along her guitar and putting one of her familiar poems, Bovine Ailments, to a folk style accompaniment.
It worked very well, providing an extra dimension to what is already a very satisfying piece. I hope that she will feel encouraged to experiment further and try setting more of her work to music. Although the relationship between lyrics for music and poetry is an uneasy one, I think that Steph is on to something here.
Mal Dewhirst is experimenting in a different way by writing fresh contemporaneous lyrical poems themed on Pink Floyd’s The Wall for a summer production in Tamworth Assembly Rooms, Tuesday 5th - Fri 8th Jun from 7:30pm. I have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing this unfold. It is an exciting project with one piece in particular, March of the Worms, capturing the spirit of Roger Waters circa the mid 1970’s, and the zeitgeist of the all pervading dominance of the Internet in the 21st century.
I have become increasingly interested in the link between epic poetry and storytelling in recent months. That link is one that Margaret Torr has also been exploring as she told an extending rhyming story of a monkey and crocodile in her slot, it was a bold move, and one which paid handsomely.
Ian Ward has been working exceptionally assiduously over the past year putting in the hard yards of performing and testing his poetry at many venues. His latest move has been to create an imaginary village to explore the fantasy world which he loves to create. It is an ideal vehicle for his poetic milieu and one which has considerable potential.
Dwane Reads made his Spoken Worlds debut in confident style. An out-an –out Performance Poet, his material ranged from donkeys on Blackpool Beach to traffic jams on the A50, the latter of which was his best piece. His material had promise, however the delivery was a little strident, the volume stuck on loud. Dwane explained that he was eager to secure new performance slots in his poetic journey, I suspect that as he does so, the light and shade which is required in performance will emerge.
Ray and Terri Jolland performed a very accomplished Shakespeare pastiche, Janet Jenkins orated on a murmuration of starlings, Tom Wyre read from some well worked Mysteries compositions. Spoken Worlds returns on Friday 20th April, 7.30pm start, free admission. 24-03-12
Cafe , Bilston
A heavyweight bill ,with four out of the five readers published poets, brought out another strong attendance, such that the start had to be delayed, a measure both of the success of the event, and the pulling power of poetry in Bilston.
Hosted by Emma Purshouse , the sales table groaned under the weight of the various publications credited to the evening’s authors.
First up was Dave Finchett with a well prepared set. He opened with a trio of love poetry, which is always high risk, albeit underpinned by the safety net of the sonnet form, but he pulled it off. I particularly enjoyed his description of street lights as “fiery pinheads of the night sky” in Light Pollution. But it was Bullshit, a knockabout satire on the foibles of middle –management which drew the most applause, including his memorable description of a “thicket of middle managers”.
Jacqui Rowe, co-editor of Flarestack Poets, informed me that the next poet, Joel Lane is the first poet ever to be invited to submit a collection for publication by Flarestack, which has resulted in Instinct, a collection of erotic poetry. Frustratingly, he only read a handful of poems from the collection. Instrumental, about musician Charlie Parker, was excellent.
Instead he bravely elected to read a short story about a mystery cancer cluster on a local estate. Joel is sharing a joint launch of Instinct with David Hart at the Birmingham MAC on 22nd April.
Closing the first half Jacqui Rowe herself stepped up to perform, visibly relishing the freedom of not having to carry the responsibility of hosting Poetry Bites, her own bi-monthly poetry evening in Birmingham. Most of her reading was from Paint, inspired by her 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 moving and beautiful, with the pamphlet available from her website, but my favourite poem of her reading came from her most recent residency at the Warwickshire Museum, Ways of Looking at an Otter, a response to an exhibit of an otter skull some 170 years old.
In the battle of the Poetry Houses, Jane Seabourne, stepped up representing Offa’s Press, to read largely from her collection Bright Morning. Jane is an easy, comfortable performer whose warm style and performance manner seamlessly merge with her readings in winning combination. She is just as at home with the lightness of Ten Signs of Spring, as she is with the domesticity of How to make a Chocolate Sponge whilst later tackling the subject of a survivor of childhood abuse with tenderness and power.
I encounter David Calcutt ,who has been published by Oxford University Press regularly, yet never tire of his imaginative writing which is always delivered with boyish enthusiasm. Nature, mystery, magic and forests are recurrent themes, yet his writing is always precise and realistic, as was evidenced in his opening poem Cattle, the fantasy always grounded. His descriptions always remind me of holiday brochure photos, based in fact, yet garnished to please. He remains the only person whom I know to write a worthwhile sequence on curlews.
Bilston Voices returns on Thursday 26th
April with Jack Edwards, Iris Rhodes, Liz Lefroy, Bobby Parker and
Win Saha, 7.30pm start. 23-03-12
Western Pub, Leicester
FRESH from a hugely successful States of Independence publishing fayre event at De Montfort University, held annually, at the weekend, Shindig made its bi monthly appearance at the Western Public House.
Another healthy audience comprised those for whom Saturday was simply not enough poetry, and regulars who had been unable to make it. The standard of performance never fell short of high.
The four headline performers were particularly strong this month, and diverse in styles. Michael W. Thomas is a poet, novelist and playwright who has lived, been widely published, and performed,in several countries. His literary credentials are formidable, and stretch from Finland, to Florida and back to Albania, where he vies with Norman Wisdom for the international affections of the Albanian people. He now lives in Worcestershire. His tone tonight was reflective and elegiac.
A poignant sonnet dedicated to his father, moved through childhood reminiscence, to a particularly fine piece about schoolmate footballers cloaked in the spirit of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jack Charlton. His most striking poem was Your Buffet... a wonderful piece inspired by the practise of American hobos to leave secret signs on telegraph poles and wires alerting others of their ilk to local rewards and dangers.
Michael performed with a rucksack at his feet containing his writing. I thought that it neatly symbolised a man whose writing is as travelled as he has been.
Host Jonathan Taylor affectionately described the next two poets as the country mouse and the town mouse respectively- in both case they were mice who roared.
PLACES AND LANDSCAPES
PLACES AND LANDSCAPES
Aly Stoneman is Nottingham based, and was promoting her new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Lost Lands. Her presentational style is fey, beguiling, gentle, and easy, as is her writing. The lost lands are the connections we make between places and landscapes which have held significance in our lives, how they came about, and how they change with time.
Her skill lies in her ability to juxtapose broad
brush written landscapes with pin sharp observation.
Some thirty five years ago I first saw John Cooper Clarke perform as a support act for Punk band the Buzzcocks as he dodged beer cans thrown from an impatient crowd. Fortunately the Shindig audience is more civil. Andrew “The Mulletproof Poet” Graves gladly acknowledges his debt to the Performance Poet pioneer as is evidenced by his performance style of delivery.
He describes himself as “a troubled poet for troubled times” and wryly observes that all poets are “miserable bastards on the road to self destruction” ( a claim left unchallenged by a poet full audience). Reading from his new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Citizen Kaned, he took us through Love in Strange Places, delivered an homage to Yuri Gagarin’s historic first manned space flight with Vostock 1, and ended with his signature Middle Aged Mod, I could not help but select Quadrophenia on my i-pod for the journey back home. Although unashamedly Performance in style, Andrew is no ranty shouty big mouth, his well chosen subject matter is matched by the economy, vibrancy and brio of his language. May the pennants on his scooter aerial flutter boldly.
Jonathan Davidson is director of Midland Creative Projects Limited, Associate Director of the Birmingham Book Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. He is an award winning published playwright and poet, but a reluctant performer, which is a shame, because his performance on the night was quite brilliant.
Light, self-effacing, amusing and entertaining, he took us on a joyous trip through his wonderful writing with a smile. The tradition at Shindig is not to applaud a poet other than upon arrival in anticipation, and upon departure, in appreciation. However such was the sharpness, wit and joy of The Manager Writes,a waspish satire on the mangled English and thoughts of a football manager’s notes in his club’s programme, that spontaneous cheering was the deserved, and only possible, outcome. His readings from his two collections, Early Train and The Living Room,were predominantly homely, but never overly sentimental and always laced with an acerbic aside. I do hope that Jonathan can be persuaded to read more regularly.
Shindig regularly boasts floor readers of the highest standard. Once again we were not disappointed. Past Birmingham Poet Laureate, National Radio’s 1&2 DJ, and local commercial and BBC radio DJ, Charlie Jordan, casually sauntered up to the mike and let her wonderful, memorized poem Words do the talking for her. Love poetry is difficult to pull off in front of an audience for several reasons. Firstly, as it is invariably a first hand account, it risks being intensely personal, and although significant to the writer, may not connect beyond. Secondly, over the centuries, Catullus, Donne and Shakespeare have set a standard which is hard to beat. Which is why I was drawn to Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s two efforts, Scars and I Know. She combined restraint with emotion, and anguish without vulgarity.
I always enjoy listening to Deborah Tyler –Bennett. Hitherto I have heard her only perform historic period poems. Her enthusiasm for her writing, sense of time and place, and general joie de vivre cause me to reflect that if I was transported in a time machine back to Victorian times, Deborah would be the ideal companion to show me around. Tonight she only went as far back as the 1960’s and 70’s, but was no less engaging. James Bond Will Return was a nostalgic return to the rat infested flea pits of the era, but it was Cheerful Revisited, dedicated to Ian Dury which stood out. Cleverly replicating the metre and rhythm of Dury’s Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3, it pulled off the very difficult task of mimicking, but redefining the original ( and brought back fond memories of seeing him perform).Authentic and fond, she never allowed the source material and images to swamp her writing which is the bear-trap in such pieces.
The Old Man of Hoy provided fertile ground for a magnificent landscape poem by Jayne Stanton, and the Elephant in the room provided a neat twist for Matt Merritt’s nature themed poetry, to pick just two more performances from a strong field of floor readers.
Jonathan Taylor for Crystal Clear Creators,and Jane Commane and Matt Nunn for Nine Arches Press, are to be commended for assembling both such a strong cast of performers, and creating a relaxed easy ambience for them to perform in. Shindig next meets on the 21st May, 7.30pm start, free entry, sign up for an open mic slot on the night.
Big Irish Night
Old Crown, Digbeth
Held as part of the St Patricks festival celebrations, this was a night of poetry spoken word and song in a pub that has seen more St Patricks day celebrations than most.
The Old Crown reputedly can trace its history back to 1368, but much of the existing building is mere 16th century with Queen Elizabeth I having been an honoured guest. That sense of history gives any evening held here a sense of place.
A good turnout was orchestrated by the combined skills of Laura Yates, Northfield Arts Forum co-ordinator, and Pat Murphy Wright, Cultural Development co-ordinator for Irish in Birmingham, a charity providing welfare and cultural services to the Irish community in Digbeth. Birmingham and the Midlands has a thriving poetry scene currently, operating from a wide variety of venues.
Given the rich Irish tradition of poetry, Pat is absolutely right to apply her efforts to cultivating that tradition amongst the Irish community in the city.
Laura Yates shared hosting duties with Kurly McGeachie and both had their work cut out to accommodate all the aspiring performers before closing time.
Antony R Owen read not only from his own work but also that of Joseph Horgan, from his collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea. Typically Horgan’s poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland.
The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present ,is another source of dislocation, and finds expression in his city poems. Joe skillfully acts as an observer on both a Birmingham shaped by Imperial migration, and an Ireland shaped by economic migration. His observation that the more that societies reach out, the more they contract in their perception of what their core identity is, was a point shrewdly observed.
Councillor Reg Corns read a moving introduction to his book about the mid 19th century forced emigration of Irish citizens to Canada aboard the notorious coffin ships to a destination that was forced to create mass graves for those who had died in the appalling conditions of the journey.tet the evening offered plenty of light and shade too.
Shirley Cooper, a stalwart of the Old Crown entertained, as did Alan Wales with his offbeat Celtic musings from Under Deadwood. Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate Laura Deadicoat’s poem on horses could not fail in such a setting and the evening was closed with a traditional Irish song, current Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts having opened proceedings.
The Big Irish Night is part of an occasional series,
details of future such events and other associated cultural activities
can be found on the Irish in Birmingham website:
International Women’s Day, Birmingham Central Library Theatre
“It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips. I'm a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that's me.”
So quoted host Jan Watts, current Birmingham Poet Laureate, from acclaimed American feminist poet Angelou Mayou to open an evening of poetry performed by women, but to a mixed audience, with a strong male contingent. Promoted in conjunction with Birmingham Libraries, Sue Wilkinson and Librarian of the year, Nikki Bi, were on hand to help with the organisation.
Ensemble performances are growing in popularity . In Birmingham, the Decadent Divas, Charlie Jordan, Laura Yates, Lorna Meehan and Maggie Doyle have been pioneers of the style. The new show, which ran to around 20 minutes, was entitled Love and Marriage and comprised almost entirely new material with just a few fond echoes of the previous show.
Maggie Doyle mused that “life has a habit of re-arranging life”, Charlie that we move from “falling in love to standing in love” in two memorable lines. Finished only a few hours before, an already strong script will tighten still further with familiarity. I was also mildly shocked to learn that the Grace Jones song Pull up to my Bumper referred to her backside, and not the back of her car . . .
Naomi Paul is a similarly experienced performer, and it showed with The Truth About the Goddess of Rhythm and The Grey Rabbit, the latter a wonderfully atmospheric tale of her journey as a hippy bussing across America, evoking the spirit of The Grateful Dead and Paul Simon whilst retaining her Englishness. Kate Faulkner trod the safe ground of body image, Jude Ashworth cast a spell with Astara.
It was a particular pleasure to see Sam Hunt’s disciplined presentation of Dolls House, about child abuse, and a delight to hear novelist and poet Christine Coleman for the first time, especially her tour de force, Becoming a Seal.
From Smart Poets Penny Hewlett read a very strong trilogy, two of which were sonnets on a converstional theme. Compelling and innovative, Penny's writing is always worth watching out for.
Cathy Gee explored Ladies in Linen prior to a particularly strong closing trio. Jacqui Rowe, who had mentored several of the performers, was as polished as ever, reading from Paint and reminding all of the importance of Jeannie Senior.
Over the past couple of years Janet Smith has emerged as an outstanding poetic voice, her understated polemic in Flares debuted with the ink still drying on the page, was excellent. Egg and Caligo I cannot wait to read on the page, their fine first impression quite evidently merely an alluring outer layer for the potency of what lies beneath .
Closing the evening was the only straight performance poetry of the night, from Scrubber Jack, a Coventry poet who tells of life as a scrubber, or a cleaner to be more precise. Base, crude and earthy, it was also honest, touching and great fun and went down very well. The venue is a fitting place to perform poetry, and the good sized audience went home rewarded and entertained by a strong bill.
On the 3rd April, in a month’s time, Jan Watts is running another women performer event themed on loss, gain at the Library Theatre starting at 7.30pm, between the 16th and 21st she is running a poetry workshop at Erdington Library.Rachel green from Community Vibe also trailed a collaborative project with Jan Watts called Poetry City an initiative to broaden awareness and the appeal of poetry in the city. 08-03-12
A Celebration: Milorad Krystanovich (1950-2011),
The Moseley Exchange, Birmingham
This event was sponsored by Nine Arches Press, publishers of Krystanovic’s latest and posthumous collection, Moses’ Footsteps, for which the evening was a launch.
A Croatian national, he had lived in Birmingham since 1992 and studied Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, was a member of Writers Without Borders, Cannon Poets and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Milorad had also worked as a language teacher at the Brasshouse Centre in Birmingham. The full room was testament to the enduring quality of the affection and admiration felt for him following his recent death
The collection itself is a delight, and a triumph of the dedication of co-editors Jane Commane and Matt Nunn, in association with various local poetic luminaries.
Poetry which is written in one language, and in that cultural tradition, is not easy to translate, even with the author there to help. Yet the themes are universal, not least of bridges, bridges between languages, cultures, places, times, pain and recovery. The primacy of atmosphere, ambience and tone, over straightforward narrative possessing an ethereal dimension.
A glittering roster of readers lined up to read their own selections from Krystanovic’s work, reminisce, and explain the reasons for their selections, the latter being both instructive, and illuminating.
Martin Underwood, Myra Connell, Julie Boden and John Alcock drew upon their personal experience with Krystanovic as a friend and fellow poet. Jonathan Morley spoke of his experiences when as editor he published The Yasen Tree with Heaventree Press, Jane Commane of her contemporary experiences on editing Moses' Footprints. Birmingham University academic Dr Luke Kennard’s selection of “Midday Flower Density” was notable in its delivery, worthiness, and his observations of the poem’s merits.
A fine evening, and an event fitting to celebrate
the life and work of a man whose reputation is assured.Moses’
Footprints (2012) and Improvising Memory (2010) are
available from Nine Arches Press (www.ninearchespress.com),
and follows on from The Yasen Tree (Heaventree Press, 2007), The Language of Wounds, Where Spirits Touch and
Four Horizons/Ceteri Vidika also previously published. 03-03-12
Poems That Rhyme
John Slim ‘s Poetry Website
John is a veteran Midland journalist whose wordsmith skills have been finely honed over decades, commenting on events that have mattered, and interviewing people who have made them matter.
He is the voice of amateur theatre in the region and his latest venture is to make a considerable collection of his own poems available by means of his own website.
His manifesto is unapologetic, he favours rhyming verse, and eschews that which does not.
The site itself is attractive and well laid out, the poetic material eclectic. The index of themed chapters offer a good indication of his subject matter; Question, Idle Thoughts, Bed, Food, Breakfast, Garden, Words, Lady, Motion and Time. The verse itself is formal, with alternate rhyming lines favoured and a consistent, insistent metre. Nostalgia is to the fore, with a touching homily to the Queen Mother, Hand in Glove, particularly satisfying, and Square World, a tribute to the quixotic vagaries of cricket.
The author’s mastery of his chosen form is self-evident, and impressive. Yet poetry does have much to offer beyond John’s chosen horizons. Complex metre, irregular rhyme, blank verse and enjambment all have much to offer the poetic alchemist. Although I share the view that some formless modern poetry lacks merit or thought, all art needs to have its boundaries pushed, and that experimentation can add colour to traditional forms once it has found its place. Not that there is no experimental material here. He bills Death Sentence as possibly the world’s longest poem to consist of only one sentence, comprising some 302 words, yet never ends, as the verse turns full circle.
However mainstream poetry has a powerful and substantial constituency and John knows the themes and forms which that constituency demands. His choice of language, form and layout, draws upon the finest traditions of rhyming poetry laced with a wistful, and at times elegiac air, interspersed with some light humorous pieces. His warmth pervades it all.
Spark Café, Lichfield
The Lichfield Poets, regulars at poetry events across the Midlands have held their own event at the Spark Café in the centre of the city, the first of an occasional series in Lichfield
It was triumph of poetic endeavour that saw 25 poets read, including six guest poets with six minutes spots at the start and finish of each of the three parts, mixed in with readers with three minute spots which, in the main, was respected to ensure that the evening kept to time.
Set in the surroundings of an everyday café that boats the comfort and intimacy the corporate coffee chains lack, we saw readers and performers from across the Midlands and one from south Yorkshire, meet to explore themes of love, relationships, of making soup, praising the roll of the goalkeeper and an observation that rock and roll deaths are not what they used to be.
The evening was hosted by Gary Longden, who did an excellent job, as a natural raconteur with his poetry and imaginative inroductions.
THE evening's performances featured three Birmingham Poet Laureates, including the current incumbent Jan Watts who started the evening with one of the six minute guest poet spots, with her take on pantomime, with a modern look at Sleeping Beauty which was delivered with a chorus of I am Sleeping Beauty in true Spartacus fashion from the audience. Her next poem was one of a memento from her Grandfather, through his Desert Spectacles and the wonder at what he saw through them, trying to capture an insight into a time of his life that he never discussed. She finished with a poem on the lure of reduced items in Sainsbury’s. She captured the audience with her mix of humour and thoughtfulness and set a high standard for the night.
Jan was followed by the first of the Lichfield Poets, Anthony Webster, who looks like a poet should with his shoulder length hair and hint of a beard.
Gary Longden strikes a rhyming note as mine host
His experience as an actor transferred to his delivery of a Love poem and appropriately for the surroundings a Cafeteria Encounter, these were delivered with a considered voice that resonated around our ears.
Next was one of the Polesworth Poets Trail poets, Penny Harper, who evoked the spirit of a dusty road in India as she travelled to a temple, capturing all the feelings and senses in her words that took you for short time to this sacred place. She followed this with a poem about the ritual and tranquillity of her husband making soup that showed an idyllic pace of life that we can all achieve if we just slow down and contemplate the pleasure of making something. Wonderful poems.
Val Thompson another of the Lichfield Poets, then explored a fascinating take on the poetry of creaks and bumps that permeate the house as pipes debate with radiators punctuated by the interjections of rafter creaks. She followed this with a piece on that time that is neither night nor day, 4:00 am as the dark shifts its curtain to introduce the dawn. Val finished with a poem called Gastric Tract that left the sufferer with pockets of pain to count the stars.
Last years Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy MacFarlane gave an excellent reading with an exploration of what freedom really is through the telling of the experience of Richard Prior at his first gig in Las Vegas where he took fright and ran away. He followed this with a tender Father and Daughter experience running through the rain, encouraging his daughter to keep going because they are nearly there, knowing that as a father this was a lesson for life, no matter what, you need to keep going because you are nearly there. This was a poignant piece and one of the readings of the night. Roy finished with Poetry and Chocolate, how he needs both, with words that gave the listener the poetic experience of eating the finest, smoothest, richest delight.
then explored an Organic Woman through her relationship with her mother
and the experience of boxing up a lifetime of experience into the
removal van with Job Spec. She finished with Perfect Sight that
questioned what Her Majesty the Queen would think, should she visit one
of her Prisons, all too good effect.
This section was finished with second guest poet and former Birmingham Poet Laureate Charlie Jordan whose well crafted clever poems delivered from memory captivated the audience as she explored through sonnets observing a lover shaving with all the tender expectation of young love.
She followed this with a sonnet in praise Goalkeepers, empathising with their plight of being under appreciated when they save the shot and prevent the goal, to being the butt of criticism when the ball makes it into the back of the net. Her final poem delivered another of the performances of the night. The poem about words and taking care of our words, saw the audience hold its breath so as not to miss a single nuance of this skilfully crafted poem.
THE SECOND part was opened by Gary who settled the audience back to the poetry with his poem that suggested that Rock and Roll death’s are not what they once were, more purple hearse than purple haze and that it was what you achieved before you die rather than an MTV funeral that defined true musical legends. This was well delivered and very well received.
Gary then introduced the next guest poet, also from Birmingham and a fine poet she is too. Marcia Calame defines herself through her poems; she is the ink on the page that needs to be read. Her second poem Bric-a-Brac described the little shop of everything, where the price of goods was valued by the customers. This clever poem about doing, believing and getting your hands dirty, taking hopes and smiles and creating your own bliss by putting your own value on things and not expecting to be fed your entertainment and opinions. Another performance of the night. She finished with My Anthem another defining poem with a rhythm that describes what drives her. She is someone I have not heard read before and will certainly try and catch again.
Jan Watts with her take on pantomimes
Jan Watts with her take on pantomimes
Marcia was followed by a performance from Ian Ward, another of the Lichfield Poets who often reads on the poetry circuit. He made the most of his three minutes through delivering poetry without the preamble, letting the poems speak for themselves, as he gave us his take on 9/11, our dance and life at the Borderline. I often see poets give two or three minutes of explanation and then deliver a sixty second poem and I admire Ian’s approach last night as he maintained our poetry listening ears throughout his spot.
Next came Poet and Actor, Claire Corfield, whose stage experience showed through her presence in engaging and audience with an Ode to Speedo’s and the unattractive look that men of a certain age use to haunt Mediterranean beaches. She followed this with the first of three references on the night that played some sort of homage to Dylan Thomas. Her poem about the death of wasps in pints of summer beer was a triumph bringing in the thoughts of Thomas’ famous villanelle and ending with lyrics of Vera Lynn. She finished with a character piece, in the persona of a titled lady who liked killing animals. Great poems and an accomplished performance.
We were delighted further with the work of the leader of the Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins, whose imagery in her art inspired poems captured the flow and swirl of dance in Dancing for Degas; she followed this with Behind the Mask, as the painting of model Lily Cole wearing a mask berates the viewer as a voyeur. Janet finished by giving the awkward shaped figure in a Modigliani painting a voice that expressed her discomfort and dismay of being the muse, whose likeness would forever be seen as distorted effigy. Janet is to be commended for her expressive thoughts transferred into poetry using the art gallery as her muse.
Following Janet came the first of
the Runaway Writers’ from Burton, Terri Jolland, gave us a
thoughtful piece on some of unconventional nature of her mother through
dress making, which was finished with describing thunder as her late
mother riding a Harley Davidson across the clouds. She further delighted
us with a new take on Gilbert & Sullivan and the Modern High
Executioner. Both well received by the appreciative audience.
Janet Smith whose Poetry Trail Poem is about an Owl, continued with the theme of birds through magpies with two poems that gathered together the wild landscape, of moorlands and breezes into word images that occupied our minds, taking the natural world and rippling it into our thoughts.
She continued this with her third poem on Cracker Butterflies and their associations with hamadryads. Janet is a voice that can hold a room, suspending the moment into which she fills with her words.
