Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

‘Border Run’ by Simon Lewis

In Novel on April 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm

-Reviewed by Elinor Walpole-

Simon Lewis’s Border Run is a pacy read that tells the story of two gap year travellers, Jake and Will, who embark upon an ‘adventurette’ in the jungle on the borders of China and Burma that turns nasty. We see events unfold from the viewpoint of Will, an insecure young man keen to prove his adventurous spirit to validate himself in his ex-girlfriend’s eyes. Lewis’s writing conjures up the self-reflexive Facebook generation perfectly, with Will analysing each experience in terms of its ability to impress back home. Jake even berates Will for mediating his experiences through the lens; ‘take that camera off your face. Stop using it like a shield’.

Will and Jake’s personalities contrast with one another, the uptight and slightly neurotic young man to carefree and footloose lad. The novel opens with Jake excitedly proposing a roadtrip with a stranger, the bait for Will being a photogenic waterfall. The bait for Jake is somewhat different; the temptation of ‘walking marriage’ with girls who live in the borderlands. Will is disappointed at the first sight of their promised paradise, his vision clouded by his resentment towards the carefree Jake for having commandeered their carefully planned itinerary. He jumps to negative conclusions, seeing the place as ‘a hopeless mass of green detail’ before they come upon their real destination.
Border Run Simon Lewis
The novel is full of vivid descriptions seen through Will’s keen eye as a photographer. The luscious settings, a smattering of technical photography language and the odd detail such as their snacking on ‘Cashew Savageness nuts and Lonely God crisps’ recreate the curious traveller’s wonder. Will captures every moment as it unfolds for its physical beauty, but more importantly for him as proof of his experiences for how they might rate as a Facebook album. Later his relentless documenting of every detail becomes his protection as he casts himself in the role of witness.

Will’s unease about the impulsive trip is overridden by his desire to impress, and when things start to heat up he ‘told himself to relax and be more like Jake, carefree, easy in his body, going with the flow’. However Will’s premonition that things are too good to be true doesn’t take long to be proven right. As soon as evidence starts to appear that perhaps Howard, their tour guide, isn’t quite as altruistic as he’s made himself out to be Will assumes the moral high ground and begins to weigh up his options considering his irresponsible travelling companions, and finds himself having to constantly adjust to increasingly perilous situations until he’s no longer sure where his loyalty lies.

Short chapters and playful cliffhangers keep the story moving rapidly as the situation spirals out of control. The narrative is dialogue driven, from Will’s cringeworthy non-conversation with a nubile tribal girl to increasingly awkward interchanges between himself and Howard that become more tense as Will tries to make sense of the turn of events and his position within it. Despite this Will makes an unexpectedly sympathetic protagonist. We follow his agonising decision-making process from one uncomfortable situation through another, from the trivial to the perilous.

Border Run is an engaging, humorous novel that forces our modern Young Werther-like protagonist away from introverted self-analysis and into the thrust of the action, until finally he is forced to really test his limits and what he believes himself capable of.

Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final: The Individuals 31.03.12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on April 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm

@ Wilton’s Music Hall

– by Dana Bubulj

Part two of the Hammer and Tongue Final: this review concentrates on the Individual slam at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall. 18 Poets that had qualified through the Hammer and Tongue Regional Slams were now pitted against each other. While we saw many during the Team Battle(!) earlier that day, with mostly different poems under their belt and a packed, enthusiastic audience made this a fantastic evening. (Also, Cat Brogan fulfilled her promise to do cartwheels on stage whenever anyone got a 10.0, which was surprisingly under-exploited).

Scoring in slams are often tricky to explain. You have to factor in individual biases, take into account direct comparison between the preceding poet, bumper scoring to offset potential time penalties, and, of course, score creep (more likely for comic poems). That said, it was refreshing to have such disparate scores, with judges showing a range of tastes for different kinds of poems.

Rounds: Three heats of six poets, two each heat qualified to a semi final, then three went on to the final. Sam Berkson & Steve Larkin hosted the heats. Weirdly, there was a large break between the first two heats and the third, but we resumed with new judges.

Favourites of the Heats:

  • Vanessa Kisuule‘s “Playground Debt” was fantastic: the guilt (“apologies in hindsight are always profuse”) of standing by in school while a boy was bullied (“she gorged on your silence”) with racial slurs and the childhood fear of bullying. (23.8)
  • David Lee Morgan repeated his great Team Battle(!) poem about the August riots from the perspective of “the man on TV calling you mindless”, exploiting youth’s inexperience with “fingers around [their] thoughts” to serve authority’s ends. (23.1)
  • Sacrificial Poet, Michael Parker owned the stage, and had great rapport with the audience as he told us how “[we] would have loved [the poem that he’d written]”. This was fantastic theatricality, booming  “OUR POET KING” (as we would have crowned him). I believed him. (23.8)
  • Anna Freeman‘s “If History Has Taught Us Anything” was a scathing commentary on how regressive politics have become recently (“I want to be pig ignorant”). A nice twist end: imploring us to pick up our pitchforks and guillotines. (24.8)

I also particularly liked:

  • Spliff Richard‘s plea to stop reggae music’s increasing anger and homophobia (“whatever happened to one love?”) was heartfelt; with a nice juxtaposition to the multiple defences for ganja. (25.9)
  • Amy McAllister‘s “Role play” painted a believable relationship where the participants only stayed together because “London’s massive and we’re lonely”, sacrificing standards (“I only expect 30% on your part”) and kissing only because they’re “tired of talking”. (24.3)
  • Curious had a great poem about refugees who “fled to sea”, from “distant lands … far and few”. The first half, which dealt with the journey and impetus, before settling and assimilating into Western culture, was especially good. (24.2)
  • Jessie Durrant reminds me a little of Kate Tempest, both in breathy impassioned delivery of personal material and in subject matter: of a friend lost to drugs, leaving “nothing left of the boy [she] knew”. (25.6)
  • Sacrificial Poet, Pete the Temp, gave an impassioned defence of the Occupy movement, co-opting the audience in a call and response declaration of “No, I’m Spartacus”. It had a good rhythm, even with slightly odd line breaks, and certainly fired people up. (18.4 due to flagrant overtime)