To close the second part the fourth of the guest poets David Calcutt, who gave another excellent reading, even though it was briefly interrupted by the departure of the knitting group who had been… knitting – I guess, in the room upstairs.
Anthony Webster, a man with the look of
poet about him
Anthony Webster, a man with the look of poet about him
David started with a poem inspired by Brontë Country, written in and around Howarth.
His second poem that came from his work with people with dementia. Through fading memory come the shaking hands, which his observations led to him questioning “What are these Restless Creatures.
This was a moving piece that provides and insight in to a condition that is shunned in the fear that we may end up that way and don’t want to face it.
David’s work in the area of dementia can only help to break down these barriers.
David finished with two nature poems, The enchanted forest, which described the wonder of the forest and its destruction, was followed by one of my favourite of David’s poems The Day of Leaving, inspired by a trip to Laugharne (second Dylan Thomas reference) in South Wales and is the observation of curlews and the significance of them moving on in the cycle of the year, another memorable performance of the night.
I had the honour of being guest poet to open the third part with a selection from my recent commissions. I was followed by a poet new to all of us, Sheffield Skinny Matt, who had, as his name suggests, travelled down from Sheffield. He is to be commended for travelling all that way to deliver just a single poem. His humorous take on Matching Cardigan Couples was witty and sharp in its observation. It would be good to hear more from Matt in the future and to give him a space to give more than this brief taste of his work.
Following Matt, came Ben McNair who gave use a thoughtful piece entitled – This is how if feels before the rain, followed by a cleverly crafted unapologetic poem A Warning, which was well delivered and much appreciated by the audience – it is one of those poems that you think – wow, why didn’t I think of doing that. Both are available on Ben’s recent Kindle E-book collection.
Our third homage to Dylan Thomas came from the hilarious poetic tales from Alan Wales, who read an instalment from his Under Deadwood, delivered in excited tones as if we were in Brown’s Hotel bar in Laugharne. Alan gave a voice to daily lives through double entendre and playful quip that left the audience rolling with laughter in the way that only Alan can.
Margaret Torr from the Burton Runaway Writers followed with a poem Swan –that she describes as a white warrior on the Trent. She continued with a poem on the closeness of a relationship that can still have its distances with Running Parallel. Margaret always captures the essence of a feeling in her work and then delivers it as an accomplished story teller who engages the audience with her words and accompanying movements as she brings the swan into the room and the breeze between the lovers.
Janet Smith found her inspiration from wildlife
Janet Smith found her inspiration from wildlife
Tom Wyre read from his collection Soliloquy with his well crafted poems Joe Hamster about life on the treadmill and The Whalers Anthem, the latter he wrote as a young man, still has the freshness of his more recent work. Tom has a presence and voice to also hold an audience and last night was not exception. His collection is one that I would recommend, with all the proceeds going to charity.
The final guest poet was Gary Carr, fresh from his guest reading at the Fizz and hosting Spoken Worlds in Burton. Gary gave an assured performance of some of his best performance pieces. Starting with his take on performing in front of a Microphone and moving on to nature of a man as an octopus. His love letter to his daughter has all the tender, caring expression of a father’s joy in being a parent, which he admits took twenty years to write, but then he was being a dad and enjoying the moments that all dad’s should. His poem Fish captures the relationship between man and his landscape and sharing the world with all of nature. He finished with his wonderful poem Without you, where he finds his virginity hiding in a box under his bed and careful restores it safely so that he does not lose it again. Gary writes poems that work on many levels from the sometimes flippant outer level to deeper meanings that nestle in our thoughts of understanding the world. An excellent performance from a respected poet.
With still a few minutes remaining there was time for three sixty second slots, which saw Marcus Taylor tell of how he is God’s gift to the women of Birmingham, Guy Jenkins give his vision of Industry and Brian Asbury read his poem using only words beginning with M with Mad Military Mishaps. All to great effect.
Poetry Alight was a terrific evening of poetry and long may it continue even as an occasional event. It is a welcome addition to the poetry calendar in a place where you would expect poetry events to happen. The Lichfield Poets are to be congratulated for organising and promoting this fabulous first event and especially Gary Longden whose hosting skills made the evening flow easily and provided for the relaxed enjoyment of poetry.
The next Poetry Alight will be on
May 15th 2012 at the Spark Café, Tamworth St, Lichfield. 28-02-12
Mal Dewhirst is the leader of Polesworth Poets, a poetry broadcaster on Radio Wildfire, and budding film director. The above review is produced, with permission, from his blog:Pollysworda: http://pollysworda.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/it-takes-just-a-spark-to-set-poetry-alight/
Puns, Poems 'n' Pints
Station Pub, Sutton Coldfield
THERE was something really lovely about this evening. Maybe it was the fact it was a charity event, raising money for Sutton Coldfield Amnesty International group, or maybe it was the massive amount of support emanating from the audience to those behind the mic.
Whether it was comedy, poetry, storytelling or song, whether it was moving or funny, whether it went to plan or slightly awry - every act was given rousing applause.
It was a patchwork of an evening with contributions accepted on the night but just about everyone gave it their best shot and it worked really well.
Kicking off the evening was compere and AISC chairman Andrew Hindle in a comedy alter ego Arthur Boomerangerang. Easing everyone in lightly, there were plenty of puns (and did I spy a pint?) to warm the night up.
Andrew's other appearances were to read children's poems and a particularly lively rendition of Michael Rosen's Chocolate Cake had us all licking our lips.
There was plenty of poetry - John Todd read a wry Deep Sorriness Atonement Song by Glyn Maxwell while Rita Todd adapted Ogden Nash's Ma, What's a Banker? to bring it bang up to date.
Original verse came in the shape of Will Hitchcock's The Christie Poem which cleverly featured the titles of countless books by the Queen of the Crime Novel - I lost count half way through and then starting wondering 'was that a book title after all?'
James Morris-Knight also shared some verse with us - Falmouth
being a meditation on the Cornish town and Roll Call a particularly dry
and witty round-up of the after-school exploits of his former
Sutton comedienne Sheila M serenaded the audience with a tongue-in-cheek version of the song My Guy, rolled out a whole series of clever one-liners and indulged in a bit of humorous storytelling.
And storytelling also appears to come naturally to
Ann Simpson whose tales of life in Lancashire were both amusing and
colourful with extraneous details really bringing the characters and
This is the second year running the AI group has organised this event and it was thoroughly enjoyable. A small crowd was the only disappointment, those who were unable to come missed a real treat.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
One of the pleasures of spoken word events is that you are never quite sure what you are going to hear when you turn up. This was no exception.
The relationship between lyrics and poetry over the years has been an uneasy one. Great songs and albums have frequently been underscored with lyrics which were either aural filler, or pretentious nonsense, with some honourable exceptions.
Local poet and film director Mal Dewhirst has turned
his attentions to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album, and a
fascinating project it is.
On their 1977 tour Pink Floyd took exception to the behaviour of some of the very fans on their tour who had helped to make them multimillionaire superstars, with Roger Waters suggesting that they build a wall to cut themselves off from the troublesome oiks, prompting him to write an album on just that theme.
Although commercially a huge success, the album has not worn well, with the exception of Comfortably Numb and Another Brick in the Wall. Mal has resolved to make good Water’s lyrical shortcomings for an ambitious production of the show in Tamworth this summer by rewriting some of them. Tonight he debuted The Thin Ice, and a very good job he made of it too. I await the results of the remainder of the much needed redrafting with great interest. Whether he will turn his directorial skills to improve on Alan Parker ‘s film is, as yet, unconfirmed.
Jarvis Cocker has recently moved from intelligent lyricist to published poet with his new Faber published collection. The rise of Poetronica may yet see the burgeoning contemporary spoken word scene bite back into the world of contemporary lyricists who seem to have given up political fight, eschew word play, and trawl the lowest common denominator for effect.
There are some great new mainstream lyricists out there, Matt Berninger (The National), James Mercer (The Shins), Devendra Banhart to name but three, and in England we have a great tradition of lyricists stretching back through Damon Albarn, Neil Tennant, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies to Cole Porter. But maybe a new project might be to rewrite the lyrics for some classic songs?
Maybe Mal is onto something here? It is not as outlandish a concept as it may seem. 19th century hymn writers did it all the time. Great melody- shame about the words, and pen in hand they thought nothing of writing something better. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Patti Smith redrafted Bruce Springsteen’s Because the Nigh to great effect. Perhaps the surprise is that it has not been done more – until now.......................
Unusual poetic inspiration was a feature of the night. Tom Wyre drew upon Dickens for an ambitious themed list poem, Peter Costelloe opted for 19th century bull-running in Tutbury. Bert Flitcroft is a dapper urbane sophisticate who turned his poetic sights upon road rage on the M42 in unlikely, but amusing and accomplished form. Fresh from her success at Bilston Voices, Janet Jenkins name-checked Birmingham Art Gallery, which Mal had also used for inspiration, and Lichfield Cathedral, which Dea Costelloe had in turn based a poem upon.
Ray and Teri Jolland are a Spoken Worlds institution for heir comedy sketches, and they did not let us down this month with Its All an Act. It was good to hear host and organiser Gary Carr read some of his own material, his line “Every mirror taunts with its own veracity” the most memorable of the evening. As an experiment, proceedings were audio recorded for the evening, providing a useful archive for future use.
Spoken Worlds returns at 7.30pm on Friday 23rd
March, free admission. 24-02-12
Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston
Running successful poetry nights is not easy. Audiences take time and patience to build, and are fickle .If you don’t give them what they want, the venue will be empty next time around.
So it is to Emma Pursehouse’s great credit, as organiser, that she has built up an audience that invariably fills this cafe, and continues to source poets of sufficient quality to ensure that the audience keeps coming back.
Who specifically is performing does not overly affect attendance. It is the guarantee of good quality and an entertaining night that does the trick.
The evening started in reflective, commemorative, mode as Geoff Stevens was remembered. Geoff was a prodigious local poet and publisher with roots firmly planted in the Black Country, and with many friends. His recent death touched the local and regional poetic community that he served, and entertained so well in his life. His friend Al Barz read three of Geoff’s poems in tribute.
Geoff’s humour in Animal Magic, about the sponsoring of zoos, brought gales of laughter, Sleeping With You, a love poem to Geraldine, was sentimental and touching without being in the least mawkish. A measure of the quality of a poet’s writing often lies in how well others can interpret them – Al Barz did Geoff proud.
First on, and making his Bilston Voices debut, was Alan Glover. Many writers experience the highs and lows of life in magnified form and Alan was happy to lay bare his encounters with the lows with several pieces that felt like works of expiation.
Intriguingly, I thought his best work lay outside of that sequence. Digital photography was a list poem that was well conceived, sharp and funny, Sixth Form Prose was simple knockabout stuff that worked brilliantly, read for him, by Emma Purshouse.
Another Bilston Voices debutante, but an experienced performer, was Janet Jenkins from Lichfield Poets. She produced a carefully crafted, and varied set, delivered with confidence and assurance. Gardens, a writing project at Birmingham Art Gallery, love, and false teeth all caught Janet’s poetic attention. It was her piece on Modigliani from the Art Gallery sequence which stood out tonight.
Donna Scott, once of Bilston is now a Milton Keynes resident and she closed the first half with brio and chutzpah. I Love Cake is very funny, her Introducing poem very clever, although the ending was a little abrupt. Charity Case, she had written that very morning and was hugely enjoyable, introducing the fascinating concept of the fashion womble. Bright and breezy, she entertained throughout and even found time to rhyme Bahamas with Judith Chalmers!
Opening the second half was the newly anointed Bard of Stony Stratford, Danni Antagonist. Performing work available in her two collections, Emotion’s Memory and NSFW, I was struck by the interesting rhyming patterns she uses and her relaxed delivery. Bless This was her tour de force, and the poem which resonated with me most from the entire evening.
The tale of how she is helping her father clear out the loft of their family home, it oozed pathos, compassion, wistful reflection and warmth. It worked because although it was ostensibly about clearing out a clutter filled loft, it was also written in the shadow of her late mother who was part of that clutter, who wasn’t mentioned, but whose presence lingered implicitly, not explicitly. An object lesson in good writing.
Later on in the evening, the question was asked as to whether poets should write as observers or participants ? The writer’s skill is in expressing personal experience in a form that is universally understood, Danni succeeded in that challenge with this poem.
Top of the bill was Mark Niel, now working as a full time poet. I have watched Mark’s career unfold from Slam champion, to the professional troubadour he has now become. His slickness as a performer is now finely honed with performance at the heart of his act. Bubbling full of ideas, he is appearing at the Wenlock Poetry festival in April, and has an exciting project involving reworking classic poems as modern, accessible performance pieces in the pipeline. Tonight, he stuck with established favourites like My Half of the Fridge in a well rehearsed set that felt more one-man show than poetry reading, and was well received by an appreciative audience.
Bilston Voices returns on Thursday 22nd March with a
terrific line-up that includes Dave Finchett, Jacquie Rowe, Joel Lane,
Jane Seabourne and David Calcutt. 23-02-12
And another voice . . .
A NOTE to Bilston Voices virgins; if Emma books you to a appear please don’t think it has to be poetry, you can tell us a story, or even reminisce a little, as long as you engage with us. That is the key to getting along with us. The venue is small enough for you to see most faces as you look around while you are performing, so please smile at us and treat us like friends, the people who were booked to join us for February 2012 did.
Having said that, Al Barz took on the task of opening the evening with a short tribute to the late Geoff Stevens by reading three of his poems. The first one Fixed Wheel engaged us in Geoff’s life away from poetry and reminded us of the nature of his background. From wistfulness to gentle smiles and even the odd chuckle, as we listened to Animal magic about adopting animals and Lovers, a tribute that Geoff wrote to his wife, Geraldine. Thank you Al.
How do you follow that? Alan Glover, a Bilston Voices virgin, bared his soul to us and took us through the ups and downs, or is it downs and ups of depression with a selection of poems. I particularly enjoyed Town centre churchyard, a subject that I have found inspiring in the past.
Another BV newcomer Janet Jenkins was next up. As one of the Lichfield poets, she is not inexperienced and soon engaged us in her lively vocal interpretations of life in her garden. A couple of pieces written in Birmingham Museum gave voices to a bronze called Dancing for Degas and to the model in a portrait by Modigliani.
Donna Scott, on the other hand is a Bilston girl who moved abroad, first to the east Midlands and now lives in the country they call Milton Keynes. Donna loves cake, so it was no surprise that she opened with a poem that said so. Whether she likes her name is debatable as we heard a lot of alternatives mooted in her poem Names; her taste in clothes is not, she has a very distinct style and it suits her, not that a Fashion womble cares anyway. Like many of us, she has a partner who is addicted to a certain TV programme, in her case Top Gear and I really felt as one with her poem Life is the Stig. Donna was warmly welcomed home before we adjourned for a libation and the odd cake.
Danni Antagonist is the Bard of Stoney Stratford, quite a title to live up to, but she did, chatting to us in a very articulate manner about life and her poetry, the latter mesmerised me, as she performed one after the other in a very professional manner. As a supporter of Bilston in Bloom, I was very interested in the village Community orchard and the contemplative Bless this about clearing out the attic in an old family home really struck a personal chord.
Last up was Mark Niel, who is not a complete stranger to Bilston, having won a Bilston Love Slam and performed at a variety night as part of his prize, but it was his first gig after turning professional. Most of his performance was not new to some of us, but the way Mark performed made it seem very fresh. Most of Mark’s poetry tends to be lively with a humorous touch and even the touching Alan Neil 1931 – 2011 a tribute to his late father had a lightness to the pathos, I loved it. As Mark is not a small man he filled the room once he got up to perform in the confines of the café, but that only brought him closer to his audience and Mark loves audiences, as he told us in his final work, aptly entitled I love audiences. Would a chest wax be in order, Mark?Eileen Ward- Birch
The 5th Bilston Love Slam
Imperial Ballroom, Bilston
This is now a well established event drawing competitors from as far away as Gloucester and Manchester. That success is down to the alchemy of Emma Purshouse’s pre show organisational skills, and the onstage charisma of co-hosts Marcus Moore and Sarah Jane Arbury.
The latter’s routine is a simple one, Marcus plays the grumpy old git, Sarah Jane the flighty glamour puss, it works a treat. They operate under the Spiel Unlimited banner hosting slams around the country and organising poetry workshops and retreats. The road honed experience that brings was much in evidence tonight.
Fifteen entrants fought it out over three knock-out rounds, with the first round demanding a love theme. Curiously this brought out the serious and soppy side in our poets rather than the satirical and waspish edge which you might have expected. Performer Fergus McGonigal was even moved to kiss his wife afterwards!
Overall this was an event for seasoned performers with two thirds well known to me. Special mention should be made of Jackie Evans, the least experienced of the slammers who performed with courage and conviction.
The opening compulsory theme had a curiously destabilising effect on the pecking order one might have assumed. Richard Tyrone Jones is a poet of local and national repute, and his poem form a tower block was very strong, but didn’t take him through to the next round. Equally local star Heather Wastie performed an intelligent, sharp and wistful piece about the importance of kisses on e-mails, but met a similar fate.
Louise Stokes writes accomplished poetry both as herself, and as her alter-ego, the street sharp chav, Kimmy Sue Ann. This time she hedged her bets by performing a Kimmy Sue Ann poem as herself.
It was good to see her “work” a character and idea which has so much potential a bit harder, taking her character on a Spanish holiday this time. Her partner’s snoring endeared itself to Jane James in a little gem of a poem, Peter Wyton’s word play around his Swiss army wife was possibly a bit too convoluted for its own good.
The poet whom I felt most sorry for was Steve Rooney. Greetings Cards was excellent, but as the final poet before the break, he acknowledged that the only thing between a hungry audience and an aromatic curry was him – he didn’t get through.
At this point it is worth mentioning two curious features of Slams. The first is “points creep”. The judges always start low, and as the evening wears on, and alcoholic intake increases, then ramp up the scoring. The first, arbitrarily chosen trio scored 209/200/200 respectively, the final trio 239/254/218. Were the last trio really almost 20% better than the first? Fortunately the highest score from each trio goes through so that even though the lowest score from the last trio was higher than the highest from the last, that low scorer from the first group still went through.
The second curiosity is that five out of the six semi finalists were men, even though seven out of the fifteen contestants were women.
Why is difficult to explain. The audience was roughly 50/50 men and women, the six judges an exact 50/50 split. So this was a case of women voting for men. Of course it is possible that the men were just much better than the women. My own judgement is that was not so, and an experienced female performer suggested to me that, for whatever reason, this outcome was quite common.
I don’t have an easy answer to this. On my travels I expect, and find, the best female poets to be more than a match for their male counterparts, yet still there is substance to the claim of female disadvantage. I would welcome your thoughts when you next see me – or by message.
Local circuits can be dominated by familiar faces, so it was a particular pleasure when a Manchester contingent appeared for the night, and did so well. Rod Thames’ material was very strong in both rounds, and I suspect would have been amongst the strongest of the evening on the page.
Dave Viney oozed smooth Mancunian swagger as trademarked by Liam Gallagher. I gained the impression that the Noisy Neighbours whom he name-checked in his poem would have got short shrift from him. Dominic Berry went one step further and even wore a Noel Gallagher style parka whilst delivering the performance of the night in the first round with his paean to aubergines, and his sharp love poem Time Travellers in the second, but it was Kieren King who made it through to the final. Fergus McGonigal entertained splendidly with his Hangover lament, but it was Lorna Meehan’s experiences as a lesbian extras arm on a television show which carried her through to the final.
One of the pleasures of reviewing the Midland’s poetry scene for some years now is watching talent grow. Lorna has always been a very good poet, but now she is adding polish and a relaxed confidence to her overall performance which manifested itself in a splendid Rock Chick, which was just trumped by Kieren King’s, Whatever Happened to the Heroes, for the judge’s vote, both working on a musical theme.
Kieren was a worthy winner, and I later learned that
all of the Manchester boys were indebted to the inspiration of fellow
Mancunian Ben Mellor, who won the Radio 4 National Slam in Birmingham
three years ago, and is appearing in Worcester next week. Kieren’s work
was pithy, economical, and incisive in an evening where comic poetry,
which so often dominates slams, was scarcely in evidence. He has an
invite to join the next variety bill at the Imperial on the 28th
April which also features Steve Rooney from last night’s performers.
Lunchtime Poetry with Write Down Speak Up
Ort Cafe, Moseley Rd, Balsall Heath
THE ORT cafe is part of the Old Print Works occupying a space previously given over to ink mixing.
The building includes 30+ business units for skilled professionals creating fine crafted goods, open access workshop and performance spaces, the cafe itself, a massive gallery hall for exhibitions and community events, as well as a Skills Shed for after school training, apprenticeships and practical hands-on learning sessions for young people.
Local older volunteers are encouraged to exchange their skills with others. This innovative development is taking place at the old factory of a successful printing company, which stands almost opposite the historic swimming baths. A major focus of The Old Print Works is preserving and celebrating its history whilst demonstrating that old buildings can be rehabilitated through intermediate technologies for low-carbon and sustainable use.
This one off event was a poetry first at a cafe that has only been open since November but which is awash with innovation and activity.
Write down Speak Up is Birmingham’s leading poetry collective and arrived to bring a suitably innovative event comprising performances from the three visiting poets, and take audio visual recordings of audience contributions to the Big Brum Poem, a compilation of community offerings from across the city being displayed on Victoria Square’s Big Screen throughout the year.
Poet and national and Regional DJ Charlie Jordan tantalised by imagining various market foods as parts of the male body, Kurly McGeachie made everyone Smile as the pro-poets set the mood.
A very good turn-out elicited contributions from established poetic talents like Elizabeth Charis, Lizzy Piphany, Shabz Ahmed and Chris Akers – as well as several exciting new ones including saxophonist Jo from up and coming local band The Heels.
The pro poets inspired, and the enthusiastic audience followed. A steady stream of latent poetic talent declared itself as the afternoon unfolded including Mums whose rhyming skills had been reawakened by reciting nursery rhymes and lapsed or hidden talent that had simply not had the opportunity to have a go previously. Keep an eye open on the Big Screen for when the Ort Cafe and its audience and their contributions are featured.
The cafe itself is an excellent venue for poetry and co-owners, and philosophy graduates, Richi, Josephine and Noemi are keen for it to be used more widely as such.
An incredibly diverse bill of events which takes in maths classes, language coaching, theatre, philosophy, film, sewing and a Swap Shop provides a bohemian arty audience and ambience well suited to things poetic. Add freshly cooked and baked food and a range of reasonably priced drinks and you have a resipe for success.
For future events Ort Cafe has its own
website:www. ortcafe. co. uk and is on Facebook under Ort Cafe and The
Old Print Works. 11-02-12
The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse, Castle Gates, Shrewsbury
This was the inaugural evening of what is to be a monthly event which Behind the Arras was pleased to support.
Normally to be an open mic, the first evening was launched by Liz Lefroy and Vuyelwa Carwin. Although Shropshire is quite well served by storytelling evenings, poetry hitherto has been a little thinner on the ground.
Wilfred Owen is a past resident, so a resurrection of the poetic tradition in the town is not before time.
The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse itself is a good venue, centrally situated in Castle Gates by the castle with car parks a short walk away.
It is licensed as well as selling the usual range of coffee, teas and cakes with a rustic, welcoming ambience offering a good reception facility. The poetry itself is held downstairs in a dedicated room, accessible but private, as the upstairs still functions normally whilst the poetry takes place downstairs.
Liz Lefroy lead the evening in some style. She lectures in Social Care at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. Her pamphlet Pretending the Weather, published by Long Face Press, won the Roy Fisher Prize for Poetry and is endorsed by both Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke.
Although she lives in Shrewsbury she is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. She opened the evening by commenting on the recent Geoffrey Hill v Carol Ann Duffy spat, tactfully opining that Poets were not renowned for being team players whilst also praising the qualities of Mills and Boon writing, which lead nicely into an airing for her freshly composed Team Players upon which the ink had barely dried that day.
ECONOMIC AND STYLISH
ECONOMIC AND STYLISH
I had travelled specifically to hear Liz and was not disappointed. The School Concert was a beautiful hymn to her son, Leaving told of the familiar desire in all of us sometimes to run away from work, My Ambiguous Relationship with Rain her tour de force. A strong spoken performer of her own work, her writing is economic and stylish, accessible but clever. She read nothing from her prize winning pamphlet which is a testament to the depth of her portfolio, and a treat yet to come.
The headlining poet was Vuyelwa Carlin who was born in South Africa, , brought up in Uganda, and has lived for many years now in Shropshire - Vuyelwa means 'rejoicing at the birth of a girl' in Xhosa.
Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies in the UK and abroad. She has published four poetry collections to date and has won prizes in both the Cardiff and National Poetry Competitions. She is also a Hawthornden Fellow.
Her publications include; How We Dream of the Dead, Marble Sky, Midas’ Daughter and The Solitary, published by Impress Books. The past five years she has worked as a carer in an Elderly Mentally Infirm unit, inspiring her opening poems about patients with dementia, which she writes with love and affection. Thereafter, she took in a sequence on the Holocaust and her own family relationships.