Also Ran:

  • Yvo Luna‘s “I’m so glad we stayed friends” took on a very bitter, angry voice, with screams played for laughs rather than empathy. (22.3)
  • Mark Niel professed attraction to audiences in a theatrical, obnoxiously loud manner, complete with partial stripping. I admit I did like one line: “you still crave one night stanzas”. (23.5)
  • Phat Matt Baker had an ode to a kebab (“dirty doner”), complete with imaginary dialogue in falsetto and scatological humour. The audience laughed, even if I didn’t. (23.1)
  • Chris Parkinson‘s surreal delivery didn’t stick together as well as his team poem, leaving this poem confused (culminating in a boy being kidnapped by a balaclava’d Prince Philip, as you do). (22.1)
  • Mac McFadden confessed a love for “A Girl Called Sid”, which played generally off the subversion of gender essentialism in Sid and its reinforcement by the narrator. Unfortunate implications to the dismissive tone of “she thought she was a fella”.  (23.4)
  • Adam Kammerling constructed a surreal scene of working the night shift and, being penniless & hungry, being taunted by the cakes surrounding him. Could have done without “drop your slacks and lube up” threat. (26.8)
  • Tina Sederholm‘s “Keep Young And Beautiful” was standard commentary on cosmetic culture, complete with its ugly sides (eating disorders/alcoholism). I’d have been happier with it if “feel guilty as a rapist if you eat a single biscuit” wasn’t played for laughs. (22.9)
  • Charlie Dupré pleased the crowd with admissions of “having a feminine side” and the stereotypical trappings thereof. Arguing for genders being similar would be more effective were it less couched in phrases like “don’t worry lads” or “in 2012, it’s manly”. (25.2)
  • Cat Brogan gave a raucously crude story of a liaison in a lesbian bar inBerlinwith a woman named Sadie. Joyful and shamelessly explicit. (21.9)
  • Lucy Ayrton‘s “Fuck you, Corporate Land” was one of the quieter pieces of the night, a meditation on the malaise of office jobs and the importance of seeming happy, even when disappointed with how life has dashed our childhood dreams. (21.8)
  • Chris McCormick‘s “Math” detailed an argument with a teacher, calling them out on their sexism. At the teacher’s “most girls aren’t good at math”, the audience gave a pantomime-eque gasp; I think points were for sentiment rather than the poem itself. (23.7)

Individual Semi-Final
Hosts: Sam Berkson and Michelle Madsen

  • Vanessa Kisuule‘s “Bounty” was about the trouble of “society’s scalpel”: feeling “out of place” surrounded by those of her own race. However, rather than analysing the stereotypes she discusses, the poem seemed a little classist (feeling “a traitor because [she] refuse[s] to drop T’s”, or wishing her knowledge of jazz/blues held sway over hip-hop fans). (28.5 OT)
  • Curious‘s poem was inspired by Black History month, rather problematically. “The Soul of Motown, I am it”, he proclaims, after saying “Black History belongs in [him]”. The poem wished to instil hope rather than guilt into “our children”, in a time of such institutionalised racism, but the appropriation made it a bit dodgy. (26.3)
  • Amy McAllister was a bittersweet dedication to a depressed friend: hoping their road-trip was full of experiences, from food poisoning to the desert being “overwhelming, in a good way”. (27.1)
  • Jessie Durrant‘s cheerful poem “Kakorrhaphiophobia” spoke to the performers: about overcoming a fear of failure by embracing the stage, filled with familiar references aimed to inspire. (25)
  • Spliff Richard‘s “Never Alone” was an defence of marijuana and its ability to instil peace, drawing allusions from the civilisations which used it to his own personal use (I liked how music was “like the g-spot’s been relocated to [his] ear”). (23.1 OT 4:01)
  • Adam Kammerling‘s poverty piece was his strongest of the day. Taken from own experience with poverty & rooting through an M&S bin for food at night, the hunger was palpable, the rot visceral. The final (expected) line (“not just bin food, it’s M&S bin food”) was said with aplomb to massive applause. (29.1)

WINNERS: Amy McAllister, Vanessa Kisuule, Adam Kammerling

FINAL

  • Amy McAllister’s “She’s Over” was certainly a different take on moralising; a rallying cry to replace pornography’s seedy underbelly with another kind of passion: that of the “intense determination” of the August riot looters, whose “spunk is on our side” rather than against. (25.4 OT 3:41)
  • Vanessa Kisuule performed “Little Red Bow” was on a once-idolised friend: a fantastic character piece. With a recurring refrain of “laughing at a joke yet to tell” that created an air of companionable despair, Kisuule captures being on the sidelines of someone’s alcoholism. (25.1 OT 4:08)
  • Adam Kammerling went back to his rap roots in “Spitting Bars”, an amusing dialogue between an insipid young rapper, all front and no substance, and a literate objector who tears him to shreds. While the rapper was a bit of a straw man/easy target, the back and forth was great, particularly when it played with slang: “you’re killing the art” “fucking right I’m killing the art” “no, in a bad way”. The nod to Wilton’s stage on which he stood went down well, too. (29.6)

WINNER: ADAM KAMMERLING
Who treated us with another rendition of his altercation with the NYPD.

Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final: The Team Battles! 31.03.12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on April 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

@ Wilton’s Music Hall

– by Dana Bubulj and Koel Mukherjee

Event: Taking the six different chapters of H&T from across the country and pitting them against each other to see which location has the best poets: 1st two qualifying heats and then a final.

Judges were chosen from the audience, with standard slam rules. (Scores noted, “OT” = if points were docked for going over time.) I was relieved to see the turns alternated between the teams of four poets, keeping it competitive.

There was also an individual slam, with many of the same poets, but that will be covered in another review, so if you feel the poets have been short-changed, they may have longer write ups there.

Venue: Hidden in a back alley near Aldgate East is Wilton’s, the last surviving Grand Music Hall in the world; rather beautiful in its stripped walls, wooden floors and curled columns; a splendour perfectly suited to the occasion.

On a positive accessibility note: the name, team, score and time were projected behind the performers.

The hosts: were excellent. Working in pairs, they kept proceedings fast paced, cracking jokes while scores were collected. They also made sure the audience knew the rules, so as not to exclude newcomers.