Poetry and Plaques was the strongest of her dementia sequence, which always referenced her patient’s first names, cementing the identity which they themselves were losing. Namirembe Cathedral , the red brick cathedral in Kampala, she dedicated to David Cato the murdered Ugandan gay rights activist.
The poem itself was as strong as the diatribe she offered on the regressive Ugandan regime aided and abetted by a fundamentalist church element. It offered a strong sense of place and I would have liked to have heard more of her work set in Africa. That immediacy and sense of being there was noticeably, and inevitably stronger, than her Holocaust pieces. In the latter she was fond of using biblical epigraphs, to mixed effect. On the one hand they offered solemnity by historical association, but on the other they softened the impact of the message.
Her strength lies in her ability to offer powerful glimpse into her subjects. Of Ellen she quoted: “ I wish I could be a little girl again, I wish I could go back in time. ” Of Mary, a beleaguered centenarian, she observed: “She would have liked to have gone earlier, but didn’t know how to. ”
The next Poetry Evening is on Thursday, 01-03-12 at Shrewsbury Coffee House. 02-02-12.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton-Upon-Trent
2012 has now well and truly dusted its boots off and made itself at home, and as January comes to a close so the first round of regular poetry events are completed.
Establishing, and maintaining success, as a spoken word event is no easy task, but here there is a device which works particularly well, three Acts with two intervals. This enables performers to perform work with wildly varying moods and dynamics on the same evening in separate chunks.
Andy Biddulph “The Burton Poet” combines the personas of an enfant terrible and eminence grise all in one enthusiastic package as he stalks the streets of Staffordshire and south Derbyshire with his distinctive brand of politically inspired poetry.
From the soft targets and soft underbelly of Bankers, to the more oblique, but just as interesting question of control of the waterways, Andy has a (Left) view, and a welcome one it is too. His kindle book “An Interesting Life by Mistake” is available on Amazon.
Nudging the evening along, Gary Carr did his usual seamless job, although I always feel that I would like to hear more from him as he tends to throw in little gems like Starlings, before introducing the next act, leaving the audience thinking, “Hang on!”
A rewarding aspect of being a long serving part of the local poetry scene is watching individuals explore their poetic selves. Ian Ward writes from a wide variety of places, taking in fantasy, contemporary music, grotesque, and love poetry.
Tonight he surprised me with some Sea Shanty inspired pieces inspired by his time in the South West which were delivered with a conviction which transformed the Old Cottage Tavern into The Smugglers Cove somewhere in Cornwall.
Local poet Pete told “Burton Tales”, the most worrying of which was that “Pizza Hut” has deserted its town centre pitch (was it too upmarket?).
Tom Wyre read extensively, his piece on whale hunting being the piece i enjoyed most. His bustling off stage personality an intriguing contrast to the reflective tone and mellifluous ambience he brings to his work. Margaret Torr did what she does best, double volley of conceived and executed poems, before retiring, leaving us wanting more.
Ray and Terri Jolland always have some comic light entertainment written, and this time was no exception, although Mal Dewhirst amused too with his recollections of the Branston Water Park Arts Festival where both the audience, and even the geese, were resistant to verse and rhyme.
His Aspiration Boulevard sequence was particularly strong, howver i can never hear him introduce it by name without thinking of Heartbreak Avenue by the Maisonettes !
Spoken Worlds next meets on Friday 24th February at 7. 30pm 27-01-12
The Crown, Stony Stratford
THE Bardic Council of Stony Stratford is proud to announce Danni Antagonist as the new Bard of Stony Stratford. The Bardic Trials of 2012 were held at the Crown pub in the Market Square and are now a firm fixture in the town's cultural calendar and coincide with the Stony Words literary festival.
Tthe event invites contenders to compete for the
esteemed status of Town Bard, now recognised as an official civic
position by Stony Stratford Town Council. The Bard personifies the
spirit of collective creativity, culture and community within the town,
acting as its lyrical ambassador and representing its interests at home
Ian is attempting to claim overtime payment for the extra week, a dispute which will hopefully be resolved at a Bardic Tribunal. As a writer and performer, Danni is a deserving candidate for Bardic status, regularly performing to high acclaim at live poetry events all over the country, as well as being a founder and co-host of Poetry Kapow!
She is ideally suited to represent the vibrant spirit of live performance in Stony Stratford.
During the Trials, contenders performed before a packed audience as well as the The Bardic Council – a panel of judges comprised of Mark Niel, the Poet Laureate of Milton Keynes; Ian Freemantle, the outgoing Bard; Fay Roberts, poet and organiser of many poetry events; Justin Thyme, head of the Bardic Chair of Northampton, and the Duke of Stony himself, Ken Daniels.
This year, seven noble champions entered the trials - Adam Fox, Naomi Rose, Richard Frost, Kevin Sullivan, Trevor Jones, Andy Powell and Danni Antagonist.
All deserve special recognition for the quality of their contributions to the Trials. Contenders were eliminated over three rounds until the remaining two, Danni and Richard, faced each other in the final.
The judges and the audience all voted for their
preferred contender, ensuring a fair and democratic process from which
the Bard emerges as the true choice of the people of Stony. Many thanks
to all who turned out on a cold January evening to create a warm and
receptive atmosphere and help to turn a new chapter in Bardic history.
Metro Cafe, Bilston
It might have been a cold January evening, but the Bilston Voices regulars turned out in their usual numbers to see and hear the latest contributors. This month, organiser Emma Purshouse had brought together a variety of performers, including a couple from well outside our normal Black Country catchment area.
Eileen Ward-Birch kicked off the evening with a pot pourri of poetry, prose and reminiscence. Eileen gave a warm and confident performance, entertaining the audience with her verse and a very well written piece about day trips to Ribbesford. The set was punctuated with some 'heckling' from Eileen's husband Mick which gave rise to some lively banter between the two of them, all of which added to the audience's enjoyment.
Ann Clarson from Bloxwich is a mature lady with a very lively youthful outlook on life that she conveys through her verse. Her comments on defying age as she dressed, but then looking in the mirror were most insightful, as was her take on dieting. Ann had come to see us on her birthday, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her after her performance by way of thanks.
Last up before the ‘cake break’ Cathryn Ravenhal, a deceptively demure looking young lady from Rugby, gave us a view of her job through poetry inspired by people she meets, including an outspoken list poem called Know Wise Cracks, which consists of words that could be used as insults; even I heard a couple of new ones, thanks Cathryn.
Having travelled from Nottingham with her ‘bag of tricks’ Nicki Hastie produced a pair of her stress balls that she uses at work, then told us about growing up uncertain of her sexuality, until she finally came out as a lesbian. I was most impressed with her poem, Shifting sands about how, as a teenager, she encouraged her brother to admit that he was gay.
The evening ended with a selection of traditional and not so traditional folk songs by Billy Spakemon (vocals) and Lozz Hipkiss (guitar). The pair soonhad us all singing along to Shut the Cairtins Gerald, about Queen Victoria travelling through the Black Country on her train. Followed by the Bricklayer’s Daughter who caused havoc in Oldbury and hard times in the workhouse.
Next meeting, 7. 30pm, 23 February. . Bilston Voices has grown from a tentative beginning to one of the most popular spoken word events in the Black Country where performers who are invited along can be sure of a warm welcome from a good audience.
Black Country Night Out
Café Metro, Bilston
JANUARY often leaves people a little low after the big Christmas and New Year celebrations, so the idea of a Black Country night out was very welcome, so much so that the seventy seats available in the Back Room of Café Metro sold out before Christmas and had a waiting list.
It was a chilly evening, but we were soon warmed up by lively Derek Mack and his ‘impressions’ of Tom Jones singing some of Tom’s early hits. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, despite his rapport with the audience, he failed to sell any of his tapes that he initially assured us that had four songs and were only a pound each.
Dave Reeves was next up with a selection of works from his new collection, Black Country Dialectics, which was launched a few weeks previously at Bilston library. Dave’s take on computer jargon is very interesting, as are his tales of Bionic Aynuk and Boz in the Black Country. He must be near the front of a growing number of writers who are working hard to preserve our unique heritage from a modern angle.
The first half was brought to a close by The Fizzog Theatre Company with their hilarious take on four old ladies travelling abroad, with a short appearance of Derek Mack, as an ‘Italian stallion’. We rolled with laughter and wondered how such young women could create these characters, but we’re glad they do.
I must confess that I am in two minds about the Fizzogs; on the one hand, I think they are so good they should be getting more recognition outside the region, on the other, I don’t want to see them move out of reach of their regular audiences. Their new show with Barbara Nice can be seen at the Newhampton Arts Centre on Friday 14 and Saturday 25 February.
BLACK COUNTRY BUFFET
BLACK COUNTRY BUFFET
After a good Black Country buffet (included in the ticket price) we enjoyed a selection of Madge Gilbey’s dialect poetry. Her quirky take on life via her thoughts on such subjects as man boobs, valentines and a friend's funeral got the audience back from their faggots and grey paes chuckling and ready for the remainder of the evening.
Brendan Hawthorne, a Wednesbury poet, is well known for his anecdotal tales and poems of growing up in the black Country. From tin baths to tank tops his mother knitted and faggots to a teenage permanent wave via his Grandfather’s smoking habits, we lapped it up and remembered similar objects and situations. After a brief appearance by his ventriloquists dummy (complete with knitted tank top)we were given a cautionary poem about spicing up your love life at a certain age and Brendan’s fictional adventures with his sotnev, the Sandwell satnav. Another writer in the forefront of the movement to preserve the Black Country dialect; perhaps we should have a Black Country laureate.
We finished up rolling in the aisles to Emma Rollason’s tribute to the black Country comedienne, the late Dolly Allen. I never saw Dolly Allen, but I have seen Emma’s tribute before this and it gets better and better, her way of portraying the gossipy older ‘ooman is superb. If anything, I felt the time allocated to her was a little short, I know my table companions could have sat through more.
All in all a good first venture into this area
for the team at Café Metro. 18-01-12
Mouth & Music
Boars head Gallery,
Worcester St, Kidderminster
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it
due to my very heavy workload at the moment and my husband having to get
up very early today to travel to London on business, but I managed to
get away from my office at 6. 45pm to make the trip there along with my
husband and good friend/performance poet Suz Winspear.
I got to see the first part of Spoz’s set and he performed “Disco Dad”, and his take on Sherlock Holmes where he gets “hound of the baskerville” to rhyme with “pound and a flask of pills” and get it to make sense, according to the review of this poem that was in The Birmingham Post.
But the best poem of all for me has to be the one he wrote about his Mum and Dad who came to live in the UK from Italy. By coincidence my Dad also came over from Italy to live with his sister and her husband who were already settled here when he was ten years old as the opportunities for education and work were far better than in the little tiny village of Mongrassano in the late 1950s.
Every single word and syllable of that poem rings so true with me and I can almost hear my Dad saying the same things to me that Spoz said that his mother said to him in this poem – “you geta a gooda job, and geta gooda pay, and save all the money for a rainy day. Work with your brain, put away that guitar” or in my case, put away that pen and paper and stop writing – as if THAT was going to happen (sorry Dad!
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear Spoz deliver that poem, it tugs on my heartstrings every time and last night I actually had a tear or two in my eye. It was a good job that my husband was there to give me a hug on the way out!
I shall make this a regular event in my poetry and writing calendar. Heather Wastie and Sarah Tamar are on to a winner with this and I wish them every success and I hope the night goes from strength to strength.
A new dedicated Facebook page has been set up and
you can access it by going to
www. facebook. com/mouthandmusic. 10-01-12.
Newhampton Inn, Riches
I have been trying to get to this spoken word group for a long time and I was not disappointed. The meetings take place in the upstairs assembly room at the Newhampton Inn, giving access to bar facilities etc. without the problem of interference from other customers, which can be a problem when meeting in pubs. Unfortunately, there is no disabled access.
The group was quite small which, as we were meeting on a Bank Holiday Monday evening, was to be expected. It is very informal and those who wish to read or tell stories can indicate as they arrive, or during the evening, time permitting, real open mic without the mic.
SWAN specialises in spoken word of any kind; on this occasion, it was mainly storytelling with folk stories and legends from around the world being told enthusiastically by people who obviously enjoyed what they were doing. We had tales from Afghanistan, the Isle of Man, India, the Black Country, the English/Welsh border and more. There was one poet, a young man trying out some of his poems for the first time, who was made very welcome.
Eileen Ward Birch
Parole Parlate, Worcester
I’ve been to a fair few Parole Parlate spoken word evenings on the first Thursday of the month at the Little Venice in Worcester. They’ve always been good but I don’t think I’ve laughed or enjoyed myself so much this year. Okay, so this year’s still very young, but not since last year’s Worcestershire Literary Festival in June.
This cracking start to the new year, thanks to the Worcestershire literary festival team and Bohdan Piasecki at Apple and Snakes, featured the Decadent Divas as guest act.
They were decadent, divatastic and definitely not to be missed. This hilarious and moving celebration of womanhood by Charlie Jordan, Maggie Doyle, Lorna Meehan and Laura Yates covers the female viewpoints of four decades from women in their 20s through to their fifties, with new poetry included for 2012. From Beckham in bondage, through student insecurities, to yoga, meditation, Neanderthal males and yes, maybe just a little bit of sex (!), both the material and their performance made for an entertaining show.
And, warming the audience up, was a typically wonderful variety of short acts. Worcestershire’s Owen Fleet opened the night (to a packed house) with his comic observations of the cad and a hilarious bucket list inspired by all those wonderful new year’s resolutions so many of us make.
David Calcutt shared a series of his poems, all of which contained some beautiful, haunting, and thought-provoking images and lines. It was great to hear him perform both A Conjuring of the White Owl, which was in the first issue of the Worcestershire Literary Festival Be: magazine and also his curlew poem included in the second issue, due out at the end of February.
Suz Winspear’s mesmerising performance, complete with a new costume created for Christmas, featured a range of pieces written for this time of year, the ‘inertia/hangover/somnolent’ weeks. Her ‘dodgy scrotes’ poem about yuletide shoplifters – complete with ‘a clockwork stunt nun which can provide years of fun’ – was one of a number of highlights of the evening.
Kidderminster poet Bobby Parker was also on characteristically fine form with his unflinching poems touching on estate life, drugs… in his own very unique and humorous style. These included a number of poems currently up on the Stride magazine website.
Shabz Ahmed travelled from Birmingham to give the audience his three poems on third world hunger, the UK riots and a memorised piece honouring his mother, while Polly Robinson rounded off the evening with a fantastic audience-participation poem: Let’s Do It, Let’s Write a Blog, featuring a number of regular Parole Parlate and Worcestershire Literary Festival performers.
Too much chatting (oops, me never!) meant I missed the first two poets of the second half, to my loss.
But Nick Munro-Taylor’s prose piece did what many short stories fail to do when performed aloud by managing not only to keep but maintain the audience’s attention, thanks both to its humour and the fantastic character voices within it.
Next up was popular poet Ruth Stacey with three poems, including her Be: magazine website Christmas Norway Spruce. Thanks to repeated audience requests, she also treated us to her memorable and funny Bear poem.
Last, but by no means least, Tony Judge brought us more puntastic fun and delight with his characterful and witty take on life in Little Hope, complete with incidents, exploits and word play (not to mention baking road kill!) which had the audience in fits of laughter.
All in all, a great evening! 05-01-12
Sarah is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. An Oxford modern languages graduate and prize-winning former journalist, she has seen her work widely published in anthologies and literary journals, as well as online. Her first full-length poetry collection Into the Yell was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in July 2010 and won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011. She was shortlisted for Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2011/2012 and also has a poem selected for the Polesworth Poets’ Trail in Warwickshire.
Smoke & Mirrors
The vibrancy of poetry events around the Midlands is well documented in Behind the Arras, but nowhere does the poetic muse flourish more healthily than at Smoke and Mirrors in Malvern.
Organised by Dee Davidson and Caitlin Belgard. This year has seen performances by John Cooper Clarke, Attila the Stockbroker and Ian McMillan, as well a cornucopia of local talent, all of whom are included in the Smoke and Mirrors book, which was launched on the evening.
The book itself was compiled, and a companion audio recorded, and produced in under a month – a remarkable achievement. But then remarkable achievements seem routine for a couple who led the successful campaign to retain the Malvern Youth Centre, the only community hall in the town, from closure and redevelopment.
Formats can make or break poetry events. Yet Dee and Caitlin like to live dangerously. The performances were to showcase contributions to the book, with the opportunity for performers to add a few others. But instead of fixing a running order, a rolling ballot was in place to determine the order of performance – it worked brilliantly, primarily due to the calibre of poet and material on show, adding an uncertain artistic edge to proceedings.
First out of the hat were the Very Grimm Bros, vehicle for Adrian Mealing accompanied by his “brother” on acoustic guitar. His urbane and distinguished demeanour was the perfect foil for his raw subject matter which took in Police violence, and a tribute to Gill Scott Heron.
WITTY, SHARP AND FRESH
Nor was Trish Marsh prepared to settle for the routine or mundane. She introduced us to the concept of GITS- great issues of our time, accompanied by placards to prompt audience response. Witty, sharp and fresh, she bounded through the perils of excess carbon emissions and the need for recycling, taking in Bin Laden on the way.
Writing simple, effective poetry is far more difficult than it at first appears. Whenever you hear something which makes you think “I wish I had written that” it is an implicit endorsement. That was my reaction to Ali Oxterby’s, The Hug, a joyful, and wry exploration of the pleasures, and perils, of hugging. Previously, I had met Brenda Read- Brown, and seen her perform during the day in a library. In the environment of a relaxed, licensed, evening she was unrecognisable, with two tour-de force pieces, one inspired by her work with prisoners. Dan Duke is a very strong comic performance poet. He fuses a Rowan Atkinesque absurd stage demeanour with a keen intellectual edge neatly balancing fine observation with base belly laughs. Up a GUM Tree about a visit to a sexually transmitted diseases clinic (non-auto biographical of course) epitomised this approach with male members of the audience looking anxiously around worried that they had laughed a little too readily at some of the jokes!
The likes of Heather Wastie, Ray Miller, Ted Underwood, Tim Cranmore, and Catherine Crosswell effortlessly vindicated their selection for publication, with seventeen year old Laura Dedicoat, current Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate, a shining example of emerging poetic talent. The evening closed with a contribution from myself, a batte-of – the-sexes pentalogy duet with the cutting, but adorable, Amy Rainbow, and a delightfully lewd and bawdy contribution from Bill Thomas about eating spare ribs.
Every event has its own characteristics. Smoke and
Mirrors trick is to be clever, yet unpretentious, diverse but with a
strong poetic core, and performance based whilst never compromising on
the stand alone quality of writing, a summary true of the evening, the
running event, and the book, which is available, including audio disc
for £10 from
www. versatilearts. co. uk 17-12-11
Hit the Ode
End of Year Special
The Victoria Pub, Birmingham
The Victoria Pub, Birmingham
Twice in less than a month I have been to poetry events celebrating their first anniversary; the first was Parole Parlate which I have already written about, and the second was Hit The Ode, The Victoria, Birmingham.
All performing poets and writers know that the audience can make or break their performance but audiences can be manipulated. In the good old days of variety or chat shows, the audience was “warmed up” thus making them more eager to see the performers.
A lesser known comedian or more inexperienced performer was commissioned as the “warm up”, and it was their job to whip the audience (not literally) into a frenzy of excitement – or as near as they could get. One or two of you may have heard of Peter Kay ! He started life as the warm up for Sir Michael Parkinson. (Peter compered the re-named Royal Command Performance this month and, I believe, has just topped sales of ten million with his latest DVD – not bad for a one-time warm up man!)
Fortunately, this specific art form has not become extinct and is alive and kicking at Hit the Ode in the form of the MC, Bohdan Piasecki. He is the genial host of the evening who manages to elicit the best of responses through the oddest of requests. Degrees of clapping (or of booing – though very rarely put into effect) and peaks and troughs of laughter carefully orchestrated under the skillful raising and lowering of his hand. Ludicrous it may sound, but it works. Bohdan has the audience in the palm of his hand and then passes them over to the acts for the evening, almost a show in itself.
November’s session started with Shabz Ahmed who had a thought provoking piece about poverty in the twenty first century, which was followed by a poem about the riots earlier this year. Shabz is a great supporter of the Birmingham poetry scene and it was good to hear some of his work. Emma Whelan shared some of her concerns and views on mental health issues with her first poem asking the question “Who isn’t sick in the world? I’m just at another level. ”
Her second piece, “Positive Thinking” was an admitted rant on how mental illness is perceived. Powerful messages sensitively delivered. Sean Colletti, Irish name but an American accent took a nostalgic look at Halloween with his poem “My Father” where his father, through the decoration of an oak tree at Halloween, provided “a snow globe of memories for his son. ” Sean was followed by another open mic performer, Leeanne Stoddart with her “Hero” poem. In truth, this was dedicated to a female – supermomma, amazing daughter, mother, student, friend. In fact, a Shero. Unusual twist on a common theme. The first half open mic-ers finished with Shortman, a very individualistic performer who intrigued the audience with his particular style of delivery.
The highlight of the evening for me personally, was the first guest performer – Matt Harvey. I had not been fortunate enough to see him before and was eagerly awaiting his set; I was not disappointed. Matt hails from Totnes and was also Poet in Residence at Wimbledon, or to give him the official title, the first official Wimbledon Championships Poet. .
He opened with “Works Perks”, a logical view at what he perceived was “owed” to him from his employers for the amount of time and diligence afforded to his employment but not totally covered by wages. A charming and witty piece containing “you take the best years of my life …… [so, I take] a laminator for my wife”.
You can’t fault the logic! “Oh Potato” was commissioned by the Waste and Resources Action Project for its Love Food Hate Waste Campaign and beautifully illustrated the unsung potential of, well, yes, the potato. More pieces flowed effortlessly from this charismatic writer with clever rhyming schemes and witty observations.
His IT poem was musical poetry and a Wimbledon Gig Poem “Thwock” with made up words (lookity, muttery), official commentary and perfectly timed pauses had the audience re-living a Wimbledon final. If you fancy hearing witty language, clever vocabulary, and enjoyable poetry enjoyably delivered, look no further than Matt Harvey.
SHORT LOVE POEM
The second half opened with three more open mic-ers; Elizabeth Charis who under went a name change with explanations in her first piece, and ended with a very short love poem. Gift Nyoni followed with her profound observations of specific people lost within society “we of no name”, and not being accepted as natives yet are the backbone of the economy; “we are the people you refuse to see”. Rehema was the last of the open mic performers, a very pleasant young lady with a sad love poem – “I am the books you won’t read” being one evocative line.
First guest poet of the second half was Irishwoman Catherine Brogan, the international element of the evening – who had flown in from Berlin. Having explained the precarious nature of trying to exist when earning a living as a poet, her opening poem portrayed Jesus as the original gang leader, disciples being slang for gang, certainly a different take on bible stories. A piece on terrorism followed asking the question why does the present generation keep on killing when they could just chill or go fishing. Her final piece, a mini history lesson involving Northern Ireland, was both clever and informative and she received a very good reception from the audience.
The final act of the night, Joe Coglan, had appeared twice at Hit the Ode as an open mic performer and tonight was elevated to guest. A youth worker from Derby, his pieces reflected the work in which he is involved and the part Society plays but for me his poem “Mary’s Secret” about an eight year old girl with an “indestructible smile” took us to places where perhaps we would rather not go. Sometimes, however, we need to be reminded that life is not always rosy. Bullying and child abuse exist and Joe pulled no punches with his poem.
So, Hit the Ode drew to a close and finished its first year. The audience was not as large as usual – probably something to do with late night shopping and the German Christmas Market – but the evening lost none of its enthusiasm for the acts on stage and a good time was had by all. May I wish all spoken word supporters, writers and performers a very Happy Christmas/ Winter Festival or whatever is deemed politically correct, and may Hit the Ode and other events blossom even more in 2012.
John Edgar – Breton Tales After Dark
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
Twelve months ago, I persuaded my reluctant husband to brave a wintry evening with me to see John Edgar tell his Tales of The Ankou at the Arena Theatre, this year, he insisted we go to the follow up event.
The Arena might have been built for John Edgar, large enough to accommodate a good sized audience, but not too large. It gives him just the right size of auditorium for his voice to reach everybody without the need for amplification, and brings audience members close enough for him to interact with individuals, even ad-libbing a few short good natured exchanges, as he prowls the stage.
We listened enthralled, as John began by telling us macabre tales of people who had encountered Les Lavandeires, washerwomen of the night who prepare shrouds for those about to die. The story of the spectacularly monickered Iouennic Bolloc'h in the cathedral on All Hallows’ Eve and the couple who saved his parents from spending eternity as trees by giving food to the poor held our attention up to the interval.
When the macabre spell cast by John was broken by humour, we, having been drawn into a story, sometimes laughed nervously, sometimes chuckled and sometimes laughed aloud. Moreover, this coupling of macabre and mirth continued into the second half, when we heard the tale of generous Laou ar Braz and his encounter with The Ankou after he had slaughtered his largest pig and shared the proceeds with his neighbours. The Ankou and a handsome sea captain also made appearances in the closing tales. So many stories told, so many, we hope, still to tell.