HEAT ONE: Brighton VS Cambridge VS Hackney
Hosts: Steve Larkin (Ox) & Michelle Madsen (Camd)

Hackney: Angry Sam (Captain), Adam Kammerling, Amy McAllister, David Lee Morgan

  • Angry Sam spoke wistfully of snow failing to affect the harshness of business. (25.8)
  • David Lee Morgan performed movingly on the riots from the perspective of authority. I love this poem to bits, particularly its darkness. (26.8)
  • Amy McAllister talked accessibly of falling unrequitedly for her flatmate and the drive to escape (“he forgot what he had, scratch that, hadn’t”). (26.5)
  • Adam Kammerling’s poem about an overheard conversation captured the meandering nature of everyday chatter about a day’s events (things “proper kicked off”), in a realistic tone that nonetheless maintained poetic rhythm. (26.2)

Cambridge: Fay Roberts (Captain), Jessie Durrant, Mark Niel, Hollie McNish

  • Hollie McNish performed “Wow”, a fantastic piece on body image post-baby. (26.9)
  • Fay Roberts “I want more”, a friendly rejection of female magazine advice. Wished she’d made more of the last line that questioned what the media was hiding with such a distraction. (24.6)
  • Jessie Durrant discussed notions of family in relation to seeing a picture-perfect “catalogue” example, and comparing it with her own version. (26.1)
  • Mark Niel raged at the frequent misspelling of his surname with the tightly-wound fury of a child’s tantrum. Culminating in the revelation that he was defending himself to a judge, the piece was compelling (if only compelling you to run away – ed) but also rather disturbing. (26.5)

Brighton: Michael Parker (Captain), Yvo Luna, Chris Parkinson, Spliff Richard

  • Michael Parker’s passionate “100%” built momentum with the effective repetition of “we few” and “we stand together”, combining otherwise isolated protest groups into a united movement. (23.4 OT)
  • Yvo Luna had several poems, one a great, disturbing love poem with a baby-doll voice conflating kisses with “cuttlefish bones up vertebrae” and “drowning kittens”. (25.3)
  • Chris Parkinson keyed in to the manic energy of the media with “Fashion Tips for the Last Days”. It unleashed a frenetic bombardment of clashing headlines and surreal imagery, in a hilariously tabloid-worthy tone. (“Would Gandhi have voted for Clegg? We asked Ulster, and they said no!”)  (27.1)
  • Spliff Richard: A fabulous piece dedicated to Kate Tempest, beginning with thunderstorms and ending beautifully with: “She’s the reason hurricanes have girls’ names”. Though the delivery was so fast it was occasionally incomprehensible, his rhythms and amazing flow were exhilarating. (26.1)

Compound Scores:   Brighton: 101.9, Cambridge: 104.1.  Winner: Hackney, 105.3

HEAT TWO: Bristol VS Camden VS Oxford
Hosts: Angry Sam (Ha) & Michael Parker (Brigh)

Bristol: Sally Jenkinson (Captain), James Bunting, Jeremy Toombs

  • Sally Jenkinson went twice to make up for Bristol’s reduced team, which worked distinctly in their favour. Her first, (25.9) was a moving entreaty to her sister not to lose herself in disaffection, weaving the lyrical with the everyday in a tone choked with feeling. Both her pieces effectively used evocative details to create atmosphere, whether for the complex familiarity of siblinghood or the vulnerability of insomnia, when “white bones sing awake”. (26.3)
  • James Bunting’s “Conkers” drew allusions and teased comparisons between a whirlwind romance and carefree children playing in the “rum-gold twilight”. But occasional nice turns of phrase couldn’t overcome the patchwork of clichés, repetitious imagery, and familiar lines you already knew. (26.5)
  • Jeremy Toombs’s hypnotic voice suited his wandering, Ginsberg-ian reflections. “Hangover Meat Belly” focused on the origins of the meat and alcohol in his stomach. The second, “My Asshole is Burning”, was a musing on diarrhoea and that all poets must shit. Engaging, but the humour was not for everyone. (25.4)

Camden: Michelle Madsen (Captain), Curious, Charlie Dupré, Cat Brogan

  • Curious first detailed a young black rapper’s use of violent/threatening imagery in performances, then his death at the hands of police who framed him. Vivid and well performed, but confusing and lacking an obvious perspective or message. (24.7 OT)
  • Michelle Madsen performed “We’d All Melt”, of bittersweet offerings to a relationship that’s ending. I’ve always loved the line: “I give a gift of seven lemons”. (25.9)
  • Charlie Dupré’s consummately theatrical performance animated this sweet tale of two band members, the kick drum and high hat, who fall in love, leading to solo ambitions, crushed dreams and eventual reconciliation. (24.8)
  • Cat Brogan on the origin of boycotts and filibustering in 1880s Ireland was full of facts (at the time, 100% of the land was owned by 0.2% of the people) that tied history neatly to contemporary protests. A powerful piece (if a little stilted from occasional forced rhyme). (25.5)

Oxford: Tina Sederholm (Captain), Phat Matt Baker, Chris McCormick, Mac McFadden

  • Tina Sederholm shared her cute take on a child’s understanding of sex and the euphemisms they’re told, compared to the messy reality adults know. (25.7)
  • Mac McFadden did a ‘comic’ poem on the shock of being “old enough to be [his] dad”, full of repetition and feigned outrage. The audience responded positively, though the chauvinist fantasies of making a sex tape with Paris Hilton made us cringe. (25.9)
  • Chris McCormick wants to be a pirate, free of girlfriends and beset by wenches. Much of the poem romanticised this archetype and more could have been made of its glimpses of a lonely, melancholic fantasist underneath (pirates prefer “savage lust, instead of love which they cannot trust”). (25.5)
  • Phat Matt Baker ranted against landlords shafting students in a confused revenge tale that failed to impress. (25.2) 

Compound Scores:   Camden 100.9, Oxford 102.3.  Winner:  Bristol 103.5

Note: The scores in this round seemed to be frustratingly and unfairly stuck between 8.5 – 8.8. Don’t make me graph them as proof.

TEAM SLAM FINAL: Bristol VS Hackney
Hosts: Steve Larkin (Ox) & Tina Sederholm (Ox)

Special mention to sacrificial poet Peter Hunter, whose “On Eyebrows” was masterful: painstakingly explaining the traditional sonnet form and its rhyme scheme, he then performed the piece silently, using said dextrous facial-hair.

Bristol

  • James Bunting talked of looking for the voice of his ‘Generation’, and not feeling a generational identity. Fixating on icons of prevous generations, he contrasted important voices of the past such as Dylan, with the potential of (for example) himself, or a protestor, to be voices today, and emphasised the confusion and fear of choosing such voices with quotes and cliches. While feeling lost was easy to identify with, the poem’s sense of confusion and adrift-ness was expressed in back-and-forth thoughts which made it feel muddled, and gave it the impression that it suffered from too many endings, some of which were rather trite. We also wished the piece had explored its theme with more depth, perhaps acknowledging that we tend to rose-tint the iconic voices and identities of past generations, that this whole process is a contrivance shaped by our own needs in the present, and considering what acknowledging that means for feeling lost in the here and now. Ultimately, his sometimes strong turns of phrase were not enough to draw his disparate and confused metaphors into a coherent poem. (24.9) Performing twice in this round, his ‘To the Girl Who Loses Herself in Other Peoples’ Mirrors’ received a 25.8.
  • Sally Jenkinson’s “The Gasman Cometh”, perfectly captured the way your world can shrink in the depths of despair and illness, feverishly elevating the pronouncements of visiting gasmen (“fluorescent gods” with blinding high-vis jackets) to prophesy. (26.4)
  • Jeremy Toombs‘s “Badass Bop” was a glorious, mesmerising , jazz poem with a great flow, woven with the repeated sounds of beep, bop and beat.  Listening was like falling into a dreamlike, music-induced haze. (27.7)

Hackney

  • Angry Sam‘s compellingly human “100 Greatest”, discussed our obsession with ranking/categorisation to fill voids in our lives with some lovely examples. (25.6)
  • David Lee Morgan’s trilogy on children, finished with the memorable “Dead Babies”, which hammered home a solemn point by grimly suggesting the volume of dead babies around the world could be used as time-markers (a standard TV episode is 800 dead babies long). (25.8)
  • Amy McAllister started her set with “Toilet Troubles”, about a break-up triggered by a boyfriend pooing at her house, using deliberately childish rhymes to mask underlying complex issues. Her second piece, “Burn”, was far superior, a sad, sweet poem which related a break-up in the present to her childhood propensity for burning herself accidentally. (27.2)
  • Adam Kammerling’s tale of being stopped by the NYPD for drinking in public was accessible, went down well, and ended the night on a good-natured, comical note. (28.3)

Final scores: Bristol 104.8, Hackney 106.9

Winner: Hackney. (The less-consistent Bristol still provided some great highs)

‘Across The Water’ and ‘Swamp Area’ by Alistair Noon

In Pamphlets on April 16, 2012 at 10:28 am

– reviewed by Susie Wild –

Noon invites us to experience life seen as ‘A matinee at the Theatre of Water’ in these two pamphlets, plunging hidden depths and murky shallows. His chosen forms both follow rules and break rank. A pleasing, readable rhythm pulses through these slim volumes, ebbs and flows like the tide.

In Across The Water we glimpse fragments that have captured Noon’s attention. His poems blend fleeting flitting thoughts with snapshot word sketches to give us a sense of those moments. The 20-part title sequence is a good example of this brevity of style and expression, using little to say much. His sharp pen portraits capture the city and her people with mica glimmers of tongue in cheek humour. Sun shines, saplings grow and bubbles blow as failings are confessed, skies sag, rubbish is bagged and the dark is disturbed:

’15

A half-built
tower,

windowless
in the rain, as if

towelless
in a bathroom,

I walk in on it.’

Noon’s poems chart the liminal and the littoral, dot-to-dot points along horizon, coastline and tideline, as ‘Revocable gusts / design the dunes: we write / our footnotes on their sides’. Across the Water was originally published as joint winner of the Mimesis Digital Chapbook Initiative in 2008 and an earlier version of Swamp Area appeared online through Intercapillary Editions in 2009, however both pamphlets have been revised and expanded for 2012 publication with Longbarrow Press.

From saltwater surf and sailors we move to the marshy, watery terrain of Noon’s second and more promising pamphlet collection Swamp Area, an astute examination of the sinking motions of modern life whether at a Media Studies conference or by ‘the vanished cliffs of the Berlin Wall.’ In ‘Filling the Triangle’ suits stagnate in the daily commute, a people freight chain who live by the tracks:

‘Three lines disperse us
on zigzag seats;
our overalls and suits
make a daily diaspora.

The terminally bored
have grooved the glass.’

The turning of pages moves us from the bare skin, Cold War air and graffitied thoughts of track and station to the squatters’ breath of the street. Sequences depict the vascular networks that guide vehicles and vendors across the urban terrain. A land scattered with expired permits and echoes through history. 10 in this series describes two tenements: ‘On one, disrepair has skimmed first letters / off ream, utter and ilk.’ The other offers a peachy, glowing future. It’s sign is: ‘the floating seaweed that predicts the shore: / Events, Consultancy, Design.’ Life moves with the times, against the tide.

In Swamp Area the land that shifts and crumbles, shape-shifting and pooling around the jetsam and flotsam scars of half-remembered times where ‘New towers berlinned on the banks,/ and new banks berlinned in the towers.’ and:

‘We hurtle across the surface
on the lines of its changing face,
through the napped-out terrain.
We are the talking trains.’

Where Across The Water allows us to tuck ourselves into the gaps between Noon’s thoughts, providing us with people watching fodder from afar – across shore, or horizon – Swamp Area allows us to draw closer, to dig deeper and to snoop through holes in the fence, or a twitch of the net curtain. Like city life it strips its subjects of personal space, and gives us a head-full of eavesdroppings to mull over.