For this one evening, John was ably supported by Billy Spakemon and Lozz who opened each half of the show with a variety of Black Country songs, including Alley Pally Sally and Oldbury mon. They will be appearing at Bilston Voices in January.
On my way out, I overheard two women discussing
their night out. The verdict – “mind blowing”. It must have
been their first time, but I tend to agree. 02-12-11.
Eileen Ward –Birch
THIS was Behind the Arras’s ridiculously belated first visit to The Drum, which is dedicated to developing and promoting contemporary art and culture of British African, Asian and Caribbean communities.
Its ambitions are bold, as it strives to become a centre of national and international renown, yet still stay firmly rooted within its local community, leading and facilitating the development, celebration, performance and exhibition of the diversity of Black arts and cultures for the benefit of all.
It is a place where contemporary Black arts flourish and are enjoyed, nurturing and broadening the appreciation of these arts for audiences and participants from the whole community – Black and White.
It aims to support the development of contemporary Black artistic practice and involve people from every section of the community in cultural activities that educate, inform, entertain, challenge and delight them. When the evening drew to a close I think that Word Up met those objectives.
Led by the charismatic Keisha C and Cassandra, the evening majored with black artists, though not exclusively, who were predominantly young, and combined straight poetry, drama, beat box, hip hop, and some songs sung to backing tracks.
Played on a modest (but higher than you might expect) stage, there is a good PA system which is needed in the cavernous surroundings of the foyer and licensed cafe area.
Jon Morley is heavily involved in the Drum and he joined Wole Soyinka to perform extracts from Death and the Kings Horseman. The Drum’s new in-house production is a youth music theatre adaptation of this classic of modern African theatre, set in Nigeria during World War II.
“The King has died, and tonight a sacrificial victim must escort him to the spirit world. As Chief Elesin Oba dances through the market, pursued by an entourage of adoring women, he promises to honour the ancient Yoruba custom of ritual suicide and accompany his ruler on the final journey. Will Elesin do his duty and prevent the world from tumbling into catastrophe? Or will meddling colonial officials precipitate the downfall of his race?”
It was a strong reading, powerfully brought to life by Jon and Wole, the full performances take place on Dec 8th/9th/10th at the Drum.
The other star turn was Mstr Morrison, whose poetic career continues to flourish. Graveyard Shift is a live staple of his, telling the down-market, downbeat, tale of Jasmine and her life in a brothel. A young man, he speaks with the wisdom, and sometimes world-weariness, of someone far older, and with a humanity that always enthralls.
His latest poem, provisionally titled Real Life Heroes, represented another step in his writing evolution as he juxtaposed popular heroes, the sporting ones of whom will come to the fore next year during the Olympics and European Football Championships, with the everyday, unsung heroes of day to day life.
Bambino’s Freestyle Beatbox, Anita’s singing and Kanski’s rap impressed, as did the spoken word offerings of Jade Richards, Shabz Ahmed and Christian. The “Shake the Dust” Youth Poetry Slam is taking place at the Drum on Tuesday 6th December. 01-12-11
Metro Cafe, Bilston
THERE is no doubt that a good laugh creates a pleasant atmosphere and at Bilston Voices regulars like a ‘gudloff’, which is probably why there is usually such a good atmosphere. The latest line up of poets and storytellers gathered together by our regular lively MC, Emma Purshouse, more than lived up to the Café Metro’s reputation.
Ron Davies started the proceedings by telling us about his childhood visits to the cinema and being a child in wartime. We tittered along as he related tales of the goings on in the back row and how lads his age would pretend to be the latest cinema hero, in his case Charles Boyer, complete with home dyed beret and an attempt at a French accent to impress the local girls.
After Ron, wegiggled along with Jill Tromans as she recited one of her Christmas poems and told us about catching up with an old boyfriend via Friends Reunited and we continued to chuckle through a short story. The story, about a man who was pleased about his wife leaving him, drew us all in, waiting for the punch line, which came just right – as she roused him out of his dream.
Last on before the break and a last minute stand in, Gary Longden had us chuckling with his poems. We had one called Café Blend, which was nothing like Café Metro. This was followed by a piece about pre-decimal coins and another about Aston Hall by candlelight.
We also heard about Gary’s chagrin at reading that some of his favourite words were to be removed from the dictionary due to lack of usage.
After the interval, Brendan Hawthorne, who really should be crowned Wednesbury Poet Laureate, had us laughing to his poems about a childhood tank top knitted by his mother, having a perm as a teenager and going to a party.
Gary Longden stood in as a living ventriloquists dummy for Brendan’s evergreen, ever funny, poem about an entertainer about to go into retirement. He finished with his Sot Nev, the Sandwell version of Satnav. All in a fine Wednesbury accent. We chuckled on.
Lastly, the storyteller, John Edgar was in fine form adding his own unique twist to his Breton folk tales, a little taste of his show scheduled for the Arena Theatre a few days later. This might seem a dark subject to tackle after all that laughter, but John soon had us guffawing as he added his own twist to story after story of life after dark in Brittany when death walks the land and only the brave dare confront him.
It’s not just the words that make John funny, it’s the all action performance, as he goes through a series of gestures to match each story. Anybody who hasn’t seen John Edgar has missed a treat.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton Upon Trent
The last in this year’s series of Spoken Worlds went out on a high tonight with a guest poet, a luxury not normally indulged in, Ash Dickinson playing to a full house.
It was a fitting climax to a year of hard work by organiser Gary Carr who has successfully moved venues during the year, losing few, and adding several to his core audience.
These are the unsung heroes of the regional poetry circuit, blagging rooms, providing PA systems, preparing, producing and distributing promotional material, and constantly having to nurture attendances, cosseting their existing audience, while winning new ones – all on pretty much no money.
Gary opened proceedings by remembering the recently deceased poet Peter Reading who died on 17th November. Reading was an English poet and the author of 26 collections of poetry, known for his choice of ugly subject matter, and use of classical metre.
The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry describes his verse as "strongly anti-romantic, disenchanted and usually satirical". ] Interviewed by Robert Potts, reading described his own work as a combination of "painstaking care" and "misanthropy". It was an inspired gesture by Gary to read three Reading compositions in tribute.
Ash Dickinson himself was excellent. Friendly, unassuming, playing in low-key surroundings for him, he gave 100% in a charismatic, humorous and self –effacing performance. He started by telling us that he was going to combine stand-up, theatre and rap mash-up as the thinking man’s Axel Rose, and he was true to his word. The best performance poets transcend genres and are simply good in their own right, that is Dickinson’s forte.
Two poems, including Chiller Queen amused about the domestic fridge, and he railed about Facebook – despite having no less than three Facebook pages himself! The smell of love was explored with the memorable idea that “beauty is in the nose of the beholder, whilst Temping and abandoned mountain bikes were topics for fine forays into social commentary on the absurdities of occasional work and youth unemployment respectively.
Two poems stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. The first was a witty, but coruscating and affectionate tirade against he excesses of modern day football, a subject incredibly difficult t handle well, but which Ash made look easy.
The second was the very clever Your Stand In, a very sharp take on a clever idea – what it would be like to have our own stand-in / body double. Whilst much of his material was funny and entertaining, this had a dangerous edge to it elevating it as his most satisfying piece of the evening.
As always, a varied and eclectic band of open micers strutted their stuff. In random observation, Ian Ward delivered an accomplished tetractys The Gift and debutante Tom Wyre impressed with Phantasmagorical ( I bet he has some Curved Air albums at home) containing some strong rhyming patterns, but needing just a little editing.
Tony Keeton shocked, and delighted, by reading from some newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls (found at a car boot sale), and Rob Stevens evoked mass nostalgia by remembering Oliver Postgate, creator of numerous childrens stories including Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood and Noggin the Nog.
The Old Cottage Tavern plays host to a comedy verse night on Fri 9th Dec, Spoken Worlds reconvenes on Fri 27/1, Buxton Word Wizzards meets at the Grove Hotel Buxton on 27/12, all at 7. 30pm.
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
Another full house turned out to see a contrasting headlining duo tonight. Joseph Horgan hails from Cork now, but grew up in Bordesley, whilst Bobby Parker is a veteran of the mean streets of Kidderminster.
A failing voice meant that regular hostess Jacqui Rowe called upon the services of David Calcutt to effect most of the introductions. David’s deputising efficiency and brevity was invaluable as he marshalled a long list of floor readers.
Joseph Horgan closed the first half of the evening reading extensively from his current collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea. Typically his poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland. Curiously few poems were about Cork, instead favouring a broader look at displacement, and what it means.
The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present, was another source of dislocation, and found expression in his city poems, Sound Matter, and Asbestos Dreams with its beautiful image of the “lullaby of the furnace”. Joe skilfully acts as an observer on both a Birmingham shaped by Imperial migration, and an Ireland shaped by economic migration. His observation that the more that societies reach out, the more they contract in their perception of what their core identity is, was a point very shrewdly observed. That cerebral dimension touched all of his writing.
Bobby Parker closed the evening promoting his new collection Digging for Toys. Bobby is fond of quoting Richard Brautigan: “Finding is losing something else. I think about, perhaps even mourn, what I lost to find this, ” and that sense of personal discovery is very evident in his writing as he moves from a single life, through marriage to parenthood.
His strength is his insistence on seeing everything around him as being interesting, apart from himself, “Why can’t I be different and unusual like everyone else”. Isobel 6am was a touching tribute to his newborn daughter, Nightlife a witty surreal study in furniture and appliances moving of their own accord at night time. Bobby revealed that his wife complained he slept too much, his response? “ I (do) sleep too much, but she does not know what it is like to collect dreams. ”
The floor readers were numerous. A wholly capricious flavour is as follows; Ruth Stacey put the erotic back into modern day fairy tales with her tale of a voracious bear, Janet Smith took us tantalisingly to The Edge, Chris Wayne made a strong, if frenetic debut, Adele Faulkner brought teenage motherhood viscerally alive, and Mal Dewhirst took us mischievously to Cork! My favourite line of the night however came from Mary Shear's poem, Kink, " We've a safe word- and it isn't no. "
A Poetry Bites special appears on 6th
December in aid of Amnesty International. Matt Merritt headlines the
next regular event on 24/1, remaining 2012 dates are 27/3, 22/5,
24/7, 25/9 and 27/11. Matt Merritt is a wildlife journalist and
historian, both of which colour his poetry, his current collection,
available through Nine Arches press is the snappily titled,
Worcestershire Poet and Blogger Ruth Stacey was also at the event
A view from the back of the stanza. . .
I have wanted to go to Poetry Bites for a long time but it clashes with my daughter's gymnastics class. During the week Bobby Parker put out a call for a lift on facebook to get there and it seemed like the perfect chance to go. Gymnastics not quite as important as enabling a poet to read his poetry out loud to an audience!
Then I thought if I am driving I may as well fill my
car up with a collection of excellent poets. So I messaged Chris Guidon
and his beautiful, talented fiance Emma (she paints amazing pictures)
and invited them to come.
Anyway we got there, on time as well. So what was the poetry like? Well this is just an impression of the night, not a review of every single poet, just the ones that really stood out to me, and rely on my slightly faulty memory.
Chris Wayne performed a powerful poem about the tricks and lies of the media which was excellent, Pat Coyle read two poems about a willow and a rowan tree which I enjoyed as I love tree imagery and I liked the pagan symbols about the trees that were layered into her poems. David Calcutt read two beautiful poems, his poetry is so carefully constructed that it makes strong, vivid pictures in my head as he reads them.
Chris Guidon read three excellent poems, I really
like the way he writes and I like the way he reads them to the audience,
quite mesmerising. One of the poems opened with the lines,
The Long Gallery poem was clever too, very well
observed and a good connection (the image of the walk along the gallery
) to the final poem which was softer, introspective and had a stong
central image, things appearing different under the surface, of the
layers of grime hiding the oak walls and the last line was so strong.
He had everyone in the audience hanging off every
word. His poems were short and I liked that, it takes skill to be
succinct and convey so much. He read a poem about watching his sisters
washing their hair in the sink, chatting and gossiping, full of life and
the hair seemed to me to symbolise innocence, childhood happiness and it
ended with the sisters moving out and cutting their hair short. It was
one of the best poems I have heard this year, I loved it. It was a
pleasure to hear him read.
His poem about his feelings of fear before his wedding called 'HG Well's' was a typical example of his skill. Surreal, humorous on one level, it has layers below that explored his relationship with his girlfriend, family and the conventions of marriage. It was excellent. I also thought his poem about his love for his daughter was extremely clever. To write about his baby smelling of piss may seem horrible but in the skilful hands of the poet Bobby Parker it is an expression of deep and pure love that doesn't need sentiment or pretty similes. He writes poetry that has the ring of truth about it and that is very talented indeed.
Black Country Dialectics
“It wus wuna them dank November arternoons that’s dusk frum early on an maerges slowly into noight well afore the official toime gid fer sunset. A crowd was in an upstairs room of Bilston library fer a loff an loff they did. Raed on …”
It was one of those dank November afternoons that seems to be dusk from early on and merges slowly into dark well before the official time given for sunset. Quite a crowd had gathered in an upstairs room of Bilston library to be entertained for an hour and entertained they were.
In the presence of some of Bilston’s most proficient Black Country speakers, Dave Reeves was promoting his book Black Country Dialectics (Offa’s Press) by reading and performing several pieces from the book and the CD that accompanies it.
With Chris Lomas on guitar providing suitable background music where it was needed we heard about Cowboys with Black Country accents drinking mild beer and wanting scratchings, bare knuckle fighters in barrels and the notorious Tipton Slasher. For an hour we were taken back to the days when the area really had separate dialects.
Heather Wastie, who seems to have an endless supply of characters, gave us the women’s voices in her usual quietly impeccable style. This woman must surely be heir to the traditions of Joyce Grenfell?
I think I can say that all present had a good afternoon at this little ‘indulgence’. It wus bostin. 09-11-11
Little Venice, Worcester
PAROLE Parlate continues to be one of the most popular monthly poetry and spoken word events in Worcester.
Organised by Lisa Ventura, Worcestershire Literary Festival Director and her team, and held at the Italian restaurant, Little Venice, there are now many regular performers and usually a special headline act.
Although classed as “an open mic” event it is unlikely that you will get a spot if you just hopefully turn up on the night. Such is the demand by poets and writers to perform that usually places are filled at least a month in advance! November was the first anniversary of Parole Parlate and it looks set to have many more.
The evening opened with Nicola Callow, a feisty young woman who immediately silenced the audience with her Murder in the Vicarage, a tale of how the ladies of the WI take their competitions so seriously that the unluckiest member is the competition winner. This was followed by Something in the City which vividly contrasted the good life of a city gent in the West with a mother in an arid land losing her child to malnutrition.
Bury me with Style was a whimsical look at funeral arrangements while Hey You, Cock in a Car, demanded a certain amount of audience participation. A rousing start to the night.
Lyndsay Stanberry-Flynn had set herself an exercise to write a story in 100 words. This resulted in Footsteps, a chilling tale perfectly in keeping with Halloween events earlier in the week. She followed with It’s only a Tree, a fairly uncomplicated discussion between husband and wife which emphasised how they had drifted apart during their marriage.
The Sound of Screaming was a rather uncomfortable account of the violence and brutality which can happen in one’s own home when the door is opened to a stranger, and Lyndsay’s rather thought provoking set was completed with In a Heartbeat – something to make everybody think twice about having a pacemaker fitted.
Regular John Lawrence, introduced himself with Now, a poem about rediscovery following a death, poignant and quite beautiful as it turned out. He was swiftly back into the John Lawrence who engages and delights with Forest; trees with human names in a forest of his own making and what they may or may not get up to.
How Truth Can Hurt a Fish was an amusing little ditty, Lament of a Zanussi Luminary an education in just how much wisdom and insight your average electrical engineer can convey in a single call-out, and a grand finale of Super Hero left us uplifted. Unfortunately, for Parole Parlate, John intends to concentrate on his next book for the foreseeable future.
Bobby Parker brought us into the troubled world of those suffering from depression with his opening poem Zoloft. This was followed by We Pray, Honest to Go, No Screaming While the Bus is in Motion and Pig Head. An intense performance.
Andrew Owens lightened the mood with Last Bout yes, you’ve guessed, a story, or should I say a piece of prose, about a boxer fighting his last bout. The whys and what ifs permeated the narrative and kept us guessing until the end as to the outcome. With a couple of boxers appearing at Parole Parlate in their secondary roles as poets from time to time, the poetry would be the wisest option to take having listened to this tale. An interesting close to the first half.
A South African lady I have not seen before, Eugina Herlihy, opened the second half with What is this Wave, her personal take on the recession and all its trials and tribulations and how, in the end, the answer will come from the King of Kings. Not surprisingly, her second poem was a tribute to Nelson Mandela and she ended with Olympics 2012 where she encouraged Great Britain to be again the great nation it was: “we can do this, build high walls of unity”.
A total newcomer to Parole Parlate and poetry was Chris Kingsley. Unusually for this event, a performer was unable to attend and Chris, with a little help from yours truly, was coerced into performing. A very confident performance got off to a topical and political start with George, a poem seeking the answers as to why Greek people were going to be offered a referendum.
Light and amusing whilst nudging at more serious issues, the audience warmed to this new poet. The Watcher changed the mood totally when a “do-er” becomes a “watcher” on a silent hillside and a “brain that counted money away” is “now in awe of the tranquil scene” before him. Pleasing and well received hopefully, we will see Chris again.
Michelle Crosbie, poised and looking totally at home, opened her set with Mapping Change, a thought provoking piece on a graduate’s UCAS statement. Insisting that “I don’t believe uni is for me”, the student in question decides that they would be a failure at uni and that they will map out their own life.
Love’s Barren Days was a sensitive venture into past love “where the clock doesn’t tick”.
MAKING HER MARK
Time Passing By proved to be an evocative piece inspired by Laugharne in Wales and, like the description of the water, the metre flowed and gurgled. A “chocolate lake” contrasting beautifully with “blue velvet waters” as “nature’s clock ticks time passing by”. Michelle is definitely making her mark.
Young Bard of Worcestershire runner-up Beth “Knuckles” Edwards was the penultimate act. Her fast paced performance spurred on by the fact that her English teacher was in the audience. Legacy was delivered in her usual assertive style and as she ended on “Art is my saviour.
Words are my weapons” her teacher shouted out “A+”. Scars followed which was Beth’s version of the recent rioting. For one so young and not wishing to be patronising, her line “my kids will be martyrs not murderers” seemed a fitting end to this piece. A victim of insomnia, Until We Meet Again was a plea for sleep, something I’m sure with which many of us could identify. The Pleasures of Grammar is an old favourite and I am the Dealer is a carefully observed poem about success, spirit and passion as opposed to drugs.
Headlining was Scott Tyrell, a pleasant and unassuming young man. Pushed into an open mic slot by a friend a few years ago, Scott was winner of the European Capital of Culture Slam in 2002, Manchester Comedy Balloon Comedian of the Year in 2003 and Belfast Inter-City Slam champion in 2004 and 2005.
With pieces in several anthologies and even more titles and credits to his name, I was looking forward his spot and I was not disappointed. He connected with the audience immediately and explained that he had lost his South Shields accent attending York University then went on to tell the history behind the Angel of the North.
Originally thought to be a complete waste of money “go make your arty farty sculpture elsewhere” it was finally accepted by the people “Aye, go on then, you can stay”. Several trite observations, dubious facts and several laughs were encountered throughout this delightful piece. I was surprised and pleased to have If You Go Down to the Woods Today dedicated to me having seen it on YouTube and requested it, and it went down a storm.
Not quite the fairy stories which the Brothers Grimm intended but I am sure they would have laughed loudly had they been there.
Mistaken was a moving piece taking us through a chance meeting with someone he once knew. She did not appear to recognise him but he was unsure as to whether it was a genuine non-recollection or the fact that he had never been important enough to recall anyway. A sad piece interpreted in a common sense way with, in my opinion, the lady in question being the loser. Explaining that he often ran for charity and had done the Great North Run, he took us through his mind set for such an event, the people, costumes, scenery and sense of purpose and commitment. I’m wearing my trainers at all times now.
His final piece, Coitus Interruptus, left us as he had started – laughing, and I can’t give better praise than that. The saga of trying to cement a sexual relationship as well as a personal one, with the lady of his dreams when a young child may well have been within earshot, was problematic. The line “alert as squirrels” may indicate that one hundred percent attention was not being given to the specific task. An extremely funny and witty end to a thoroughly enjoyable performance. I hope to see him at Parole Parlate again.
And so the first anniversary celebrations came to an end. Parole Parlate has brought a new energy to poetry in Worcester and long may it continue. New poets have emerged, existing poets have gained experience and confidence and audiences have been exposed to professional poets from several regions of the UK thanks to the Worcestershire Literary Festival and Apples and Snakes’ Bohdan Piasecki, Programme Co-ordinator for the West Midlands. Little Venice is an intimate and friendly venue for these evenings (first Thursday of every month except December 2011) with food and drink available.
Parole Parlate returns again on January 5th with:
and, headlining, The Decadent Poetry Divas (which includes me!)
Happy Christmas to you all and I look forward to
meeting up with you in the New Year. 03-11-11
This was the last event in the 2011 season for Fizz, and featured the second live performance of the Cork Poets on tour, with a radio appearance still to come.
The move from the Refectory to the Tithe Barn was a success with the more intimate and comfortable surroundings accommodating a good turn -out, and was a credit to organisers Mal Dewhirst and Antony R Owen. The presence of several newcomers to Fizz was particularly welcome both in welcoming the guests and in providing some new voices to the second half open mic section.
Following their Coventry appearance, the Cork Poets read fresh material, with Afric McGinchley opening up the evening in very strong style.
She introduced us to the Zimbabwe Tokoloshe. Zimbabwe's Tokoloshe is large, covered in fur with long talons and a bony spine reaching all the way down its back, from the top of its skull, with glowing red eyes and emits a foul stench, speaking in a rasping voice.
Fear of them is such that many people will not sleep on the floor, and will raise their beds higher by placing bricks underneath the legs. This enables them to see one hiding underneath the bed before they retire for the night. There's a good reason to fear a Tokoloshe - it is claimed they will climb into the bed with the inhabitant and bite off a sleeping man's toes and have their wicked, Tokoloshe way, with the women.
Some people will not even mention the name Tokoloshe for fear of summoning this extremely unwelcome guest. A person can summon one to inflict harm upon another, and if this happens then a Nyanga - witchdoctor - may intervene and chase the evil being away. Only the victim and the culprit dealing with it can see a Tokoloshe, apart from children.
So when the farm workers on Afric's farm downed tools because of the presence of a Tokoloshe, this was bad news both for the collection of the harvest and the well being of the farm workers, time to call in the Nyanga to resolve the situation, and for Afric to write Exorcism about the incident. Raw material does not get much better than that. The poem was fabulous.
What impressed me most about her was the versatility of her writing. The emotion of her poem to her son leaving home captivated the room, complete with plaintive cry to “ grab the tender moments”, Yes a stream of consciousness poem about a young virgin’s first sexual encounter was erotic and compelling, while Fish Paste and Star Jumps was the most innovative poem about being stuck in a traffic jam I have heard for a long time.
Com Scully has mastered the art of dry wit and humour, always eschewing a belly laugh in favour of a wry smile. The Schism of Antioch was a great title which he chose to develop independent of the facts, no matter, it was impressive and fun.
He told of when he was nearly undone by a Professor of near east history of the first millennium, but successfully blagged his way through, no doubt resulting in a frantic search by the academic for this fresh source material, a search that will be forever doomed! Sceilig Mhichíl, is a steep rocky island, one of a pair, in the Atlantic some nine miles from the coast of County Kerry.
It is home to a monastery founded in the 7th century in which the monks lived in stone 'beehive' huts, clochans, perched above near vertical cliff walls. As such it was rich and evocative ground for Return to Red Abbey to explore. Two poems inspired by his daughters, Isabel and Middle Age, revealed Colm’s soft side, but the most striking poem for me was his last, God’s Footballer, which marvelously conjured memories of childhood sporting endeavour.
Jennifer Mathews works in concise, understated forms. Some poets wring the maximum out of their inspiration, Jennifer does just enough, making each word work hard, and she knows a rich image when she spots one. After two weather poems she read Firsts, which explores unsuitable youthful infatuation inspired by spotting an initially striking young man sitting on some steps, who then revealed himself as a ravaged drug addict. So although, ” Thin and tall as a long wicked flame, he is white hot—white everything, ” he then morphs when, “ he opens his mouth— a missing tooth, others rotting at their bases. I feel them curl in their little deaths. ” Anyone who has lived in more than one country tends to be sharp in spotting local foibles and idiosyncrasies. Jennifer did just that in A Taste of More a playful and affectionate twist on the English phrase “moreish”.
The open- mic half gave the Cork Poets an opportunity to both relax and appreciate the work of others, and numerous poets were on top form. I shall pick out just two poems which edged above a very strong field, Antony R Owen’s Mother Russia, and Gary Carr’s Fish. And so, for a night, the spirit of O Bheal in Winthrop St, Cork, lived in Polesworth.