‘Circuits of the Wind (A Legend of the Net Age) Volume #1’ by Michael Stutz

In Novel on April 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

Circuits of the Wind Volume #1 is the first in this trilogy by Michael Stutz, which will cover computer communication’s rise from an obscure by-product of telephonic connections to the now-ubiquitous high-speed internet. Stutz’s blurb claims that he ‘coined the term ‘net generation”, which makes it sound like he knows what he’s talking about, and even raises the hint of this trilogy being a tad autobiographical. These books attempt to provide a personal narrative for the information age, trying to impose on it an overall meaning and poeticism missing from more usual computing histories.

Circuits of the Wind (A Legend of the Net Age) Volume 1 - Michael Stutz

Starting from an almost pre-consciousness age, Circuits of the Wind narrates the life of Raymond Valentine, an American whose life seems – through coincidence of birth, if nothing else – to be intrinsically linked with the growth of home computer technology and, ultimately, the internet. In Second Grade, he discovers arcade and home computer games in their infancy. His babyhood fascination with the home telephone flowers into a desire to become a hacker, with a home computer and modem, which will enable him to ‘call out and connect, [to] know the ways and [to] walk the winds like ghosts’.

It’s rather like a gradual biography of internet communication (Volume #1 being set in the 60s, 70s and 80s, before the internet as we know it today). Ray grows up as the reach of computers and phone lines extends, expanding with his adolescent body in ways he doesn’t fully understand but that he can see opening up a future world of adult promise. If you think that makes it sound like a geeky, teenage boy coming-of-age story, then you’re not far wrong. Circuits of the Wind is deeply embedded in external modems and old-school computer hard disks, recalling a time when teenage boys dreamed of ‘accidentally’ gaining access to the Pentagon’s mainframes (cf. Wargames) and hacking consisted of a few bits of metal across the house’s phone line. There’s a certain geeky appeal to Ray’s existence, and just enough computing/internet jargon to reel in geeks without losing the less technically-minded reader.

Ray’s is a life slightly disconnected from immediate reality, existing instead in a world spreading outwards and away from Ray’s physical location. His world (and, increasingly, these days, our world) is one of telephone lines and faraway places, of connections and information flying through the air. It’s a world with a vast amount of information readily available, where a person (like Ray) can know about many things, people and places without actually experiencing them tangibly. Stutz captures the thrill of first receiving a computer screen message from hundreds of miles away, and the desolation when that access is revoked and our horizons are suddenly reduced back to the merely physical.

His life’s disconnection includes relationships, which Ray struggles with as he gets older. Or at least, he struggles with relationships with more than a couple of friends in ‘real life’ – his online social life thrives. It’s a situation any modern Facebook/MySpace/Twitter addict will recognise, perhaps with a guilty half-shrug or sheepish smile; Ray chats with people across America, but feels isolated and ostracised when offline.

At times, Stutz tries to do a little more than tie together the parallel biographies of Ray and the internet. The narrator of Circuits of the Wind starts taking lengthy paragraphs to inject some poetic meaning into the story, and to condense longer periods of time into the book – as though the reader must have a constant stream of narrative about Ray and no part of his life can be left untold. It’s as if Stutz doesn’t want to leave a break in the plot, so rather than go from event to event he gives us everything without pausing except for new chapters. At times this technique is reminiscent of the modern internet’s unremitting stream of data and information, which needs sifting and sorting.

The next two instalments of the Circuits of the Wind series pursues Ray’s life into the internet-enabled 1990s, with increasingly advanced graphics and quicker connection times. Whether he’ll manage to make anything of himself, or while away more hours in front of a computer screen, remains to be seen – and bears a resemblance (and a warning?) to procrastinators everywhere.

Keats House Poets’ Forum 11/12/11

In Performance Poetry on April 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm

– reviewed by James Webster

The Keats House Forum is a unique kind of poetry event. Keats House is the museum-cum-memorial to John Keats, where he lived for two years, wrote some of his most memorable poetry and met his fiancée Fanny Brawne (who was apparently something of a creative proto-punk). I know this because those of us who were there early were given a guided tour, saw all the Keats memorabilia and were given a potted history of his time in the house. It made for an appropriate start to a poetry event (even if it was odd to be at a show where there was no bar).

The format’s simple and effective; hosted by Simon Mole (one of the Keats House Poets) who made a point of asking what everyone wanted for Christmas (recorded bold in brackets), the open mic spots were interspersed with performances from the Keats House Poets. Then Kat Francois headlined and closed the show.

Keats House Poets

  • Simon (road bike with drop-down handles) started us off with a piece (inspired by Human Planet), about a guy who can hold his breath for a really long time. It was a breathy performance, filled with verdant language describing an underwater world. By piling on the language and increasing speed Simon builds up a real sense of pressure, which he breaks occasionally with a fun call and response.
  • Laila Sumpton (Mary Poppins powers): previously seen at the Beaconsfield Reading Series, she started with a piece on Ear Worms (medically described as a musical hallucination). It was cleverly put together: you could feel the song entwining itself into your brain as she describes it.
  • And ‘Viral Times’ managed to make the personification of the common cold seems super-cute.
  • Anthony ‘The Hurricane’ Hett (socks that don’t fall down) gave a calm, but captivating performance of ‘For John’, emotionally drawing on the awkwardness and heart-rending nature of visiting sick friends. The words tipped over each other as he struggled to speak as it finished with a powerful monologue to his dying friend.
  • Paul Sherreard and Stephanie ‘Sonority’ Turner performed some re-workings of Keats’s poems:
  • Sonority turned Keats’s ‘Solitude’ into the contemporary ‘I Go Solo’, an engaging piece on a late night walk that made its words sound out like footsteps on a quiet street.
  • And ‘Song’ is translated by Paul into ‘I Got a Dog’, which was an adorable piece on feeling abandoned by the death of a pet.

Open Mic

  • Janice Windle (gallery desperate to sell her paintings) read ‘Beginning a Painting’ which described frustration and procrastination with nice intricate language.
  • While ‘His Name’ was an utterly gorgeous and magical (in an age-old blood magic kind of way) poem about finding a bone good luck charm.
  • Wizard of Skill (radio) performed ‘My Radio’. His performance is always full of quirky energy, but his idiosyncratic delivery swallows a lot of his language, the poem lacked focus, and he repeats his chorus far too often. That said, he did have the audience chanting along to the chorus.
  • Kaori (date with a special someone) captured the audience completely with a lovely tale of nostalgia for Godzilla destroying people on TV, contrasted with a touching family story of an earthquake.
  • Deanna Rodgers (headshots and membership of spotlights) read a roaming, rough-and-tumble of a poem, filled with the energy of her youth, riding over London with friends with ‘jackets on inside-out because we are Fresh Princesses’ on the old Routemaster buses (she also runs Come Rhyme With Me with Dean Atta).
  • Ed Mayhew (best free thing you can find) gave a lively performance of a hugely enjoyable poem on a protracted rap battle with the Mayor of Lime Regis. Some entertainingly clunky rhyme, and a superbly fluid, eloquent spoken word monologue, made for an ace poem.
  • Jess (little person in my life) based a poem on her ‘wish list for life when [she] was young and stupid’. Her younger self’s aspirations were a joyous mess of the hedonistic, anarchic and bohemian. Best line: ‘being thrown out of this establishment will be the best thing I’ve done all day’.
  • Donall Dempsey (Janice Windle’s filtrum) gave us his super sweet ‘Love Potion’ dedicated to his partner’s filtrum.
  • And also a ‘Love Song for Emily’ (Dickinson that is) that was beautiful on Dickinson’s ‘perfect embroidery of knowing’ and ‘The Present Moment’ was terrifyingly cute account of his daughter giving him a present of stone, grass and twigs.

Feature

  • Kat Francois (a new front-left tyre)
  • She starts with a description of someone who ‘used to dance in her not so long ago days’, using repetition to create a rhythm of music, it becomes all the more upsetting when things change and the woman’s limbs ‘hang useless’, but ends inspiringly with the affirmation that ‘in her mind she travels to places that in reality are absolute impossibilities’.
  • Next, a piece that describes a woman’s body and her issues with it; from her ‘inviting mango-calves’ to her dress that turns into a ‘crimson whirlwind of wonder’ with a gust of wind. Again it’s a triumph of freedom over frustration as she’s ‘sick and tired of hating herself’ and steps out to dance.
  • Her ‘West Ken Blues’ was performed imaginatively, using the space and props perfectly, she weaves the images of ‘the days when innocence reigned’ in the air for us. Starting with larger than life characters, moving to tragedy and pain, she movingly evokes the atmosphere of this troubled and low-income neighbourhood. A superb socially conscious performance piece.
  • Her final ‘Poetry Addict’ is another great performance. An explanation of all the reasons she performs, where you can hear her gasping for the breath that poetry gives her, it’s both intimate and performative.

Conclusion: A really strong afternoon of spoken word. The standard of the open mic (with the possible exception of Wizard of Skill), the Keats House poets and feature Kat Francois was incredibly high. One of the most consistently quality afternoons of poetry I’ve attended, with a variety of styles and themes to entertain and inform, whatever your tastes. Keats would be proud (probably).

Literary Bohemian #14

In Blogzines, Magazine, online magazine, Website on April 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

-Reviewed by Harry Giles

Literary Bohemian is a lavishly produced webzine, dedicated to ‘travel-inspired writing that transports the reader, non-stop, to Elsewhere’. Its homepage splash is a carefully designed collage of faux-retro travel iconography: luggage tags, postcards, coins and coffee in the hippest of sepia tones. There’s a full and well-organised archive of 14 issues, along with book reviews, travel photos, links to lodgings and destinations – a gorgeous wealth to enjoy. It’s lovingly put together, but I’ll admit the aesthetic irked me. I worried that this would be acquisitive, appropriative, with the destinations checked off like tallies in the bathrooms of backpacker hostels. Would it be travel as bourgeois privilege or aesthetic necessity?

It is, unsurprisingly, those poems which are totally immersed in and part of their locations which stand out most from the latest issue. In Sean Edgley’s ‘Postcard from Belgrade’, for example, the city is built from a complex scatter of images and energetic physical moments – a skinhead ‘erupting in biceps’, a girl with ‘hips poised like the centered swivel of scissors’, a city suffering ‘the sadness of Chinese restaurants’. Edgley patiently constructs his Belgrade through profusion and surprise: there is despair and disrepair here, but it is part of a living, breathing whole.

Athena Kildegaard’s ‘Five Views of Guanajuato’ takes a similar approach, though with more delicacy. The state is seen through five perspectives, and each summons a world experienced by believable people, operating within softly sketched social context. The language is direct but full of care, from clever use of sound (burros ‘sound one slack-jawed heave. / Brave bougainvillea bloom’) to shockingly perfect simile (‘tethered animals sad as beans’).

It is probably no coincidence that the most effective of the narrative pieces, the ‘travelogue’ of Doug Clark’s ‘Love in the Time of Facebook’, succeeds partly because the travel in it is essential, rather than chosen by pins in a map. Here travel is compelled by a love that feels true through its problematic as much as through its expressed emotion, and it has a liveliness that sings in direct, honest prose. (And all this despite an over-glib, ironising title!)

Less successful are those pieces where the speaker’s presence and judgements obscure the sense of place and movement. In Ken Turner’s ‘Crossing the Border Near Lahore’ all is heavy poetry (‘ghost trains groaned through the border / leaking their loads on the rails’) carrying a burden of external observation. Though ‘fear / swelled like a corpse in the sun’ has power, if somewhat laboured, it is  not given enough real context. ‘The birds must know / the history of this place’, but it’s not clear the author does, beyond the guidebook version. The poem is an unloving judgement, rather than a considered exploration. In his ‘Saigon Streets’, as well, every noun needs its overblown verb: ‘shutters snapped’, ‘motorbikes swarm’, and if that’s not enough they swarm ‘like angry bees’.

Similarly, in Sy Margaret Baldwin’s ‘Berlin’ the city feels pre-determined, expected. Despite often felicitous word choice (‘the first hairs of frost in a hard winter’ particularly struck me), pedantic sentences cramp the poem: ‘a waterfall of cheese / that coagulates in a sticky pool at the exact level / of my neck.’ Of course this Berlin is war-torn, is ‘bullet-pocked’, has a ‘bleak construction site’. And of course this is winter. I feel as though I am watching the film of Berlin, not being transported there. Even then, though, Baldwin does close with a sharp indrawn breath of insight – and it is true that even the least moving poems here all still take me at least some of the way.