We live in a time of international financial
uncertainty, self interest and mistrust. Over a pre-poetry pint I mused
with our visitors about the connection which most poets instinctively
recognise when in poetic company. Perhaps it is the poetic quest to ask
questions, whilst respecting and welcoming differences which is part of
that bond? The value of the Cork/Coventry Poets exchange unquestionably
strengthens that desire to celebrate what we share and demands to be
nurtured and grown. 3-11-11
The Cork Poets
Night Blue Fruit, Coventry
A strengthening artistic bond between Coventry and Cork was reinforced tonight with the latest exchange visit between the two cities, which this time brought Colm Scully, Jennifer Mathews and Afric McGlinchey across the water.
An unexpected bonus of the evening was the American and African heritage which Jennifer and Afric respectively, brought with their writing, in addition to the Cork/ Irish nexus. All three poets had impressive literary credentials, but as Afric later opined, it is better to let the poetry itself do the talking – which is exactly which they did, in some style.
Colm Scully playfully boasted that he had the only authentic Cork accent, but his poetry was far from parochial. The satire Ode to Capitalism in an era of global financial crisis was safe opening territory, before he switched from macro-economics to the personal imagined life story of a 103 year old lady who had recently died- and then moved to an unlikely fascination with hats. Colm is a chemical engineer by profession, and that discipline was evident in his meticulous and fond description of the manufacture of millinery. Origins of Superlatives was witty, my favourite from his reading was The Minarets at Little Island a fine evocative industrial landscape piece.
Jennifer Mathews is a recently naturalised Irish citizen of Missouri, USA, descent. A reverse of the emigration trends of the past two centuries. After opening with Scavenger Hunt, a reprise of the theme of the collapse of global capitalism, she then ventured into the less well known excesses of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas with Protesting the Tornado a piece whose power transcended the physical phenomena it described, as did Severance. Panda took us on an unexpected, and delightful trip to China before she explored, tongue firmly in cheek, on how a woman is supposed to keep her man. Jennifer’s easy manner was equally at home with the more profound opening section as it was with the lighter closing pieces.
The last of the Cork trio to perform was Afric McGlinchey who defied the demands of a long day to produce a sparkling set. Red Letter Day was a poignant paean to the suicide of three immigrants in Glasgow, executed by jumping from the top of a tower block, Red Shoes a wonderful piece of whimsy about a girl’s best friend. On Hold offered the sharply observed tale of some males preference to withdraw when the going gets tough in a relationship, and scored with every line. Her cautionary advice to neither lie to a partner, nor tell him the whole truth either, had an air of veritas about it, whilst Migration, about her time in Zimbabwe, was lyrical and beautiful.
Antony R Owen hosted in his usual relaxed, but authoritative style with Mal Dewhirst remembering his time in Cork with three poems in tribute to his time as guests of the Cork Poets. Writing in detail about someone else’s home town is always high risk with cursory familiarity vulnerable to error and misinterpretation. It is a tribute to Mal’s writing, and attention to detail, that neither flaw was apparent, indeed the natives Poets as one reflected that it was about time that they got around to writing about home turf themselves!
The Cork Poets appear at Fizz 10, Polesworth on
Thursday 3rd November at the Tythe Barn, Polesworth,
7. 30pm, free admission. 1-11-11
Hit the Ode
Victoria Pub, Birmingham
Organiser Bohdan Piesecki is a glutton for punishment. Not content with organising a seven nation dice slam a couple of weeks ago, he still found time to put on the regular monthly Hit the Ode.
As usual, it did not disappoint. Bohdan’s pursuit of international stars is relentless and tonight we had Dizzylez from France who delivered a set “au poil”.
Speaking in French and English, and utilising a loop and wooden beat-box (for train sound effects), he delighted, teased and entertained in an entertaining, multi-media presentation sometimes with translation on screen, sometimes without.
His hip hop fascination was obvious (le Slam) as was his interest in call and response with Sur le Pont. Tonight he performed without musical accompaniment from his frequent on stage partner Skuba, but his energetic performance was never short of interest.
Pret de la mere stood out, cleverly using the loop for an atmospheric sonic background of waves ebbing and flowing to underscore his vocal, reminiscent of the Roxy Music song Sea Breezes from their eponymous debut album. Bryan Ferry ( and particularly Brian Eno) would have liked it. My favourite was Today we are Free, an Orwellian satire with a pan European appeal, as our continent slides from rampant consumerism into the financial abyss.
Tshaka Campbell was second on the bill for an impressive, yet slightly frustrating performance. His roots span London, New York and Los Angeles and his poetry draws from all three locations. Commanding, charismatic, authoritative and lyrically dexterous, he had everything going for him.
The problem for me was that the material he chose, fine in its own right, somehow didn’t quite hang together. The third part of a relationship trilogy set in the Bronx epitomised this, I felt that I was being offered a snapshot, when I wanted a film. A battle of the sexes pairing was also uneven, Love Hard for women was strong, You Gotta Know My Name, for men, surprisingly less so.
Brimful of energy and ideas it would be interesting to see Tshaka performing a full set in which he had time to breathe and establish his groove.
Third on the headline bill were Type S, a newly formed Brum Supergroup of rising young talent comprising Matt Windle, MstrMorrrison and Jody Ann Bickley. Matt has been around performing for so long, and has achieved so much, that it is easy to forget how young he is.
Opening up, he offered the assuredness of a pro with I Predict A Riot, a thoughtful youthful take on the summer disturbances, far removed from the braggadocio of the Kaiser Chiefs song of the same title. MstrMorrison is developing into a substantial artist with his opus April’s Eyes showcasing his talent. Although a performance piece, the more I hear it, the more I am struck by its depth with Springsteenesque explorations of struggle and redemption. Sometimes the rightful precociousness of youth can cause performers to over reach themselves in the subjects they tackle. His understated style make his words and story even more compelling.
MstrMorrison is now on the cusp of being able to be more ambitious in the material he attempts as his core craft is so strong, watch out as he does so.
Jody Ann Bickley took to the stage for an emotional appearance, made as she only just starts her recovery from a debilitating illness.
She is a fantastic voice with a maturity of observation way beyond her years. Her reflections on a lost love, and how she might see things in the future was poignant, her vision of what everlasting love might look like for a couple in their dotage wistful, elegiac and a delight. All the Brum poetic community offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Jody Ann.
And so to the undercard, which was probably the strongest I have seen at Hit the Ode and featured numerous HTO debutantes. The ever reliable Heather Wastie was given the onerous responsibility of opening the evening, and proved a safe pair of hands with the topical Halloween Nightmare and tales of black country butcher bloodletting sufficient to prompt mass vegetarianism.
Newcomer Chris Ewing’s staccato style of delivery was confusing, Suz Winspear’s was not. Dressed resplendent in Gothic garb, Suz teased and entertained in A Seduction is Attempted - with an Ostend transvestite, and Dear Bridget, a study on how to commit a murder. Showy, fun, amusing and clever, a bit of an object lesson in how to do this performance stuff really!
SASSY AND HIP
SASSY AND HIP
Jess Green’s style and Jody Ann’s are quite similar, confident, sassy and hip, she rattled through Beyond the Kettle and Scratchwood Green in some style. My appreciation of her first poem was enhanced by my having misheard the first title, inexplicably, as Bamburgh Castle.
This resulted in my mind racing into overdrive as I sought to find a link between the words and title – which didn’t exist! Her explanation, and apology, in the latter poem that she only knows the lyrics to Queens Don’t Stop Me Now as a result of forced indoctrination by a friend’s mother, marked her out as a performer of taste and discernment.
Nathan Williams, who has a remarkable likeness to Simon Bird in “The Inbetweeners, ” opened the second half in bold style. A View from the Dock was good, but the judge would have requested greater brevity. Fresh back on the Brum poetry scene after her stay in Syria, Elisabeth Charis lay down a distinctive and impressive marker of poetic intent, her extended piece on the sexualisation of young girls, and ill-judged female aspiration, was in the best feminist traditions, but inclusive with it, carrying everyone with her in a fine piece.
Ronnie Dawsey has a catalogue stretching back fifty of her seventy years. Wisely, she eschewed tales of the good old days in favour of Randomness and Without a Door a bawdy and humorous tale which went down well. Amy Rainbow, fresh from her triumph at the Malvern Slam, closed the open mic section in barnstorming style. She combines a reserved, controlled presence, more usually associated with the High Table at a Dons dinner, with an acid tongue more commonly associated with the ladies toilets in a nightclub at 2am. Taunting suitors, rejecting marriage proposals, and demanding commitment is all in a day’s work for Amy, great fun.
Hit the Ode returns on 24/11 with Matt Harvey,
broadcaster host of Wondermentalist, and toast of the broadsheets,
headlining. He is joined by the feisty, sassy and flamboyant Catherine
Brogan from Ireland in what is sure to be a brilliant night- arrive
Western Pub, Leicester
This was the last Shindig of 2011, and served as a launch for Hearing Voices Vol 4, the house magazine of co-promoters Crystal Clear Creators.
I have had the pleasure of attending each event this year and it goes from strength to strength. Very well attended, it is defined by the quality of the floor readers as much as the headliners.
Normally the floor readers are in awe of the headliners, here the headliners exchange anxious glances as the rest perform! The standard is further enhanced by the device of a two minute curfew for the floor, which was uniformly and courteously observed. This has the effect of ratcheting up the standard still higher, as hugely talented individuals offer up only their best work.
It is rare indeed for performers to eschew the need to offer translations of Latin, yet instead to worry as to whether others will correct their Latin pronunciation. At Shindig that is the way it is. This unashamed pitch at excellence works well, bringing out the best in everyone. For it is about excellence, not elitism, with young students and the less experienced encouraged and welcomed.
The first half was promoted by Nine Arches Press with Matt Nunn overseeing proceedings. First headliner was Mal Dewhirst, of Polesworth Poets and Fizz fame, who covered much poetic ground in his set.
He name-checked the Pitmen Poets, and Alfred Williams - the Hammerman (Railway) poet, whilst sharing with us an innovative layer poem based around an archaeological dig which can be discovered, and read, different ways depending upon which layer you approach it from- innovative stuff. Mal has a strong sense of place in his work which physically manifests itself in the Polesworth Poetry Trail in which he has been so dynamically involved and from which he read Kites.
Closing the first half was Nine Arches press Editor Jane Commane who clearly relished the chance to perform her own work for a change rather than sorting out the work of others. She has a pleasing light touch with her poetry of the everyday, whether it be music, road by-pass protestors or gasbagging.
The second half was lead by Crystal Clear Creators impresario Jonathon Taylor who also performed a poem of his own, Neutron Star, which I found quite profound. His first headliner was Charles Lauder Jnr, from San Antonio, Texas by birth, but now resident in Leicestershire by choice. I enjoyed him very much. His languid drawl from the Deep South complimented his writing perfectly.
He also offered my favourite poem of the evening about the Stone Circles of Keswick, and the legend that they are wizards turned to stone for some transgression by the gods. Whether it was the simple pleasures of Coffee, or the more demanding task of Finding Time about Einstein’s Theory of relativity, Charles was a stimulating and entertaining reader.
The closing headliner was Wayne Burrows, a distinguished literary figure ; editor, reviewer, poet and lecturer. In addition to bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mani, of Primal Scream and Stone Roses fame, he was also brimful with ideas.
The music connection must have influenced him subliminally, for he visited translations of 1960’s pop songs performed by young Czech and Polish girls even though he speaks no Czech or Polish. . . . . . . . . . Great fun, and very entertaining. I have never thought of doing a poetic sequence on Apples, but Wayne has, which was lyrical and pastoral, his sonnet sequence on impending economic doom was atmospheric and portentous.
Doing justice to the floor readers for the night would be impossible, such were the riches on offer, so I shall not attempt it. Instead I give mention to two performances which delighted me. Mark Goodwin’s poetic account of climbing Cader Idris with his two year old daughter on his back, and the balance that was required to execute the task, was as beautiful and breathtaking as the views there. Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s two poems from The Ladies of Harris’s List, an 18th century guide to whores, evoked a wonderful sense of time and place, as well as being exquisitely written.
Shindig will be unwrapping its presents in December
so next meets on Mon 30th Jan, 2012. Hearing Voices Vol 4 is
available from Crystal Clear Creators, and myself. 24-10-11
Third Malvern Annual Slam
Malvern Youth Centre
IT WAS fitting that Behind the Arras should make the effort to attend this Slam as the Youth Centre has closure hanging over it, to be determined on the 24th November, further evidence of the corrosive effect these harsh economic times are having on community facilities and the Arts.
A full house turned out to support organisers Dee and Caitlin for a night of poetry boasting a particularly high standard. The convivial bonhomie in the bar beforehand was reflected in the competition after, one of respect and good humour.
Thirteen poets did battle over three rounds with Dee and Caitlin oiling the wheels, and offering a few poetic bon mots as well An intriguing aspect of this slam was the diversity of performer, and performance, with unusually, the majority having notes as a prompt.
Many Slams feature performers who eschew notebooks, sheets of paper or, (if you are lucky) a copy of a book of their printed work. I am never quite sure why. Poets are poets, not actors, and there is no requirement to have learned everything by heart, even though the freedom of movement and enhanced eye contact which a recited poem affords is undeniable.
The opening round didn’t have a dud in it, but Bill Thomas, Lydia Davis, Sarah Tamar, Ally Oxterby, Catherine Crosswell and Jezz were cruelly axed by the heartless judge as the competition requires. Sarah Tamar performed a defiant, overtly political piece Thatcher’s Legacy, and Catherine Crosswell, one of my favourite poets, spoke of baking cakes in a way that only Catherine can. Bill Thomas, a secondary school teacher ruminated on Kitchen Appliances whilst Jezz opted for a brilliant discourse on the problems of being a Rural MC, and the struggles that Snoop Doggy Dogg never has to face – like sheep.
Audience participation was a prominent feature at this Slam with no fewer than three of the six semi finalists using the device. Heather Wastie’s Halloween Nightmare chorus worked the best in the first round and was seasonally timeous. The nursery rhyme innocence, intertwined with malevolent intent, is a winner. Tim Cranmore disarmed us in the first round with a pastoral piece about the river Severn. Then cut loose with the Armageddon laden Where is God in the second round complete with ensemble requiring chorus. Tim is a compelling, powerful performer, and he delivered this piece with a zeal that Judge John Hathorne from Salem would have been proud of. I liked it.
Girolamo Savonarola (21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican Friar, Scholar and an influential contributor to the politics of Florence from 1494 until his execution in 1498.
He was known for his book burning, destruction of what he considered immoral art, and what he thought the Renaissance which began in his Florence—ought to become. He preached vehemently against the moral corruption of much of the clergy at the time. His main opponent was Rodrigo Borgia, who was Pope Alexander VI from 1492, through Savonarola's death in 1498.
As such, he is not an obvious choice for a call and response performance poem – unless you are Peter Wyton. The chorus, a reprise of the said Friar’s, was chanted to the tune popularised by the television advert exhortation to, “Bring out the Branston”. Hugely entertaining, I am not sure what it all meant though. . .
Defending Champion Adrian Mealing spoke of bikes in the first round, and Dr Fox in the second. Not the ex Radio One DJ you understand, instead the ex Defence Minister. Poetry, like cartoons, has the capacity to cut the pompous and self righteous down to size. Adrian achieved this with some style, but sadly it was not enough to take him through to the final this time.
Dan Jukes, revealed to me over a beer afterwards that he is an occasional poetry performer, which is a shame, because tonight he shone and excelled, right through to the final. His style is quick fire, staccato and witty, with shades of Michael Barrymore, but without the swimming pool. Normally I tire of dyslexia poems, but in the hands of Dan it works, cleverly intertwining song titles as well without allowing the familiar lines to detract from the poem itself. His closing “list poem” It Might Be Good in Theory was yet another triumph of artistic ingenuity over a well worn format, but not even that was enough.
Amy Rainbow is quite a talent, she combines the on stage authority of a Headmistress with the mischief of a St Trinian’s schoolgirl. She is largely still during delivery, apart from a penetrating look to ensure that her audience is both listening closely, and getting the jokes – she need have worried in neither regard tonight. Self Mastery had a killer pay-off line, I Don’t stands as one of the best poems of poetic misandry I have ever heard, and The C Word is destined to catch the audience out every time. Amy was a worthy winner, and although the culling process en route can be a harsh affair, the two best performers on the night invariably make the final, as was the case here.
And so, with the cheers of acclamation ringing in
Amy’s ears, the evening came to a close. If the centre fails to beat
closure I am sure there will be no shortage of alternative venues keen
to host this fine event in the future. Organisers Dee and Caitlin are
also promoting Ian McMillan at the Coach House Theatre, Malvern
this Friday 27th October. 22-10-11.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
Spoken Worlds is normally the domain of Gary Carr as master of ceremonies, but this month Gary was indisposed, leaving Mal Dewhirst (pictured below) of Polesworth Poets to step into the breach to keep the wheels turning, and a fine job he made of it too, ably abetted and supported by Gary’s daughter Kirsty, and his wife.
The Old Cottage Tavern is a bit of a rarity these days, a back street boozer, surrounded in part by old terraces, and in part by bland modern replacements.
Emphatically a drinkers pub, none of that “Gastric” pub nonsense would work in the back streets of Burton. Instead a good pint, at a fair price, overseen by a landlady who greets you with a hello on the way in, and a goodbye on the way out, and who doesn’t miss a thing.
There is an ongoing debate about what being British is. Perhaps it is to be found here? Where disparate souls meet in a first floor room, having climbed steep stairs, and a carpet that looks as though it has seen a fair few Prime Ministers. Where you sort your own chairs and tables, and no-one bothers you, and you bother no-one. And you entertain yourselves, sharing a love of words, and people. It’s a bit like a large lounge bar chat, except that some of the chat lasts for up to three minutes and is often in verse.
Ray and Terri Jolland will entertain you with a humorous sketch that they just happen to have brought along – with props. Andy Biddulph will rail against the Government, well any Government actually. Steph Knipe will tell you what it’s like to go back to Lisburn, and remember what it was like to fall in and out of love as a teenager again, whilst Mal Dewhirst will give a teenage boy’s perspective.
LOST IN TRANSIT
Margaret Torr might observe that 30 years on in a relationship, things are not quite the same, Janet Jenkins might reflect on the game of love, and Jan Arnold might just be lost in transit. There were no menus lying around upstairs, and if there were, they would surely offer fan of melon, salmon with new potatoes in martini crème sauce, followed by baked Alaska – Steph would make sure they did.
When the chat has been going on for a bit, Rob Stevens will pull out his guitar and sing a song in a key at odds with his robust frame – perfectly, before Richard Young takes to the stage. The words sound familiar, and they rhyme, but you can’t quite place them, until it sinks in, and everyone smiles and almost all quietly accompany him as he recites Ernie – the Fastest Milkman in the West , and his fearsome duel with ten ton Ted from Teddington.
Spoken Worlds next meets on 25/11 with, unusually, a special headline act – Ash Dickinson. Ash Dickinson is a writer, poet and comedy performer. He is also a multiple slam champion- including Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Solihull, the Museum of Scotland and the BBC Radio 4 Midlands Slam in 2009. In the previous BBC National Slam in 2007 he progressed through the Scottish heats, eventually finishing among the top 8 in the UK and was runner-up in the 2011 UK All Stars Slam.
In the summer of 2011 Ash embarked on a six-date
feature tour of Canada, a country where he also performed shows in 2006
(including the Winnipeg Fringe Festival). He has also performed in
Australia (including a regular run at a comedy club in Adelaide), the
United States, and New Zealand. Having hosted his own weekly poetry
night in Wellington he was invited to perform at the 2002 New Zealand
He has appeared at the Cheltenham Literature
Festival, the Glasgow Comedy Festival, the Bristol Poetry Festival, The
Larmer Tree, The Wickerman, the Stratford Poetry Festival and The Camden
Crawl among many other events. He has headlined and featured at shows
throughout the UK including Express Excess, The Poetry Shack,
Brixtongue, Bang Said The Gun (all London), Wicked Words (Leeds),
Sundown (Southend), Forked (Plymouth), Write Angle (Petersfield), The
Stand Comedy Club (Edinburgh) and many others. 14-10-11
Hit the Ode – International Dice Slam
Fazeley Studios, Birmingham
Bohdan Piesecki has been personally responsible for shifting the profile of Birmingham’s poetry scene up several gears with his monthly “Hit the Ode” series at the Victoria Public house in the past year.
Now, he has gone still further, assembling seven poets from across Europe to entertain a large audience for this special event in conjunction with the Birmingham Book Festival and several other national and international Arts sponsors.
The format was innovative. The seven poets were to perform, in English or their native tongue, be scored on the roll of a dice, with a panel of expert judges on hand to entertain and justify the scores.
The setting was new, and exciting. Fazeley Studios is a refurbished and newly created space, the new home of Ikon Eastside, stylish, airy with a pleasingly louche ambience. For the evening to work, the judging panel needed to have been chosen wisely, and Bohdan had done just that. Jonathan Davidson has been a key figure in regional and national literature circles for many years, Kim Trusty is a Canadian writer based in Birmingham, and Professor Luke Kennard a spectacularly successful, and supremely talented, Birmingham University academic, poet and playwright.
Jonathan offered sage observations, Kim was a paragon of common sense, whilst Luke invoked the wisdom of bacchanalia with a fine line of wit which kept the audience entertained throughout. Responding to playful suggestions that his generous offer of wine and pizza to audience members (who were later to vote for best judge) might amount to unfair influence, he acknowledged that, “mistakes have been made, ” with a sincerity that another Doctor, a certain Doctor Fox, might be wise to emulate!
First to perform was Swede, Henry Bower. A renowned hip-hop artist in his homeland, Henry’s long hair and beard was reminiscent both of Rasputin and ZZ Top, although he said that he was often mistaken for either a terrorist, or Santa Claus! Dog food was a marvellous existentialist journey about many things, but not dog food. I Like Darkness was playfully psychopathic. It was a strong and confident start to the evening performed in English.
Bernard Christiansen, from the Netherlands, claims to have invented the Dice Slam format and instantly changed poetic tack. His set was delivered in Dutch, with English subtitles by Anna Arov. Quirky, offbeat, combining the surreal and absurd, his style initially caught the audience off-guard, and then delighted them as they caught on to what he was about. If David Lynch did poetry, this is what he would be writing. If the juxtaposition of conductors and buckets, camels and job opportunities, and beetroots and sisters intrigues you – Bernard is your man.
For England, from Brixton London, Indigo Williams stepped up to fly the flag in an impassioned set. Call Me By My Name was a fantastic piece on identity, spiky but beautiful, and lyrical as well, the latter traits of which also shone in Shadows and Bricks. A very strong performer, she dispensed with a microphone and enthralled the audience. My only reservation was that the powerful opener Statistics, about human stereotypes, itself lurched into stereotype.
After the interval Biru from Portugal gave an emotional performance, in Portuguese, but with English subtitles, focusing on the plight of the homeless with On the Road of Life and Please Mend My Heart. Bold and tender, it was poetry which echoed the sentiments of early 20tth Century American Bluesmen.
In 2007, Grzegorz Bruszewski was 26th on a list of the fifty most culturally active Warsaw citizens. Tonight he represented Poland is some style, touching on the five senses and the joys of jazz before offering a tribute to Miron Białoszewski, the distinguished Polish poet and literary figure. His question, “ why is minimalism such a long word ? ” was the best one-liner of the night.
During the interval I spotted the hunched figure of a young woman who was obviously due to perform. “Nervous?” I asked, “Yes” she confided. Yet once Abby Oliveira, from Derry Northern Ireland, bounded onstage, you would never have guessed. She delivered a blinding set of commitment and brio. Priestess, about urban deprivation was delivered with evangelical zeal, Signs was no less political. Her energy, sincerity and linguistic dexterity was an immediate hit with the audience, the enthusiastic applause fitting for a fine performer and performance.
To close proceedings Bas Boetcher from Germany took to the stage. Babylon 2. 8 warned of the global power of the likes of Google, whilst Flower Blossom was a wry, and very funny romp through the way that flower blossom images have been commandeered for a wide range of seemingly unsuitable purposes. With classic Teutonic efficiency, he took control of the computer delivering images and translation himself, the technology of which was very powerful with, In the Loop a rewarding fresh take on the familiar theme of the predictable monotony of life.
One of the joys of multi-lingual performance, the ambiguity of language, was evident in Boetcher’s final Believing in it, which was a cautionary tale about believing in anything too much, because the German word for believing can also mean to die. His content was the strongest and most varied of the night, his unassuming air as he finished surely came from the confidence of a man thinking, “veni, vidi, vici”.
The night concluded with the audience voting Jonathan Davidson the judge of the night, the arbitrary roll of the dice which awarded an individual score for each performer was forgotten, and served only to provide a platform for the judging panel to delight, entertain and impress with their observations.
This gave the denouement to proceedings a slightly unbalanced feel as the enthusiastic audience would, I think have relished the opportunity of crowning their favourite poet on the night also, mindful of the distance and effort that they had put in to attend, but no doubt this wrinkle will be ironed out as the format develops.
Such was the artistic success, and audience turn out, that hopefully this will become a regular feature of the Birmingham Book Festival week. ” Hit the Ode” returns to the Victoria PH on 27/10 and 24/11 with Dizzylez/ Tshaka Campbell and Matt Harvey/ Joe Coghlan respectively 13-10-11.
The Midlands is awash at the moment with spoken word events, sometimes pulling in hundreds, as at Cafe Yum in Birmingham last week.
Yet the backbone of poetry is often to be found in Libraries, with dedicated and knowledgeable librarians guiding enthusiastic bands of writers, and camp followers. The Walsall Library service is particularly active in this regard with Sonia Dixon in the vanguard of facilitating, and promoting the form. Last week she brought Matt Harvey to Walsall. This time she brought Nikki Bennett to Streetly Library to reprise her successful previous appearance of some two years ago.
Lichfield Poets provided a formal supporting role, with leader Janet Jenkins masterminding a two hander performance in which she told of the dangers that frogs face in ponds when copulating from renegade mobile phones, and her experiences in Galleries, the latter of which was memorably alliterative.
The event was titled “Performance” and the Lichfield poets were followed by numerous floor readers, many of whom should be writing, and performing more regularly. It is always a delight to see how the less practised feign reticence initially, only to gain confidence as they see others perform. The originally reluctant and ostensibly unprepared poet who subsequently produced a printed 500 word opus from his inside pocket being a case in point!
However the person whom everyone had come to see in a strong turn-out was Nikki Bennett. Nikki has had six collections of poetry published and she has performed her poems at various poetry festivals and poetry group readings in the UK. She has also read her work in the USA and Europe, including at the conferences of International Women Writers' Guild (New York State) and Geneva International Writers conferences.
She is a great believer in poetry as both communication and therapy, and in particular the highlighting of women's issues and circumstances. Her collection Love Shines Beyond Grief was nominated for the 'Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry' 2010. As well as the collections, her poems have appeared in various magazines including: Crazy Lit, De Facto, Hearing Voices, Magma, Partners' Aspire, Ravenglass, Artemis and roundyhouse. Nikki is a Stanza Rep for The Poetry Society UK, and founded 'uni-verse' poetry group in Bath, which promotes and celebrates international poets and poetry.
Some female poets who fly the flag for women’s issues seemingly make a point of writing to exclude men, not Nikki. Although written from a female perspective the inclusive nature of her writing was warm and accessible to men too. Poems form Love Shines Beyond Grief and Pink Nightie Poems told of fortitude in the face of serious illness. I shy from the platitudinous descriptions that some give of battles and victories in these situations. The patient doesn’t choose their fate, and there is no shame in being weak, nor ultimate triumph in bravery – you do your best. Reassuringly, Nikki’s light touch reflected that. No substitute was a poignant reminder that no photograph can replace a person, Medical Time a well observed wry look at the unique relationship that hospital wards have with time and how at odds they are with the outside world.
Face Value Families was a wry look at how Facebook can assist, but should not lead, cohesion for extended families, Clothes Memories both sharp and wistful. Certainly my favourite of all the poems she read. Only afterwards did I discover that she was in transit form South Wales to a new life in the Wirral, the poem may have had a greater immediacy than was immediately apparent. The process of having a clear out of your wardrobe, yet with each item having a story to tell, lived as she told it. As delightful after her performance in person, as she was whilst reading, it was clear that Nikki has much to tell, not only from her published work, and I suspect more to explore and reveal.
Further publications of Nikki’s work include The
Pebble Collection, The Places We’re touched, Love Poems and Trans-
Siberian Travels as well as two CD collections. 12-10-11
For more information on Nikki, visit: www. nikkibennettpoems. com
Autumn Celebration:Poets for Change,
This is amongst the harder poetry events I have had to review, such was the diversity and quality of what was on show.
Organised by Helen Calcutt, and supported by her father David, who acted as master of ceremonies, this evening was originally scheduled to be part of the international Poets for Change event on 24th September.
Venue availability resulted in things slipping back a couple of weeks, and wisely Helen decided to wrap in an autumnal theme to allow for the cooling temperatures and longer evenings. All addressed the theme of change with passion, diversity and imagination. Such was the impressive number of poets, and poems that I can but offer a flavour of the fare on offer.
Penny Hewlett was in customarily feisty mode, flying the flag for sacked British Airways workers and teaching me a new word “ratiocinated” the title of her following poem. Most poets opted to dodge tackling political change head on, but Phil Simpson was a welcome exception, with the spiky Socially Transmitted Diseases. World mental health day fell on the Monday after. Jane James, whom I admire enormously, delivered a powerful double salvo in support of that cause entitled “Still Life” and “The Assessment”.
Worcestershire is a hotbed of poetic talent at the moment and two particularly strong performers from that county strutted their stuff. Sarah James is the editor of the Worcester Literary Festival magazine “Be”, and an accomplished poet in her own right, “Somalia” and “Double Bluff” shone. She also presented work by fellow Worcestershire Poets Jenny Hope, Deborah Alma and Catherine Crosswell, her entire set is viewable on the videolink at the end of this review. Sarah was followed by Ruth Stacey whose work has an unerring ability to grab and shock, “Bitch” did just that.
There is a popular misconception that performed poetry has to comprise a rhyming rant to succeed and gain mass approval. Three poets disproved this. Janet Smith tackled domestic violence, “Control” with her customary economy of writing and power, before launching into the beautiful “Pacific, ” which is available in the most recent edition of “Abridged”. Jacqui Rowe regaled us with 30 haikus from her recent residency in Warwick, whilst Samantha Hunt hypnotised with her chilling “Dolls House” about child abuse.
Antony Owen has made his name with powerful war poetry, yet his writing is far from one dimensional, and his forays into the world of the blue collar worker are equally impressive. No-one could suggest that Heather Wastie lacks diversity. In addition to contributions on her keyboard, she fought the corner for Kidderminster’s subways, celebrated the £300, 000 defence of a tree, and delivered her signature “37 Hollybush St”. Roy McFarlane was making his debut appearance as “past” Birmingham Poet Laureate, it did not diminish his spirit. Political protest songs and poems are very tricky tasks, but Roy navigated these treacherous waters with great skill with the dignified and powerful “ What Do You See” highlighting the issue of deaths in police custody of disproportionately high numbers of black people, with an incident in Wolverhampton the vehicle for his protest, the Praetorian Guard of a very strong set.
From the floor, numerous poets impressed, Elaine
Christie with “White Lions” and Mal Dewhirst with Half Mask
amongst them in an evening during which it was impossible to go on
aural cruise mode, such was the range and depth of what was on offer.
Watch Sarah James perform her own, and fellow Worcestershire Poets, poetry at :
Little Venice, Worcester
This installment of Parole Parlate coincided with National Poetry Day, one of numerous events across the country. The inauguration of the new Birmingham Poet Laureate in Brum on the same evening meant that some of the travelling regulars were caught up in proceedings there, one of whom, Jan Watts won the coveted title- well done Jan!
Parole Parlate regular Suz Winspear got the evening off to a flying start with a particular favourite of mine, “Princess of the Cardboard Pavillions” – the title says it all and I won’t spoil it for those of you who may catch up with Suz at one of her many performance locations. She gently eased herself into a four piece set covering a day during the time of the Birmingham riots, at the end of which she had decided it was probably wiser to leave the city centre and watch any events on television. Cleverly observed, written with a tongue in cheek attitude and delivered to a receptive audience. She finished with “In My Dreams”, a slightly erotic poem which left the audience smiling.
A newcomer to Parole Parlate, Helen McCarthy-Watson was bright and bubbly as she delivered her poem dedicated to her mother. She covered eloquently the diverse emotions of wanting to be strong enough to break away from the safe haven of her mother but discovering later on in life how she still needed her mother to stay on this earth as long as possible. She finished with a very short poem “Aroha Juliana” (Maori for love) which was very evocative. Not overly sentimental it would be nice to welcome Helen back again.
PIMPS AND PROSTITUTES
PIMPS AND PROSTITUTES
The style altered as Michael R. Brush read his short story entitled The Healthy Air of Morning which took the audience into the world of pimps and prostitutes. Dramatic and poignant piece of prose.
Michael Thomas, told us about his mother who had been a district nurse, and his father whose most cherished possession was his A35 car, car which got them to holiday destinations to everyone’s surprise as it was so ancient. If I quote the line “ foam exploding from the seats” I’m sure your imagination can do the rest. Two more pieces followed painting with his words the pictures other people have of us. His poem about an urban myth – removing the “house stone” from a building and thereby ensuring it would fall down, played on the imagination of an eleven year old who made it his mission to remove said stone and see what happened. His final poem brought home that not only academic brains indicate talent, some people are good at football!
Jerry Beskobee delighted with his “Happy Daze” a poem he assured us, written under the influence of drink at a pub poetry competition when two pints of real ale had to be consumed before writing commenced. The conviviality of drinking and smoking was not wasted on the discerning audience and he was well received. “Forget me Not” had a harder punch when Jerry’s alter ego, White Van Man, complete with cap and flag, gave us Ode to England which ranged from Punch and Judy to advising the EU that Britain is now full!
Beth Jellicoe, another newcomer to Parole Parlate presented three pieces, “Emma”, “The World” and “The Suburbs” which dealt with the aspirations her mother had for her, her GAP year and France. A quiet but confident performance.
mstr morrison has established himself as another of Parole Parlate’s firm favourites and his portrayal of “Jasmine” (our second prostitute of the evening) could not have been more different from that of
Michael R. Brush’s story. His “String and Stars” poem will, I am sure, get many more airings. Always a pleasure to have mstr morrison on stage.
After an extremely hectic and, no doubt, stressful day in Birmingham, Gary Longden finally arrived and took to the microphone with a double-handed exchange of insults, carpings, criticisms and finally a gentle warming of emotions with Amy Daffodil Rainbow. On her last visit to Little Venice, Amy had told us about a proposal of marriage and explained why, under no circumstances whatsoever, would she accept. This was an extremely amusing piece but Gary had mused on this on his journey home and had become quite irate, apparently, on behalf of the luckless suitor. An exchange of emails led to a most enjoyable conversation in rhyme, their two styles complimenting each other very well. I am sure this is just the start of a meaningful and talented poetic relationship, at least I hope so.
The headliner of the evening was Ray Antrobus, a poet I had missed on his visit to Parole Parlate in February. A slick and confident performance coupled with the “likeability” factor were in abundance with his opening piece “The Sober Guy at the Party”. A clever second piece was taken from lines he had written down from dreams he had and weaved together. Gently moving into “Daz” he told of ex lovers meeting up and whether or not to pretend they were now different people. His particular slant on the London riots was portrayed through “How to photograph a riot” – observed and edited purely as seen through a camera lens but no less powerful than an emotional human outpouring. He brought his set to a close with “Conversation with Grandma” a charming and gentle account of a very ordinary conversation which obviously will stay in his heart.
Parole Parlate, I think it fair to say, has now
established itself on the poetic map. It often attracts well known
poets from London, thanks to the co-operation of Apples and Snakes, and
other well known poets from throughout the Midlands are asking for
places each month. An intimate atmosphere, a supportive, friendly
and rapidly growing audience, coupled with Italian food (not compulsory
but very hard to resist) make this an excellent night out in the centre
of Worcester. Parole Parlate next meets on Thursday 3rd
Birmingham Poet Laureate Tour
Matt Harvey – National Poetry Day
National Poetry Day is now the vehicle that the Birmingham Library Service uses to promote and announce the new Birmingham Poet Laureate.
I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted this year for the position myself, so what follows is a personal insight into the day. For the first time, instead of the position being awarded on the basis of submissions and interview only, the poets were to be taken on tour, and the four short listed poets were to be the guinea pigs.
The opening performance was at the Ikon Gallery, Oozells St, which is dominated currently by the Sedko Nobakov exhibition, from a balcony overlooking the foyer area, in which a decent sized crowd assembled- and stayed. A good start. They liked us. Next stop was the Main Library Foyer where the Birmingham Book Festival, which was launching on the day had a base. Foyers, it seems, are good, and another respectable crowd assembled to hear us hopefuls for a very well received set. Then on to Cafe Blend, the best venue to date with a stage and microphone. Unfortunately our time slot coincided with the mid-afternoon lull, which the valiant efforts of the poets struggled to lift both in terms of numbers and spirits. Our final spot on the tour was at Cafe Zelig in the Custard Factory which was the undoubted highlight, and used the tour as part of an ongoing “Arts All Over The Place” initiative. A large crowd, assembled by the indefatigable Catherine Crossley, was treated to performances enhanced by impromptu accompaniment from a double bass player, with whom Jan Watts worked very effectively, as the last round of poems on the theme of games or Birmingham were recited.
The nominated poets each had quite distinct strengths. Joanne Skelt offered serious reflective poetry delivered with energy and commitment. Jan Watts included wry humour and sharp observation in her lengthier pieces. Marcia Calame oozed charisma and warmth with every well chosen word. Last, but not least, outgoing office holder Roy McFarlane acted as master of ceremonies throughout, and entertained with his poems about bicycles in Amsterdam, and identity in Birmingham, both audience favourites with call and response elements.
Cafe Yum, also in the Custard Factory, was the venue for the finale during which each poet was able to cut loose with a poem of their own choice – the relief in being allowed to do so, and the benefits thereof, were immediately apparent in an entertaining and inspiring quartet of deliveries. But before the winner was announced we were entertained by the brilliant Matt Harvey.
Matt Harvey is the unassuming darling of the intelligentsia, beloved by The Times, Guardian and Independent, much broadcast, and all round good guy. His trademark is an erudite, but not elitist, and pithy wit, with charming, daring but pleasing rhyme. It was an enormous coup to secure his services and he did not disappoint. “Works Perks” opened his set- and brought the house down, his onomatopoeic tennis poem delighted. I hope that we will be seeing a lot more of him in Birmingham.
Jan Watts was crowned Birmingham Poet Laureate for
2011/12 a role she will surely fill with distinction, if not a little
trepidation, after the universally acclaimed success of her predecessor,
Roy McFarlane. The combination of a nationally renowned poet, public
laureate coronation, and launch of the Birmingham Book Festival, was an
undoubted success which the sold-out, packed to the rafters crowd of
over two hundred clearly enjoyed, and should certainly provide a template
for the event in future. 06-10-11
Britannia Hotel, Wolverhampton
This is an event which Behind the Arras has been meaning to get to for some time. Finally happenstance fell sweetly, and I caught up with the September instalment of this monthly event.
The Britannia Hotel itself is a middle ranking city centre establishment which clearly pedals hard to prosper in these difficult economic times.
Busy, with a range of functions happening, I was surprised to be offered a curry with the pint I had bought at the bar – value for money is clearly something the Britannia believes in on a Wednesday night. The venue itself was a downstairs conference room although the exact room varies according to availability, but the direction boards from the foyer were clear enough.
Master of ceremonies is poet, author, artist and sculptor Tony Stringfellow whose easy manner and credibility eased the evening along gently, but purposefully. As well as overseeing proceedings he both read a few of his own poems and read a selection of poems entered into an NSPCC sponsored competition organised by Stuart Favell. For the latter, the audience were asked to rank a collection of nine submissions in a vox pop.
Inevitably, the standard set by Tony was formidable. Past-ex amusingly told of a past love, Princess movingly juxtaposed the pride that all of us fathers feel for our daughters with the hard times that can befall some. But it was To the Moon which really caught my ear. The recent fortieth anniversary of the first moon landings has prompted many reflections from wizened fifty somethings recalling the youthful wonderment of Man’s greatest technological achievement. Moondust , by Andrew Smith, definitively caught the zeitgeist of the era with his interviews of all those who had set foot on the moon before old age claimed them.
Tony’s perspective was somewhat more cynical as he contrasted the naive optimism of the time with some of the illusions of the contemporary sense of achievement. His line that Woodstock was “high on hypocricy” was the embodiment of the moral confusion which ebbed and flowed between the sixties and seventies.
The assembled poets took part in an egalitarian round robin of readings enabling a good few to be aired. Jack Edwards impressed with On the Night Gary Hit the Town (not about me!), Scribbles and Sonnet, Martin Jones’ memorable contributions were as definitively idiosyncratic as ever, and Stuart Favell amused with a series of poetic shorts.
A good quality microphone ensured that all were
easily heard in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere at a readily
accessible City Centre venue, the 10pm finish offering those who needed
to use public transport a chance to do so too. A fine night, led by a
distinguished literary figure, Poetry Train next plays on 26/10, but
Tony is leading another one off open mic night at the Cock Inn, Holyhead
Road, Wellington, at 8pm on 17th October. 28-09-11.
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
A packed house, the fullest I have ever seen the Cafe for poetry, turned out to see headline act Bernadette Cremin make her Birmingham debut, a just reward for her trip up from Brighton on the South Coast.
Bernadette has an impressive record of published work with two collections from Waterloo Press, Speechless and Mining Silence due to be followed by New and Selected by Salmon Press in a year’s time.
A characteristic of Poetry Bites is that headliners are not given extended, obsequious introductions, they stand or fall on their own merits, Bernadette herself chose also to give little personal information away, resulting in the pressure being on the performance and the poetry, both of which were more than up to the test. Split into two sections to close the first and second halves of the evening, her poetry was diverse, personal, and engaging.
Excerpts from Altered Egos left us wanting more, a six part series of insights into the fortunes of six very different women, their typically tragic love lives and rooms which “smelt of excuses and kicked off shoes”. Suicide was her bravest, and best, piece of the night with the shadow of Ian Curtis a brooding backdrop. The sadness of suicide is routinely covered in poetry, the anger that it can engender for those left behind less so, and this was a fine attempt at exploring such emotion. Her set left two thoughts with me. Admiration for the fey, yet telling nature of her work, and a desire to find out lots more about what is driving her writing.
A burgeoning body of “open micers” took to the stage in numbers which might have posed problems to the length of the evening if all had not displayed admirable self- restraint. Fortunately the first few stayed within the three minute/one or two poem framework, and the rest followed suit. It only takes a few to interpret three minutes as four, and one or two poems as three or four, and an audience can be in for a very long night. Attempting to shed light on much which illuminated is no easy task so I shall name check on a wholly arbitrary basis.
Jon Morley is a hugely impressive poet with a passionate interest in Caribbean literature. Currently working at the Drum in Newtown, Ratid explored Afro-Carribbean dialect around Birmingham now, Links considered present day Birmingham and its Afro-Caribbean community with Birmingham of the past, and how all intertwine. Brilliantly conceived, the latter was my favourite poem of the evening.
Joel Lane is traditionally the man to be first at the barricades, tonight was no exception. In a time of £1m a month footballers and bankers who can lose that in a few minutes he did well to remind us of past Coventry MP Dave Nellist who insisted on drawing the average wage for a skilled worker only when he was in office as well as offering a Riots poem with The Wake. Antony Owen and Janet Smith were on the ramparts too. Antony reflected on mechanisation in car factories and unfair trade with the new world before leaving us with a chilling snapshot of the 9/11 jumpers in Liberty. Janet explored a statue of Lucifer and pathology department after hours, before a defiant account of a stay in the Cells.
Adele Faulkner, aka Dotti Bluebell part sang of Love and Religion combining beautiful lyricism with wry poignancy, the latter a feature of both Penny Hewlett’s heart wrenching Clearing Out and Jan Watts’ Close to Ducks, the latter a plaintive ode to death. Yet the evening was by no means sombre with Mary Shear the star of the light stuff. The Ideal Man was great knockabout fun, Chocolate provided one of those classic “did she really say that ?” gasps as she moved on to the next line!
Poetry Bites next meets on November 22nd
when the headliners will be local author (Ghost Town Music) and
poet, Bobby Parker, and Joseph Horgan. Horgan was born in Birmingham to
Irish parents and currently lives in Cork. He won the Patrick Kavanagh
Award for poetry in 2004. He writes a weekly column for the Irish
Post, reviews and contributes to radio and television. His first
collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, was published in
2008. Last year, he published his second collection A Song at Your
Backdoor. A Poetry Bites special, in support of Amnesty
International also plays on 8 December. 27-09-11
Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston
Bilston Voices has one of the most loyal non-performing audiences in the Midlands, there is no fleshing out of attendance by open-mic performers here.
They come to hear a set bill. Yet that does not mean that organiser Emma Purshouse rests on her laurels. This month, she ran a Ghost Writers initiative. This enables writers to have their work performed anonymously by volunteer performers.
It also offers writers who eschew performing, either from preference or lack of confidence, a platform to have their work played in front of an audience. The result was an unusually diverse collection of poetry, monologue and drama.
By far the most challenging work was a piece written by Bill Dixon, which he co-performed with Ros Trotman, entitled Midsummer Night. A surreal Gothic nightmare, it features two voices performing simultaneously and resembles freeform jazz for spoken word.
Having a male and female voice is vital as the difference in pitch makes the conflicting voices easier to pick out. As the story unfolds it is impossible to follow the poem in total, only those parts you choose to follow from the individual performers. You are constantly having to decide who to listen to with your attention veering wildly as keywords compete for your attention.
As a consequence each performance is unique, as you will never hear the same sequence of words in the same order. Brilliantly and daringly conceived, Bilston Voices should be proud to have showcased such an innovative concept.
Another extended piece, by Jill Tromans, really caught my ear. A comedy drama set in the Glassmaker’s Arms with some locals. Funny, entertaining and sharp it was one of the most enjoyable comedy readings I have heard for a long time, ably assisted by some very good spoken performances from the cast. Although written, and performed, in strong Black Country dialect I believe this has potential on a much broader stage.
The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet were set in the North East, the Liverbirds and Boys From the Blackstuff in Liverpool – why not a comedy series from the Black Country? The characterisation was strong, the dialogue witty. If Jill can produce a body of work around this core, she may be on to something.
Nick Pearson is an Offa’s Press poet who read extensively from his collection Made in Captivity. I had never seen him before, I liked him very much. Casual, unpretentious and unassuming he breezed through a set of concise wry material that engaged and amused. Shallow Grave skilfully explored all those computers seized by the Met from news international and Coming Clean raised a chuckle from all who have experienced an Annual Development Review.
The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of Final Frame was a fitting set finisher. Yet my admiration for Nick was sealed by one line, when he dared to rhyme “Brillo” with “Amarillo” – genius.
The change in format, for this month only, was an undoubted success with numerous further vignettes too numerous to mention in a very satisfying mix. Bilston Voices meets again on Thursday 27th October, 7. 30pm. The usual format of a set bill of poets returns. 22-09-11
Polesworth Refectory, Polesworth
THIS WEEK saw the return of Fizz 9, at Polesworth Abbey Refectory where Antony Owen read from his collection ‘The Dreaded Boy’. The evening began with Mal Dewhirst reading his poem ‘The Mound’ and ‘Elegy’ inspired by the recent Polesworth Abbey archaeological dig. Barry Paterson followed with ‘Three Welsh Theophanies’ and ‘The Golden Weed’ conveying the experience of diving in a small cove, Sicily Isles.
Andy Biddulph read his poem ‘Brothel Raid’ about the Kosova war which portrays the horrors of war combined with personal agendas, followed by ‘Atrocity of War’. Ian Ward recited his poem inspired by a poetry workshops called ‘First Lines’, ‘There’s always an echo’ – no matter the beginning, no matter the end – which he followed by the haunting beauty of ‘Crystal Cove’.
Terri Jolland’s natty little poem about weather ‘Untimely’ covered all the options - much like the weather people giving a weekend forecast. Gary Carr closed the opening section with ‘Rattle Void’ painting a beautiful image of a boy, with stick in hand, alongside railings. He continued with ‘Love letter’ a carefully crafted account, month by month, of pregnancy and love.
After a short interval, Mal Dewhirst read a War poem by Augustus Stramm (1874-1915) a German poet, who conveys the suffering endured by the Germans. Antony Owen took centre stage, he was unapologetic for his poetry theme of war – and so he should be given his insight and knowledge.
Antony read form his current collection ‘A Dreaded Boy’ which provides a stark contrasts to other war poems regards their view point and focus. Each poem is written through the eyes of the forgotten, the neglected – the invisible lives who exist during war. Antony read ‘Diamonds’, ‘The Scarring Son’, ‘To The East’. ‘The Quiet night of war’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Sangin’, ‘Beyond Rwanda’, ‘The scent of a son’, ‘War envelopes’ which contains the breath taking line ‘war makes poems of men’.
Antony’s final reading was ‘Conversations at a soldier’s grave’ in honour of Jeff Doherty. ‘A Dreaded Boy’ is published by Pighog Press, ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6 is a collection to behold and treasure - the emotion strikes the heart but it cannot, and should not, be ignored. Please visit http://www. pighog. co. uk/ for further details. Antony's readings were performed against a musical back drop created and provided by Jimi Dewhirst of Hydranoidmusia.
After a second interval, Andy Biddulp read his requested ‘Stan the Man’ poem which I’d never heard before, but which, delighted all. Ian Ward continued the night's theme of war and destruction with ‘9/11’ and ‘What the country did to us on holiday’. Terri Jolland, continued the holiday theme with ‘Seaside’ before switching to illness with ‘Patchwork cluttered quilt’. Gary Carr touched on aged reflection with ‘Responsibility’, ‘Reincarnation’ and poignant images in ‘Painting of a Rose’. Barry Paterson closed the evening with his poem ‘October on Hersal Common’ depicting nature in all her glory.