Even when I was frustrated or bemused by a piece, I was glad to have read it. In Jennifer Faylor’s ‘After Your Funeral I Set Out to Find You in Different Time Zones’, I found the bland procession of unnamed countries (‘dark with foreign numbers’, ‘a beach somewhere’) something of a missed opportunity, but there was still beautiful control of sound and tightly paced revelation. Timothy Kercher’s ‘Lazarus’ is at its most convincing in the description through powerfully disjointed sentences, but less lively when the speaker enters the picture, overplaying the metaphor. ‘A town that is no longer / a husk shucked’ is a perfect, gorgeous image – so why add the lurching ‘like me’? And though in Mary Kovaleski Byrnes’s ‘Christmas Emotion Salad’ the humour may occasionally be too blunt or clunkily idiosyncratic – the opening line has far less subtlety in its cheer than the delicious closer – the poem is still in its own when the food arrives, summoning memories and futures and making my mouth water: sloppy and spicy, it is a delicious, over-seasoned, massive American meal.

The whimsy of travel has a strong place in the collection, especially in the ‘Postcard prose’. Jennifer Faylor’s ‘Buttons’ employs a magical whimsy just on the right side of sickly – occasionally overplayed, but very strong when parsimonious, especially in its closing sentences. In Kirby Wright’s ‘The Enemy Tree’ the playfulness is simpler and blacker, played calm and straight: the prose gives us one image, one experience, very clearly indeed, taking me straight to its strange country. Back in poetry, Jennifer Saunders’s ‘The Changing of the Flowers’ is a thoughtful villanelle whose sweetness and clarity of meaning almost carries it through the stumbles. Perhaps the peculiar off-beats and scattering of not-quite-rhymes are there to highlight the way her ‘immigrant clock runs counter / to this native marking of the time’, but if so it is a too-easy metaphor of form. Nevertheless, it caught me and held me and I returned to rethink the poem more than many of the others.

It is ‘A Photo of Pennsylvania in Fiji’, another Byrnes poem, which most represented the collection for me – this tension between the poems which summon a place with poetry’s magic, and those which obscure it with tendentious metaphor or weighty language. Her Appalachia is reflected in worn signifiers polished to a shine, whether through sound (‘coal / bucket, cricket dusk, hair gray static’) or insight (‘The Saturday church will heave with your wishes’). Her Fiji, though, is barely a sketch, and has the inevitable ‘Children dressed in American t-shirts’. It is as if Fiji is being seen from Appalachia rather than the other way around –  but perhaps that is how we travel: memory more present than observation, which is indeed the poem’s territory.

A mixed bag, then, but one I was delighted to rummage in. I like the motivation of the curation, its direction and drive, and am impressed with the variety and poise of the selection. I’d like to see more focus and commitment from the poets and the editors: what is it really that they want travel poetry and writing to do, and how does a writer really transport us? The best writers here are those fully absorbed in their places – for me the real successes of Literary Bohemian are, of course, when I am truly moved.

WASTED by Kate Tempest

In Performance Poetry on April 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

– reviewed by Susie Wild –

@Sherman Cymru, Cardiff – 24 March 2012

Tempest: Spoken Word to Stage

Kate Tempest has already made a name for herself on the spoken word scene as a poet, rapper and hip hop artist, but with a surname like hers it seems only right that she should cross over to writing for the stage. It is a successful move. Her debut play takes the best elements of these lyrical influences to tell an engaging, emotive story of three friends knee-deep in weekends and growing too old for the drug-fuelled South London party scene.

Friends raving or stuck in a rut?

The friends have known each other since their teens, and now in their mid-twenties, are finding new concerns, aware that in another decade they don’t want to still be gurning at parties, like the people they used to laugh at. On the ten year anniversary of their friend Tony’s death  they each visit his commemorative tree – which at least changes four times a year with the seasons – and make confessions of stagnation. Charlotte (Lizzy Watts) walks out of her job as a teacher and books a flight, wanting to move on, to make a difference – ‘I’m making a decision. I’m changing things. This is it.’ Danny (Ashley George) has a last chance to get what he wants and struggles to man up to the occasion whilst Ted (Cary Cranson) has a job and steady girlfriend but is resigning himself to growing up and going nowhere.

A slice of shared ‘wasted’ experience

Wasted is a wittily knowing and dynamic production, managing to relate the rave experience to those still enjoying it and those who have grown past it in equal measure – nostalgic winks and weary wising up cocktail-mixed in with the loved up togetherness of the shared experience. They dance in warehouses in Peckham where art students are ‘experiencing ketamine’ and all the people there have ‘adjectives as names’ and they spend ‘life retelling life and it’s getting boring.’ and ‘dropping pills just so that we can smile at each other without looking away.’ Acting drunk on stage is hard enough to do and get right, but here all three actors act perfectly wasted as they hug speakers and each other and make plasticine faces.

The show talks of trying to jolt yourself out of that rut where you do the same things as you have always done, but now going to parties you get fucked just to have something to say to each other, and that something is often nostalgia for those first parties, those times when it was all exciting and fun and new. Originally commissioned for Latitude 2011, it speaks to a festival going audience and mixes between pounding music and those early morning ‘what does it all mean, what are we doing?’ lucid conversations and the ‘I’m-getting-too-old-for-this-shit!’ comedown realisations and resolutions to do something else, something more, or perhaps just pop another pill, have another dab – ‘We forgot our epiphany the minute that we thought it.’

Fresh and innovative theatre

Paines Plough have a reputation for putting on innovative new works and spotting the direction that theatre is moving in ahead of the pack. Here, director James Grieve taps into the rising spoken word scene in the UK and make something fresh. Wasted places Tempest’s lucid words into the mouths of a strong cast, especially the emphatically charming Cary Cranson, and allows them to breathe. The multi-media piece effectively mixes poetry, monologue, music and drama yet falls down with the film background, which adds nothing to the other all production, except occasional unwanted distraction. However this, and the delayed start due to technical hitches – this was the first night of the tour where they were without their full team – were my only grievances with an otherwise exhilarating show. In her mid-twenties also, Tempest writes what she knows here and in doing so makes Wasted a heartfelt call to arms to a lost generation, reminding her peers that it isn’t too late to change track, to go for what you want.