As you can see a wide variety of talent crammed into one evening – all talented poets, of which some have published collections available for purchase:-
Antony Owen - ‘A Dreaded Boy’ ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6
Antony Owen – ‘My Father’s Eyes Were Blue’ ISBN 978-1-906038-36-6
Barry Paterson - ‘Nature Mystic’ ISBN 978-1-906038-29-8
Ian Ward – ‘Light and Darkness’ ISBN 978-0-85781-150-9
The next Fizz10 is scheduled for 7:30pm Thursday, 3rd November at the Tithe Barn, Polesworth – featuring the Cork Poets: Afric McGlinchey, Colm Scully and Jennifer Matthews, with an open mic session before and after the main attraction. Please checkout
www. pollyswords. wordpress. com for further details.
Another date for my diary is Gary Carr’s ‘Spoken Worlds’ poetry evening booked for Friday, 14th October at The Old Cottage Tavern, Byrkley Street, Burton-on-Trent DE14 2EG – which I promise, I shall be attending. 20-09-11
Station Public House, Kings Heath
And so it was not so much farewell – as adieu. The final Rhymes, which had brought out probably the best attendance in memory turned out to be the final Rhymes in this format.
It was a fitting swansong. The Bill reminded us all of what had made the event a success in the past. Eight performers, seven of them local, brought out coteries of their own supporters and several poets not performing on the night happy to exchange poetic scuttlebutt. Long standing compere Lorna Meehan looked delighted, and a little overwhelmed, by the turn-out.
The first half required your first name to be James, the first of whom was James Barnett, a young cataloguing librarian from the University of Birmingham.
His milieu is the dark, brooding and introspective – quite handy if you work in a library, and he did it well. Always accomplished, impeccably rehearsed and confidently delivered, he visited Discipline, Fidelity, The Head Girl and Visiting Hour at the Care Home.
Curiously one poem was Untitled, which I would have thought would have been anathema to a librarian. His imagery was invariably meticulously crafted, the alliteration avoiding cliché. Yet as a whole, I felt it veered as a set a little too heavily towards bedsit angst, something which a re-jigged set, and experience, will easily redress.
James the Second was James Bunting. He had a game plan. It worked. It comprised four parts of around four minutes each, the last of which was entitled Introduction, neat eh?
Part one, Paradise was a lyrical personal cri de coeur with shades of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno ingredients in a heady, satisfying, rich, mix. Part two, Politicians was the most edgy and satisfying. His lament that Kerouac, Dylan, Lennon and Ginsberg were from a fading generation and that no contemporary young performers were picking up the baton of dissent struck a chord which resonated with young and old in the audience.
Promises was a bold, bare paean to a wicked girl and offered a light change of course before he hit the home straight with Introduction, an amusing coda a compelling statement of poetic manifesto with the memorable line that he was, “Older than when he started this poem” a defiant invocation for us all to get on and do something with our lives. I loved it.
Lorna Meehan explained that the New Rhymes may feature extended poetic performance from individuals and ensembles. As if anticipating this turn of events, the Decadent Divas offered us a vernissage of things to come with their four part, twenty five minute piece, debuted at Artsfest a few weeks ago.
It featured Charlie Jordan, Maggie Doyle, Laura Yates and Lorna herself. Shakespeare decided that there were seven ages of man, the Divas have opted for four stages of woman by articulating the voice of women from four succeeding decades. The packed house in an intimate atmosphere clearly energised the Diva’s, with some skilful editing, new material, shorter soliloquies and more dialogue enhancing and improving this well written and entertaining poetic drama.
To date the women have articulated universal observations about their time of life. The opportunities for them to build up character and have them observing contemporary issues gives this ensemble plenty to go at. I want to learn more about the individual Divas, and I am sure we will.
A varied bill has always been a strength of Rhymes and David Calcutt offered a change of direction, and pace. He split his performance into two parts, the first incorporated writing inspired by his work with those experiencing dementia, the second was a series of poems about curlews inspired by a recent visit to Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas.
Few would consider a series of poems on curlews, but few observe nature with the clarity and softness of touch of David, as we shared the exhilaration of the twists and turns of this magnificent bird. Inevitably poems about dementia will include the downbeat, but what shone through was the humanity of these poems which were sad, yet celebrated the human spirit too as the sclerotic effects of this disease take hold. Beautifully constructed, and inspiring.
To close the evening Naomi Paul took the stage, a wry, dry, witty performer who takes her craft very seriously. Deadpan humour is her speciality, and it worked a treat tonight, drawing the audience in as they waited for a twist – how good would she be alongside Jack Dee?
And she does do stand-up comedy too. But her craft is as much in the words as it may be with any joke that she delivers so performance poetry suits her well, an audience ready to appreciate the whole, not simply waiting for a gag.
The Catch about a past lover was particularly popular with the women in the audience, as was Displacement Activity and Leaving the House (she had clearly witnessed my wife’s ability to make provisions for a trip into town rival Mallory’s assault on Everest). She finished with my personal favourite, the tale of her personal odyssey to travel the Hippy Trail only to discover that it was all over with “The Grey Rabbit Bus”. Not even the lusty, booze and pharmaceutically fuelled antics of her fellow travellers could provide her with relief as: “ I am English. ”
The final Rhymes will be followed by. . . an end of
year Slam in November, and a New Rhymes in the New Year- check the
Facebook page for details. 21-9-11
Three Poets walk into a Pub
The Shifnal Festival is a vibrant affair in a village seeking to make its mark, and succeeding.
Ken Dodd opened the twelve day run of paid for and free events. Ian McMillan was appearing on the Wednesday, but on Tuesday a healthy crowd turned out at the Oddfellows Public House for a combination of headline performance from Simon Lee, Emma Purshouse and Mark Niel – our Three Poets (who) Walk into a Pub.
Mark is a stalwart of the Performance Poetry and Slam scene, I first saw him perform a couple of years ago when he won the Muck Wenlock Slam, and tonight he was on his usual effervescent, ebullient form, opening up with his signature My Name is Niel through the Lozell’s Prayer and beyond. Few would imagine that having your name misspelled in a bank could result in an assault charge – but for Mark, it might!
Black Country girl Emma Purshouse was on home turf and breezed through her set of humorous observational and character based verse. Whether it be the wisecracking quips from builders to passing by women, the perils of choosing the wrong Welsh town to have an automobile accident in, or neighbours with twitching curtains, Emma has a story to tell about it. Wry and always warm.
Solicitor Simon Lee opened both the evening and the headline slots. His skill lies not in the verbose and grandiose, but in concise pithy comment on the world around him. Whether it be Robert Preston’s skills as an economics commentator, Patrick Moore’s skills as an astronomer or Richard Whitely’s skills as a Countdown presenter, Simon has a poem for them, and very well they went down too.
Local poets were strongly in evidence too, none more so than festival organiser and Marc Bolan expert Tony Stringfellow who entertained with Politician (not Cream’s version!). Lyn Curtis lyrically wrote of Cardigan Bay, Steve Harrison predicted a riot with Words, and Jack Edwards stole his mentor's opening line, before launching into In the Pub. My favourite open mic performance of the night came from Jane James whose poem Snoring combined the touching and comic in just the right measure.
With a strong bill of mainstream events it was a delight to see the success of what amounted to a Fringe event drawing in the travelling poetic hard core, local poetry aficionados, and a fair few people having a pint who wanted to see what all this poetry lark was about. They, like everyone, enjoyed themselves. 20-09-11
Imperial Banqueting Suite, Bilston
The subtle assimilation of poetry into mainstream entertainment was much in evidence on this bill with three out of the four main acts having a poetic background, each artist taking the form into different areas.
A good turn-out in very agreeable surroundings provided a strong platform for them all to strut their very different stuff.
A variety bill requires a skilled compere to draw together the disparate elements and tonight we had one in comedienne Iszi Lawrence. A southerner parachuted into parochial Black Country territory, she needed to find her feet fast.
Fortunately she did so by spotting a school age girl in the audience, Katy. This provided an ongoing connection and theme as the evening advanced, even though it may have caused Lawrence to temper her material slightly, and Katy to wish that her aunt hadn’t seated them at the front!
Her themes were safe; awkward flat mates, the perils of living with your mum, buying your first alcoholic drink, and her penchant for Alan Rickman’s dulcet tones, (and beyond!). That easy manner was just what was required, as she breezed easily through her stand-up comedy between each act.
Heather Wastie is an artistic polymath well known on the Midlands circuit, tonight she performed as Montserrat Carbonarra, an opera singer whose orchestra was sadly otherwise engaged. But she was not going to let that put her off.
A beguiling mix of comedy, light verse and. . . . . . . . . . . . . operatic singing, she entertained and amused as the opening act, the highlight of which was when she had to improvise as an oboe too, as the oboe player also was unable to be present. The only disappointment being that the audience was ready for more when she finished – but that’s opera singers for you!
Performing a poetry set in front of an audience on a variety bill is no ordinary task. Fortunately, Jo Bell is no ordinary poet. The current holder of the salaciously titled “Bilston Love Slam”, she titillated with her risqué material (all in the best possible taste, of course), and engaged with the sincerity and authenticity of the rest.
A festival regular and Director of National Poetry Day, she knows how to play her audience. Topics including disastrous dates, internet dating, sailors and computers were comfortable crowd pleasers, but there was no dumbing down. Context, an assembly of discordant phrases was sharp and clever, Urban Mermaid her tour de force. The latter brilliantly juxtaposed the urban grime of the Manchester Canal by Piccadilly Station, with the myth of the Mermaids in a piece of startling, and inspired, imagery.
The second half commenced with an act that had, unlike Montserrat Carbonarra, remembered their instruments, in this case a double bass – and a triangle. Paul Eccentric and Ian Newman are The Anti-Poet, a beat duo who combine comedy, poetry and music in a winning, idiosyncratic mix. Paul is the voice ( and triangle player), Ian slaps the double bass and plays the straight man in the comedy. Having recently played twenty eight gigs in seven days they were unsurprisingly well rehearsed, opening with the defiant We Are Artists before taking in the trials of doorstep evangelists, fame with Overnight Success, and black humour with I Hope It isn’t Anyone We Know. Original in material, and striking in appearance, the crowd loved them.
Headlining was Steve Best who blasted through an initially bewildering, but ultimately triumphant, set. Ablaze with energy, he appeared to get through half an hour’s material in the first half minute as he manically told jokes, performed tricks and made faces. Once we had time to adjust, things began to settle.
We were watching a very accomplished visual comedian using props and gadgets combining slapstick, magic and stand-up. Balloons disappeared into his mouth, only for them to reappear with hankies from “the other end”, puns and one liners ricocheted around the room, and he had time to play the guitar, rather well. Very quickly the room reverberated to pretty much continuous laughter as one joke piled onto another with shades of Steve Martin, Charlie Chaplin and Tommy Cooper all rolled into one hugely enjoyable 21st century package. A worthy bill-topper and a big success on the night.
A variety night with variety, but producing a coherent whole, promoter Emma Purshouse has set herself quite a standard with this annual series of events. 17-09-11
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton Upon Trent
Poetry can be about pretty much anything, and so this evening proved, with subject matter confined only by the imagination of the poets.
When most people see a post box they think of letters, bills they have forgotten to pay or birthday cards which must be purchased and sent. Teenage children might see it as a useful confined space to place an ignited firework. A poet sees beyond this though.
Stephanie Lunn has weightier matters on her mind, such as the problems of posting desserts - trifles, custard, that sort of thing. And then there is the matter of meat. Neatly sliced ham should be okay, mince less so, the gravy gets everywhere. Finally, the question of posting beards, particularly when the man (or woman) is attached.
Do sheep worry about the existentialist dilemmas explored by Satre and Kierkegaard? Of course they do, and then there are toasters. . . . . . . . . . . Although most of us had not given these matters much thought, Steph has, and the world is a better place for it. Yet does not just deal in the surreal, The Camera Man, about a photographer who snatched a shot of a less than happy bride was wonderfully grounded, and resonant.
Andy Biddulph blazed through
Economic Stability with a clarity that Greek Finance minister
Evangelos Venizolos would have found quite useful, and explored frontal
lobe activity with an enthusiasm which 19th
Some poets perfect the art of “less is more”, Bert Flitcroft and Janet Jenkins are two such poets. Bert wrote amusingly about Poetry workshops and the Busy Ones, Janet told of cats, tennis as a metaphor for romance in Forty Love, and the aspirations of a want-to–be Heavy Metal singer. Both poets were pithy, economic, and fun.
Light and Darkness is Ian Ward’s current collection, but he also debuted work for future publication, exploring lost cities in Mesopotamia and the withered wychwoods of Alaska before the poignancy of Dear John and the film noir influenced, Just Another Rainy Night.
Mal Dewhirst relishes rediscovering lost or forgotten poets, and often rediscovers them at a rate of knots. August Stramm, the German WW1 poet appears to have won him over more compellingly than most however, as he has majored on him several times in recent appearances and has now taken to performing entire poems of Stramm’s in German, as well as in translation.
He is right to do so. German war poetry has been all but ignored in this country. The sentiments are universal, the timbre of the words chillingly authentic. Anyone who owns a German first world war uniform must surely expect a call shortly! An intriguing coda to his performance was The Archaeological Strata of Polesworth Abbey, a clever piece on the dig in progress there in which which the lines on the page can also be accessed as a dig accesses different layers and truths.
Terri and Ray Jolland entertained with their customary amusing blend of light verse and drama, organiser Gary Carr eased the evening along interspersing introductions with some very strong poems of his own after which we marvelled at how his daughter had survived the mishaps of his parenting! Before the Briefing stood out for me, a wonderful, atmospheric account of the factory floor before the night shift commences. Spoken Worlds plays again on Friday 14th October, and a tip that John Cooper Clarke is playing the Flowerpot PH, Derby on the 21st, a week after. 16-09-11
Oh, and happy birthday Gary from Behind
The Decadent Divas
MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
ArtsFest is invariably a tremendous occasion, 3000 performers, 600 events at 50 venues over two days. It is also renowned for its eclectic bill.
This year was no different. It is also riven with risk. Have the right shows been matched with the right venues, at the right time? And free audiences tend to be uncommitted audiences. How many will turn up is unknown, how many will stay is uncertain.
It was against this backdrop that the Decadent Divas made their debut performance, outdoors on a warm, but blustery Saturday afternoon which threatened squalls.
As a regular on the Midlands poetry circuit over the past few years it has been fascinating to see how the form, and performers, have evolved. However good the piece, the performer and the performance, there is a limit to how long any individual can hold the attention of an audience unaccompanied.
Of late, two trends have been emerging. The one person variety show has been gathering momentum, as have ensemble themed performances. This was an example of the latter.
The Decadent Divas comprise Lorna Meehan, Laura Yates, Charlie Jordan and Maggie Doyle, in ascending age order. All established poets in their own right, they came together to perform material created for the occasion reflecting the experiences of women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s respectively.
A large crowd gathered on the MAC terrace for the show with numerous poetic luminaries in attendance. Each performed a self-penned piece about their own decade, with some linking chat, hosted by Charlie Jordan. It worked well. Sat behind a table with their own microphones, and fortified by a bottle of wine, it was a bit like watching a poetic version of Loose Women.
A gusting wind, and some ominous drops of rain, must have been disconcerting for the performers, but their professionalism shone through as they romped through an accomplished, amusing set.
The audience was not only substantial in size, but also diverse in age profile. As each performer delivered their section, you could see the audience members who identified with that decade warming to it.
Each performer met the expectation of their counterparts in the crowd admirably, and the excellent amplification ensured that all could be heard. The half hour flew by, with the rain that threatened only arriving after the proceedings were complete. Well written and well executed it was an unqualified success.
What interests me most about this show is not simply where it is now, but where it can go. Already it has been booked for Rhymes on 21st September at the Station PH, Kings Heath. Indoors, and with hand held, rather than fixed microphones, I anticipate that the ability of the individuals to stand, walk and perform will add an extra dimension to the material.
In turn, that will also increase the opportunity for cross-diva interaction. There is no question that they have found a rich formula, the detail of which is open to evolution, revision and change as time goes on, and crucially, revisits by their audience. 10-09-11
Night Blue Fruit
Taylor John's Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry
There is something quite distinct about Night Blue Fruit. Most Poetry events in the Midlands go for early, punctual starts.
Here, both when folk arrive, and the performance time, is arbitrary. As if to anticipate the arrival of Kalliope or Erato might offend them. As Stephen Dedalus remarked: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. ”
And so as night came down, and enfolded the earth in her dusky wings, so the host for the evening, Antony R Owen portentously read Tenebrae.
Those same shadows, and the darkness that Antony evoked, seemed to cast a spell on the evening. The audience half seen, the performer indistinct in blue light.
The fragile frame of Janet Smith barely discernable, she delivered a mesmerising, austere set in the half-light of the pathology department, or the moonlight under which the Owl cried.
John Moody spoke of Joseph, but was that Priestley or Chamberlain ? I thought that we were In Birmingham, but suddenly he evoked the spirit of the Easter Uprising in Dublin with, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity”, from Yeats.
Then there was the knowing look as he enunciated “amnion”, used almost as a codeword, in poetic cabal with Janet.
Barry Patterson treated us to an extract from Buddha of the Carboniferous which has no Buddhas in it, nor was there any specific reference to anything carboniferous, yet, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you implicitly understand what it is all about, even though it’s not about what it says it is.
Antony R Owen is a very fine contemporary war poet. But he is not dead, and he is not German. Mal Dewhirst rectified that by performing three of his own translations of the deceased German First World War Poet, August Stramm including, Kriegsgräberfürsorge and Angriff. The combination of the onomatopeia of the language with sparse form was compelling.
Sukhat actually spells his name Sucat, an archaic form of Patrick, but we both agreed that my approximation was superior. Rather disappointingly, unlike as in the past, he eschewed weighty writing pads which contained only one poem, for a more practical spiral ring binder.
Yet his material was in no part diminished, with
Sign Long Removed, obscure and wry. It was no surprise to discover
that he is an aficionado of Television and Tom Verlaine.
Little Venice, Worcester
Basking in the warmth of a late summer’s evening, Parole Parlate assembled to hear the usual assortment of fine poetic talent topped by an unusually strong headliner, A. F. Harrold, who I had not heard perform before.
His striking, large, bearded frame, gives him the aura of a Russian Leninist Revolutionary, and I half expected his set to include tales of the glorious efforts of the workers at the Tractor factory, and a breakdown of the grain harvest from the Ukraine. Interesting as that might have been, he chose a different tack, which enthralled, and delighted the audience.
We chatted briefly beforehand, and an immediate problem surfaced. How do you address someone known by their initials?
Mr Harrold seemed a little formal. A or AF, a little casual. Fortunately he suggested that Ashley would do. From the minute he took the stage, a quixotic quirkiness unfolded for a memorable and intensely idiosyncratic act. Laughing, joking and ad libbing with the crowd, he romped through some children’s poems before arriving at some lengthier adult material.
Like many accomplished artists his trick is to make the difficult seem simple, his self-effacing comments flying in the face of some very fine work. Jennifer Jones was an excellent children’s piece, How it Happens a poignant homage to the death of a parent, Mortal Zodiac a highly amusing astrological tour.
Rarely have I heard a headliner get through so much material with such humour and so little sense of time. A star turn. One of the best Parole Parlate headline acts I have seen without question.
The turn-out for the night was as strong as ever, with the supportive and enthusiastic management now laying on a Poetry Special food and drink offer for early arrivals, offering even more reason for people to consider making a night of it and arrive early (if only to get a good seat!).
First up was Raven Brooks, a name which on first hearing sounds as if it should have been conjured up from the San Fernando Valley, but in fact belongs to a young local woman who made a big impact.
Opening and closing with villanelles, she progressed through a clever duologue between a woman and a waiter, Human Heart, and then to I Stand Accused, about generational faux-pas. Teasingly, she refused to elaborate on The River Man, with imagery of The Styx and other dark forces mysteriously swirling around. Confidently and strikingly presented, she displayed technical skill with warmth and wit, I look forwards to future performances.
Maggie Doyle is a conventional rhyming poet, and tonight she showed that you can make the form go a long way. The Party was light knock-about stuff, whilst The Merry Widow evolves, lengthens and delights with each new extended incarnation.
The familiar bits are welcome, the latest instalments always great fun, in an epic ode to twilight sexual misadventure! Yet it was The Bullies which really delivered tonight. A plaintive tale of childhood suicide in which Maggie used simple rhyming patterns as an uncomfortable, sinister, subversive, but effective tool.
In Birmingham, Rhymes is a similar Spoken Word event hosted by Lorna Meehan. It is always a pleasure to see Lorna getting a run at actually performing rather than carrying the added responsibility of carrying an evening as well.
Shoes saw her at her best as she invited the audience to metaphorically and figuratively join her on her poetic journey, Celebrity Appendage, allowed her to exercise her waspish sense of humour as her big television break descends into an appearance as a lesbian shop assistant on screen only, by dint of her elbow!
The recent riots have spawned a plethora of civil unrest poems, and the next two poets offered their contributions in very different styles. Spoz, with, Only the Dead Dreams of the Asbo Kid, delivered a heartfelt vox pop, filling a void that contemporary popular music seems unable to fulfil. He also succeeded in rhyming “glass on”, with “croissant “, too! Antony R Owen, whose poetic milieu is in writing about conflict, took a more restrained approach with Slippers, which he dedicated to Tariq Jahan, the father of a young man murdered during the riots
His key line was of eyes that “gawp at an Eton mess”. In the rest of his set he drew both from his current book The Dreaded Boy and other pieces covering the devastating effect of drought and the impact of war on women, Afghan villages and the American heartlands. Antony personifies the success that serious poets can enjoy as performers of their work. His easy economy of language and inspired imagery is carefully crafted and compelling.
Fergus McGonigal is a performance tour de force these days. Christmas is for Children is amongst his funniest satires. With the festive season still some four months off, this will no doubt (deservedly) get much more exposure as the weeks roll on. A ten accent poem showcased his inability to do accents, and his nature poem showcased his contempt for pastoral poetry.
His skill is in taking the everyday, and heading off into the netherworld of the surreal with it. This is a skill which Catherine Crosswell also possesses. The Dentists Said becomes an hallucinogenic trip into the small print on medications including Anusol, Recipe for Success embraces television series, brewing and colonic irrigation, whilst the gist of Executive Dinner will be familiar to anyone who has suffered the roulette wheel of place settings at formal dinners.
TOUCHED BY HUMANITY
TOUCHED BY HUMANITY
The disparate perspectives on our world which Fergus and Catherine offer are eclectic, rewarding, and always touched by humanity.
Parole Parlate prides itself on also providing a platform for prose reading, and tonight had three authors. This form is much more difficult to succeed in than poetry when read out loud. The standard required to make your mark is far higher. I firmly believe that all prose readers should study the art of Storytelling both to assimilate what ingredients make for successful performed prose, and to glean how it is best presented.
Andrew Owens went for a carefully crafted episodic piece, Bootleg to Paris, about a drug smuggling trip which goes wrong. Concise, atmospheric, and with three twists, it engaged and was pretty much a case study in how to get it right. Alice Sewell bravely used the device of telling a tale about male debauchery at University voicing the male character herself.
This cleverly offered an instant and ongoing novelty, but also enabled her to explore the worst excesses of male behaviour in a way that may have bordered on the offensive if voiced by a man. A neat move, well observed, and executed. Tony Judge is an experienced and successful local author who enjoys writing wry satire under the, “Brief and Approximate Guide to” banner.
It is a formulaic and derivative series which succeeds because of its familiarity. His Brief and Approximate Guide to Worcestershire was a home banker, and so it proved, although at 1000 words its impact may have been greater with some editing. Curiously he then proceeded to his Brief and Approximate Guide to Parenting which was so similar in style that it neutralised the former piece. The material was good, but here, less would have been far more effective.
Parole Parlate next meets at 7. 30pm on Thursday October 6th, which is National Poetry Day, whose theme of Games will no doubt be explored on the night. 01-09-11
Grove Hotel, Buxton
This was my first visit to Word Wizards and a post August bank holiday date seemed the perfect time to visit this Peak District event in a most picturesque setting.
The Grove Hotel itself is some 240 years old, starting life as a Coffee House, before expanding as a coaching inn for Manchester travellers. Unusually, this is run as a monthly slam, with prize.
Although the mechanics can vary dependent upon numbers, the objective is to have rounds containing as many as possible, thereby retaining performers for multiple readings, whilst maintaining a competitive element. The spectacular scenery to be enjoyed during any direction of approach to Buxton will always offer a spur to the spirits of any poet as they prepare their evening’s work.
The room itself is first floor, and private, with the hotel’s bar and food amenities close by. Compere Rob Stevens, and his wife Lesley, are convivial hosts for a relaxed and friendly evening which tonight comprised some five rounds, with the cumulative scores of each round determining the winner. This had a pleasingly egalitarian effect, as it ensured that everything did not hang on the first round, affording poets more choice and variety in their selections.
The poetry was diverse, entertaining, and thoughtful. Gary Carr is wisely persisting with I the Broken, a clever page poem in four parts which grows with each performance, whilst his DJ piece offers broad appeal for anyone conversant with the jealous paranoia of those whom man the decks.
From Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins offered a strong combination of work resulting in a third placed finish. The Tale of the Teeth, about some errant false gnashers always entertains, Set Me Free, was a poignant mother and daughter coming of age piece. Anyone who includes the tongue twister “sarcococca” in their performance has to be admired.
ROBUST AND TOUGH
ROBUST AND TOUGH
Jack Regan is probably tired of references to his namesake on the Sweeney, but I shall try his patience further. His contributions were robust, tough and with a sprinkling of that trademark humour, never more so than with “Hey JC” a hugely enjoyable offering about the Creators failure to ensure that he was born a rock star. David Barrow entertained with some introspective work and the knockabout Rubadubdub, David Siddon reminded us of the Werewolves that lurk around Millersdale.
Host Rob Stevens, who finished the evening with a second placed finish combined oiling the wheels of the evening, amusing all with his wit, with some excellent poetic contributions. Six O’Clock News was particularly strong examining the peculiar juxtaposition and relative importance placed on various news stories.
The “hurricane that barely was” in America playing against the mayhem is Lbya was a point well made. Yet he also takes in the surreal, I’ve killed the Cat and Stuck it in the Wind Chimes, the political “Scab” and the domestic implications of when a grown up child flies the nest.
The generosity of the judges resulted in me scoring the highest points for an evening which was well organised and professionally presented complete with promotional banners, branded bookstand and on-table klaxons available for the audience to increase their demonstrations of enthusiasm for proceedings. Word Wizards runs monthly, on the last Tuesday, with a 7. 30pm start. 30-08-11.
Metro Cafe, Bilston
Like other spoken word events which I have attended recently, Bilston Voices defied the holiday season by drawing a packed house, making this what hostess Emma Purshouse declared a “blue chair” occasion, when emergency blue chairs had to be produced out of cupboards to cope with an expectant, burgeoning crowd.
A local bill had attracted an audience from far and wide, the furthest of whom had travelled from the Italian alpine village of Merano. Even the staff pull up chairs to listen to proceedings here, such is the following this evening has built up.
Upon inspecting the advertised bill I had been expecting to see Martin Jones the Shropshire Dairy Farmer who writes poetry, monologues and stories about farms, cows and cow pats.
In fact, first up was Martin Jones, but another one, from Wolverhampton, who writes about lost love, unemployment, the shortcomings of Wednesfield High School and Stalingrad. Martin romped through his material which was raw, authentic and entertained. Memories of Wolverhampton had some strong lines and poignant observations. When he adds disciplined editing to the enthusiasm of his delivery, he will have a good poem on his hands.
Stuart Haycox has impressive antecedents with his previous work on the Sunbeam factory in Wolverhampton. He did not touch on that tonight, but he did cover much ground, most very impressively.
Look Back in Wanting was a fond, but not overly sentimental piece, about our preoccupation with the past, Black Girl counterpointed the ebony beauty of an Ethiopian woman with the starvation which ravages that country, whilst Lady from a Hot Land examined the culture shock of those who immigrate to this country from balmy climates to be faced with our “grey steel skies of November”.
I Remember You was achingly touching to all of us who know, or who have known, a loved one smitten with cancer. Cafe Metro was a sure fire hit performed on home turf! An engaging and rewarding set which was enjoyed by all.
Roger Noon belongs to two local writing groups and quickly displayed his own versatility. From Paper to Silk and back to Wool, looked at an all too short marriage, in contrast to his own, now of some 41 years standing, before delivering an Ecclesiastical Trilogy which he dedicated to the influence of Simon Fletcher, and a highly amusing, multi voiced, Royal Wedding piece. Versatile, light, and effective, whether he is enjoying Jazz by the Levi French Trio, or gardening in autumn, Roger writes with a smile.
After the break, Marion Cockin opened with confidence and humour, reminding us that the insects of warm August will soon give way to the frosts of autumn. That sharp, but irreverent style was carried on both with the tale of a young girl who had gone to the seaside hoping to see the sea, whilst her mother had designs on a hotel waiter, and with her concerns about the irrational fear of her husband dying in inconvenient places!
It was with some surprise that the audience also became aware that her excellent poem on a Cabbage White Butterfly had been cruelly overlooked for a butterfly anthology for which it had been submitted. Marion is appearing during the day at the Staffordshire Arts Festival on 17th September and is worth looking out for.
Greg Stokes, sporting an Albert Camus T shirt, closed proceedings with a reading from his new book, American Toilet Tissue and Schrodingers Pussy in which Black Country Les and Sheila Parkes tackle two arsewipe American image rights attorneys in the Big Apple. Amusing, sharp and episodic, the visitors from Italy confessed that they couldn’t understand a word of the dialect, the rest of us lapped it up!
Bilston Voices meets again on 22nd September. A one off spectacular is being held at the Imperial Banqueting Suite in Bilston on the evening of Saturday 17th September, at which Jo Bell, the Anti-Poet and Heather Wastie, among others, will perform. 25-08-11
The Western Public House,
A healthy crowd turned out in the middle of the holiday season for this event, which is held bi-monthly, within the convivial surrounds of the Western Public House.
Most Spoken Word evenings have their own distinctive characteristics and Shindig is no exception. The two halves of the show are promoted by two different entities, Crystal Clear Creators, represented by Jonathan Taylor who tonight had the second half, and Nine Arches Press, represented by Matt Nunn and Jane Commane, who took the first half.
A ground floor bar simply converts into a performance room. A combination of a microphone and a solid crowd ensures sympathetic surroundings for proceedings which attract an educated and appreciative, but not elitist, audience.
Crystal Clear Creators is a not-for-profit arts organisation devoted to developing, producing, publishing and promoting new writing. It works with new, up-and-coming and established writers. It records, produces and broadcasts spoken-word material; it publishes anthologies and pamphlets of new writing. Nine Arches press is an independent poetry press that aims to publish the best contemporary voices in handsome new poetry and short story pamphlets and collections.
First up was Matt Merritt who has become something of a fixture on the midlands poetry circuit in recent months, unsurprisingly, his stagcraft is now finely honed. Matt’s 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, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is available from Nine Arches Press, but he ranged freely across the whole pantheon of his work in his reading.
One of the pleasures of hearing a poet several times is in becoming accustomed to the breadth of their work. Zugenruhe was a fine piece on migration, with the underlying sense of anxiety and restlessness powerfully underscoring it. Coolidge intriguingly examined the eponymous US President whom the Reagan Administration had sought to favourably reinvent, whilst Summer Breeze was a wistful and pleasing homage to a friend who died young. On the evening it was 1984 which stood out, a powerful fusion of the social upheaval of the miner’s strike and the bowling menace of the West Indies cricket team of the time.
Closing the first half was Deborah Tyler- Bennett, a lady with Nottinghamshire roots, but a national reputation. Her chapbook collection of three portraits in poems, Mytton… Dyer… Sweet Billy Gibson… is available from Nine Arches Press, and dominated her reading. Quirky, historic, regional characters, they offered rich material from which to draw, Telling the Bees of Jimmy Dyer was particularly atmospheric.
Deborah works as a poet for many national galleries and museums, including workshops for The Science Museum, The National Gallery, The Collection, The Usher Gallery, and most recently being resident poet for Sussex Day at the Royal Pavilion Tearooms, Brighton. That sense of history and place pervaded her reading with Moonlit House from Revudeville (King’s England, 2011), a ghost poem, oozing class.
This was the first time that I had seen Deborah perform and she exceeded her reputation. Confident, assured and instantly engaging, her poetry was as sparkling as her purple patent heels, and her commitment to the poetic cause was evident when she took time out with me to enthuse about her editorship of Coffee House magazine. She has also been translated into Romanian, although why remains a mystery to be resolved at our next meeting!
First up after the break was Alex Plasatis, an exophonic writer undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at De Montfort University who has also co-edited the third volume of Hearing Voices, the Crystal Clear Creators House magazine. The increase in migration, particularly within the EU, will undoubtedly increase this phenomena within English literature. In Germany they have characterised this as “Auslander” and “Migrantenliteratur”, and the phrases axial and postnational are sometimes used. But the term exophonic seeks to draw a distinction between the differing contexts of production of writing by non-native speakers and native speakers of hybrid identity calling attention to the politics of style in non-native speakers.
Now all this may seem a little high-brow but it is the context within which Greek National Alex performs. Trying to explain or categorise his performance is a challenge, but it was an absolute joy.
Loosely a collection of bawdy erotic stories which would make Chaucer blush, it is introduced as being the story of a louche, lothario landlord who chances upon the opportunity to regale his young tenant with the tales of his sexual adventures. Neither conventional poem, nor straight story, it meanders, diverts, entertains and delights in equal measure – and brought the house down. If you have wondered about the libido of seventy nine year old grandmothers and the etiquette of wearing blue nighties in front of your girlfriend’s parents, then check out Alex next time he is in town!
Roy Marshall closed the evening for Crystal Clear Creators. Describing himself as a Leicestershire based poet, dad, a son, a brother and a nurse, Roy enjoyed success in a Guardian competition two years ago and has never looked back.
His laid back style took in BBC Children’s programming of days gone by, Nirvana’s farewell UK performance, the smoking ban, and his children. Light, accessible with an unerring eye for humanity, it was a thoughtful coda for the evening.
The undercard of open mic poets was uniformly high and almost entirely comprised serious subject matter. Mark Goodwin performed a nature poem detailing a country walk which was exquisite in its execution, Maria Taylor evoked the era of knife thrower’s assistants marvelously in a triumph of the virtues of preparation and skilful editing, amongst many fine performances. Shindig next meets on 24th October, free entry. 22-08-11
Old Cottage Tavern
Burton on Trent
This open-mic event is now established in its ability to draw attendance from far and wide. Under the skilful stewardship of MC Gary Carr, the standard is high, and the evening always moves on at a brisk pace. It also tends to be quite diverse through happenstance, tonight was no exception. A strong body of poets was on hand to present their wares, and it was material from books which dominated proceedings.
Ian Ward, from Lichfield Poets, has read several times before. This time he chose to present his first collection, Light and Darkness, (United Press) for its debut outing, which contains over three dozen poems. A social worker by profession Ian’s work is eclectic and off beat. Fantasy horror, contemporary pop culture and love are all visited by his pen. Stolen Away a piece on dementia, stood out.
Barry Patterson presented mainly from the second edition of his successful, Nature Mystic, a collection which reflects his interest in the relationship we have with our environment. Astronaut will resonate particularly with those old enough to remember the moon landings, whilst Advice to a Geordie Miner Lad in Pooley carries an authenticity which transcends the need for having had to have been there. A part of the permanent Polesworth Poetry Trail, Barry reflected that it was a contribution which had come easiest to him over and beyond others to which he had committed more time. Yet it is that immediacy and cohesion which makes the poem such a pleasure to hear, particularly when delivered with a Geordie accent.
Mal Dewhirst took the opportunity to introduce us to the work of some contemporary Irish poets, having just returned from a trip to the Emerald isle as a guest of O’Bheal in Cork City for a three day visit of readings as part of the Cork-Coventry Literature exchange.
The first was the Galway Poet Elaine Feeney. He read from her collection published by Salmon, Where’s Katy, the highlight of which was Urban Myths and the Galway Girl, which was constructed from the ephemeral observations of one of her co-workers in a Hairdresser’s salon.
The second was Teri Murray whose work Mal sampled
from Where the Dagda Dances (Revival Press). A
playwright and Editor of the Revival Poetry Journal the book contains
new work and selected favourites from previous collections, now out of
print. Warm and reflective, her poetry was distinctly Irish fondly
echoing the past.
Covent Garden, London
So, the television is filled with images of rioting youth across the country. Gangs are raiding and looting shops. The Metropolitan Police have put three times as many officers on the street. Across London trouble is expected almost everywhere.
Well, it's Tuesday night and my last chance to visit Poetry Unplugged so I head off to Covent Garden to sign up for the best open mic in London. The streets are not exactly empty but they are certainly much less busy than usual. When I suggest to Niall, the organiser, that poets are made of sterner stuff he counters that we are just more needy, just more desperate for peer approval. And he's probably right.
Even so, it's a smaller audience than usual and there are only sixteen readers. On the positive side, at least I have the time and space to review the event properly, though of course it still needs to be brief and not everyone was introduced with a full name anyway.
So first up we had Nick who did a poem so new that the ink was still wet that was simultaneously about the riots and the fire in the cigarette bin outside the cafe. There were a couple of other humorous ones and a rather grim, but very good, one about an abattoir from the cow's point of view.
Janice, who has been on at every performance I've attended started brightly with a poem about a pop-up Karma Sutra (which she had on hand to illustrate the verse), and followed it with a serial killer suburban housewife. Both were clever and funny.
Someone I hadn't seen before, Vanessa gave us a choice of two poems and went with the one that she'd described as a "fairy tale for grown-ups". She said later that she hadn't been happy with her choice but it was a fine recitation of a long and complex poem delivered in quick and confident style.
Brian Baker was next with a group of poems, some of which I'd heard him do before. The short Memory of a Conversation with a Jewish Girlfriend was especially pithy and amusing and Bob Rainey, who followed him, a Poetry Unplugged first-timer did a trio of very good poems that included a personal ad for an S&M magazine.
Paul Moore, making his second appearance, was also very good, but Just Because was a standout piece with each line making a contrast and the initial light-hearted tone gradually mutating into something much darker, a tone that was maintained by the next to the mic, Arthur Ray whose poems were a kind of anti-love song.
Next up was regular Donal Dempsey in a shirt that was louder than the sirens occasionally heard outside. He rattled through a cracking set of very funny short verses in a style that had the audience howling with laughter.
I opened the second half with a reprise of my Bilston Voices autobiographical set. People made the right noises in the right places and complimented me afterwards so it must have been OK. I, of course, am not best placed to make that judgement. I can judge Will Warren who came next - bravely announcing that he was opening with a poem about his favourite synthesizer. And that's what he gave us, a eulogy to a keyboard followed by a story of a strange chess game. His laid-back delivery perfectly complimented the pieces.
No one could accuse Stanley Neil of being "laid back". After a brief, but amusing pieced on the class system and a couple of haiku he shifted up a gear into a raging histrionic performance that saw him abandoning the mic and animatedly haranguing the audience. It was great stuff.
Anita was more subdued. She delivered a long and downbeat poem about death, apparently inspired by a random remark from the host at last week's group. It was a good piece, though a little confusing in places and the next poet, Yvonne, to a degree, maintained the tone.
She wasn't, I confess, to my taste. There was nothing wrong with either of her two poems and her delivery, though a little nervous, was fine. It's just the religious subject matter that leaves me rather cold. No matter how well done religious poetry just doesn't interest me.
Peter Doyle lifted things with a poem about how much he hated seagulls and the variety of ways in which he had fantasised about killing them. His description of their calls as "the pub singers of the avian world" was a gem in itself. His other piece, The Trees, was more serious but just as good.
The penultimate performer was Ray Blake who I enjoyed enough to buy his book. His opening piece about the Irish and the Scots was really very good but though the Irish in the audience may not have been so keen. His follow up, a piece about people who have half-hearted, wimpish tattoos, pleased everyone though.
And so we come to the final performer, who billed himself as Namanagra. . . er. . Granma Ana. . . er Ananagram. It's always best to save the completely bonkers ones till last and Ananagram was about as completely bonkers as you can get without becoming a villain in a Batman movie. His single long poem was an apparently extemporised piece about all the poets he'd seen in the preceding couple of hours. Everybody got name-checked as he strode about the room like a poetry stormtrooper, climbed on the furniture and enthused everyone with his manic energy. For a poem that couldn't possibly have existed two hours ago it was a tour-de-force and a brilliant way to end my short run of visits to what has very quickly become my favourite way to spend a Tuesday night. It's even better than rioting.
Poetry Unplugged takes place every Tuesday at the Poetry Place in Betterton Street in Covent Garden. It starts at 7:30 with a sign up between 6 and 7. 09-08-11
Pure and Good and Right Summer Slam
The Sozzled Sausage, Leamington Spa
This was the first time that Behind the Arras had visited Leamington Spa and the Summer Slam seemed the perfect opportunity to do so.
The Sozzled Sausage itself has a modern trendy interior with the event being held in a conservatory area which made things accessible to the curious who might just have popped in for a quiet drink, as well as the poetic cognoscenti. George Hardwick officiates, and is the face and voice of proceedings, fellow organiser Kim assists unobtrusively. The pub is quiet on a Monday night resulting in the Poetry crowd dominating proceedings with no extraneous distractions.
Ingeniously, the evening encompassed two things, the slam and an open mic option, which worked well. Slams are popular, as is the format, but some want to present their work without a competitive element, and those people were wisely catered for too. A well balanced sound system ensured that the weak of voice were heard- whilst the strong of voice did not overpower.
The performers were diverse both in style, and content. John Shaw was urbane, and reflective with a very good piece on food rationing entitled Lovely Grub. Poetry can do many things, and one element which John demonstrated is its ability to preserve historic mores which will exist only on the page in the future. Lovely Grub was just that, authentic, nimble and accurate. Unsurprisingly he went through to the semi finals.
Other semi-finalists included organiser George Hardwick (independently assessed by a panel of impartial judges!) and Mister Morrison. I had never seen George perform before, but was aware of his reputation. He was hugely impressive. The Power of Stories was both a call to arms, and a celebration of the form, all wrapped into one.
A veritable invocation which inspired as it sought to extol the inspirational power of stories. His semi-final poem was no less potent, a stirring, moving, Inviting Love, in which he called on the healing powers of love to visit all, ” existence is the sound of love”, moving, and quite brilliant.
Mister Morrison is an unassuming, and very talented young man. He opened up with Angie, an innovative, intricate and sophisticated performance piece. It addresses the audience through the device of calling them Angie, thus enabling him to speak personally to each audience member (“for the sake of convenience can I call you all Angie?). It is amusing and smart, ensuring an immediate and ongoing connection throughout the poem which makes it pretty much the ideal performance/slam weapon.
His semi final piece was, In Aprils Eyes, a fond reflective piece based on his work with disadvantaged children, his winning finalist poem was Danny Boy, another intimate work, this time about his relationship with his brother. The latter two as subject matter would not have succeeded without the humanity and love which he injects into his writing, and an Everyman quality which characterises it. He was the worthy overall slam winner whom I was happy to acknowledge as such in the final, which I personally contested with him.
Suburbia is a topic beloved of poets and songwriters alike, and Ade Barton had a good crack at it. John Mason drew on Philip Larkin as inspiration for The Knight and his Lady, and Craig Lambert entertained with Is the Pope a Catholic.
Yet it was an open mic participant who particularly caught my ear, Sam Elvyheart. One of the joys of this type of event is how individuals appear out of nowhere, mumble something about not having done much of this sort of thing before, and then reveal themselves as burgeoning talent. Daddy Dear was an intensely personal reflection on her relationship with her father which was strong, fragile and engaging. I hope we hear more of Sam, the warm reception she won should inspire her.
A great evening and a credit to organisers George
and Kim. The trip home took on a surreal air as text messages warning of
riots in Birmingham and gathering crowds in Coventry and elsewhere were
juxtaposed by BBC Radio Coventry running a programme on “Words I Hate”
and playing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” whilst our urban areas descended
into anarchy. ”Pure and Good and Right” next meets on 12th
September with Roy McFarlane as the guest poet. 08-08-11
Little Venice, Worcester
Holiday time it may be, and as many people headed off in search of the obligatory sun and sand, one could be forgiven in thinking that August’s Parole Parlate evening of poetry, prose, stories and general word spinning at Little Venice would be less frequented than usual.
You would be wrong.
These monthly events have now established a supportive and faithful following, always with a smattering of newcomers, coupled with emerging “Little Venice Favourites”. These evenings are part of the on-going Worcestershire Literary Festival activities and festival director, Lisa Ventura, and her team constantly provide a diversity of talent both new and established, and tonight was no exception.
Heralding the 2012 festival (June15th-24th, 2012) one of tonight’s guests was Worcestershire’s first poet laureate, Theo Theobald, who performed his two winning laureate pieces. We were treated to the attributes and almost magical powers of the locally made Lea & Perrins sauce in his first piece before he invited us to join him at H&M where he attempted to exchange a dress, poetically speaking, in “I’m in love with the girl at H&M”.
The outcome was not as anticipated but fortunately Theo had a carrier bag for New Look instead. Always popular with the audience, Theo seems to be enjoying his laureateship.
Paul Jeffrey, a newcomer to Parole Parlate opened the evening with a short story from his newly published book Enigmatter, a book of stories and poems based in Worcester and featuring the statue of Elgar to whom he attributes awareness of human consciousness.
His thought provoking story “Under the Surface”, led us through a summer adventure for a brother and sister with childish fear at its centre, culminating in the harshness of life experienced first hand.
A welcome return visit from Mr. Morrison was greeted with enthusiasm. This young man delivered two pieces in his own particular style - “In April’s Eyes”, a moving description of childhood innocence and a child in care contrasting sharply with life as an adult. He followed this with a “Danny Boy” dedicated to his brother, in which he takes guilt from his childhood into adulthood with a plea for forgiveness. The audience loved him.
Firm favourite, David Calcutt, told us that he had been working on a project writing poems with people with dementia. This experience, he said, had changed his way of thinking and the purpose of writing itself. He presented five pieces of work, untitled, illustrating the passing of life into that twilight zone where people sometimes know where they are but know that they should not be
His description of busy fingers constantly pulling at imaginary threads and rubbing out invisible marks jarred with many of us I’m sure. Written and delivered with great sensitivity, he demonstrated how the ordinary is somehow extraordinary in the world of dementia and the normal anything but normal.
“They are becoming their own memories” being a particularly haunting line.
With a flick of her lace-gloved hand, another regular, Suz Winspear, flicked through her book and we were transported to Ostend. Nine pieces beautifully illustrated ladies with dubious pasts who now gossiped together, still dressed to impress, and had obligatory little dogs. Her poem “Maxine” left the audience in no doubt as to how Maxine had acquired her fur coat! These tales of superannuated ladies of pleasure was most enjoyable.
John Lawrence, writer and poet, immediately had the audience eating out of his hand with his tale of “How Truth Can Hurt a Fish”. Having won us round, he let us into the secret of how he was useless at DIY but hadn’t let on to his wife. Seeking expert advice in B&Q, he learnt impressive technical jargon, was called “mate” and left clutching the spline he needed to fix a tap.
He acknowledged that plumbing was not something he could handle and likewise plumbers couldn’t rhyme eighteen words with orange so all was well in his world. “Super Hero” was new to me and if you want to know how a more mature person copes with becoming a super hero, I’m sure you get the chance to see John again at Little Venice.
Beth “knuckles” Edwards, runner-up junior Worcestershire Poet Laureate, received a rousing welcome as she apologised for her first poem which contained several four letter words. Her “angry” poem dealt with gay suicides in America, while “Parasite” described the world of so-called celebrities and their accompanying entourage. Unusually, she read a poem by “Itch” lead singer of King Blues, entitled Five Bottles of Shampoo about the rights of women. Her penultimate piece, “The Pleasures of Grammar”, described the poetry of love-making with punctuation! She completed her set with “4. 37. a. m. ” her experience of a hangover, finishing with the immortal lines from a poem by Fergus McGonigal “I swear I will never drink again”. A young lady who takes her role as runner-up laureate very seriously.
The more gentle pace of Al Barz, considerately sticking to his allotted time, brought us another DIY poem, this time about the dreaded whistling tradesman; he denied killing a ladybird in “Note to Granddaughter”, reminded some of us about Brenda Lee and Lonnie Donegan in “Transition of the Beat”; the art of making a soufflé followed in “One Egg is Not an oeuf”; “Shared Passage to Dawn” was a gentle love poem and he finished with “Contortion” where toes are placed in ears – enough said.
A night for personal revelations, Tom Feelgood told us that this was not his real name. He is a teacher and does not want to be recognised by his students! He started quietly with his poem “Elements” but then became a one man show as he performed a lengthy piece about Gavin who had a ITA attack during a Monday morning sales meeting.
Realising something was wrong but thinking it was the effects of a regular hangover, he tried to assimilate the immediate goings on. Enter a PR and ideas man (Mat) who seems to have it all. Meeting up later in a café, all is not what it seems. A dose of soul searching and re-branding for Mat and that final embolism for Gavin.
The Apples & Snakes guest, Deanna Rodgers, completed a fine evening of winning words. Bounding onto the stage with such enthusiasm she was an immediate hit with the audience who were captivated by her rap-style delivery (although personally, delivered just a little too fast for this ageing listener!) Pieces included “Nowadays” encouraging everyone to vote for causes they believe in whilst pointing out how we are getting more and more isolated – “people travel in portable worlds”. Listening, obsessive crushes, equality, heritage and living in this state and not off the state showed how she had become a slam winning poet. Her poem “143” (I love you) showed a more gently side and was equally well received. A great end to the evening.
All in all, another night which catered for a variety of tastes and ages. Parole Parlate next meets on Thursday 1st September. 04-08-11
Maggie Doyle was a finalist in this year’s Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition.
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
http://pollysworda. wordpress. com/
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/
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