Wasted is currently on tour. For dates and to see the video trailer visit: http://www.painesplough.com/current-programme/by-date/wasted

‘The Backlists’ by Ben Stainton

In Pamphlets on April 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

On the back cover of The Backlists, Todd Swift describes Ben Stainton’s chapbook from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press as ‘challenging both lyric and avant-garde modes’. This remark is borne out by the chapbook’s first poem, ‘Off the Barents’. This poem is awash with images that taken in isolation are themselves already charged and evocative (‘a pleural sac takes on black air’, ‘our tramping ground a piece of carpet Delilah / cut off after the war’), but placed together, they act to rough up the poem’s texture and trip up the reader. After all, this is a poem that initially appears to be about deep-sea divers in the Arctic, but ends with the utterly incongruous lines (which contain a pun about ham hock as a cut of meat from a pig), ‘DIVERS PERISH AFTER STUPID GOOSE-CHASE / ‘Is there any other kind?’ the big old pig / hocked up into Marie’s burger’.

‘Off the Barents’ makes for a good opening poem because it introduces poetic techniques that Stainton continues to employ throughout The Backlists. The most obvious is Stainton’s usage of what Swift calls ‘idiosyncratic typography, as delightfully original as e.e. cummings’. Within the first four lines, there is a mixture of italicised, broken and capitalised words. The two instances of broken words in the poem (‘pea / s / eek’ and ‘clod / s / scrabble) are especially interesting because of how sense carries over the line, with the typography indicating that the single letter belongs to the next line’s word, and yet the letter would make equal sense by forming the plural of the preceding noun, which is what the eye scanning across the line would instinctively do. The effect is to foreground the malleability of language, showing how its meaning is (de)constructed by the very act of reading.

Another technique that Stainton makes use of is the repetition of whole phrases with subtle variations that affect their meaning. In ‘Off the Barents’, the phrase ‘DEEP-SEA GOOSE-CHASE’ becomes ‘STUPID GOOSE-CHASE’, marking a shift from the purely descriptive to a value judgement. Midway through the chapbook, in ‘Parkin’s Rooms’, ‘We’ll both be eaten by / hours, by mislaid flowers, my northern caff’ undergoes a noun swap to become ‘We’ll both be eaten by flowers, by mislaid / hours, my northern town’, transforming the poem into the site of surreal scenes, where ‘One boy trips over / another’s tongue’. Amidst this hazy atmosphere, the sexual also begins to infiltrate the poem, ‘Miss King rinsing her parts / in the bathroom of my mind’, only to be rudely punctured by the final line of the poem, isolated into its own stanza: ‘She kept her blouse intact. What a cheek.’

Even when Stainton eschews such word games in favour of a more straightforward ‘narrative’ in the poem, moments of sexually-inflected oddness still persist in erupting. In ‘A Dream, Found in the Papers’, the first sign of this is the opening stanza ‘I realise the severity of the situation / when she removes her underwear – / a wicker building where the vagina should be’, but the reader is soon ambushed by further bizarreness:

‘Have you ever considered italicising your sex life?’
Squeaking last-minute directions onto a whiteboard,
she sucks my clothes up a thin proboscis.

Sex Education needs a serious rethink, I think.

My favourite moments in The Backlists, however, come in shorter poems like ‘Tasks’ and ‘Geneva’. ‘Tasks’ is unpunctuated, which allows for all the lines to be parsed in several ways. As an example, consider the opening lines, ‘Create the perfect sandwich using only Kraft lose at least $25 / before Lent learn to relish the taste of loss’. The first task could terminate with ‘Kraft’, but consider the odd humour of an alternative reading like ‘using only Kraft lost at least $25’. The phrase ‘before Lent’ could also be added on to this, or it could be read as part of a new task beginning at ‘lose’, but interpreting the task as ‘before Lent learn to relish the taste of loss’ invokes a sentiment that would be perfectly at home in the lyric mode. With ‘Geneva’, the second stanza is almost haiku-like in its compression of imagery: ‘the embassy hosted a glittering ball / but we (now tangled at the neck) / lost our invites in the fog’. Yet that italicised phrase skews what would otherwise be a clichéd moment of two people sharing a kiss into a deliberately awkward but refreshing image.

I believe the examples cited above demonstrate what Swift means when he describes Stainton’s poems as ‘pivot[ing] on the expected – film, sex, travel, good – then go[ing] off in all directions at once’. This is poetry that demands to be reread, in order for the different possibilities of its meaning to emerge. This is where Stainton’s unusual typography actually works to slow the reading process down, so that the poems resist quick scanning for meaning, their content and form working synergistically. Readers who share Stainton’s respect for language will appreciate the unsettling effects he achieves through linguistic bricolage, allowing words and images that might not otherwise share a poem, a line, to rub up against each other.

Artist Spotlight #3: Kate Tempest part 1

In Performance Poetry on April 3, 2012 at 1:22 am

– reviewed by James Webster

Kate Tempest is pretty much the reason I got into performance poetry. From the first time I saw her perform (at Hammer & Tongue Oxford in 2009) I was hooked. Since then I’ve seen her perform at various venues, both solo and with her band Sound of Rum, and she’s always been excellent.

Recently I saw her headline both Oxford and Camden Hammer & Tongue events, and it prompted me to sum up those events and Kate Tempest’s general brilliance in this feature article.

Her Background

She hails from South East London (Brockley), came to literature in general and poetry in particular through rap (her facebook fan page lists Wu Tang Clan and Mos Def as influences, among others) and first started performing rap and poetry at hip-hop open mic’s when she was 16. She started performing poetry at squat parties, went on to win some poetry slams, and generally started a meteoric rise that has seen her support the likes of Scroobius Pip and Billy Bragg on national tours.

Her Influences

  • Street/spoken word
  • Given her beginnings as a hip-hop artist and rap battler, it’s unsurprising that her poetry has a ‘street’ vibe to it. Her flowing rhythms, spitfire quick delivery, use of powerful choruses and intricate rhymes, all speak of her rap background, and several of her poems reference city life and the problems it poses (especially to the young, reckless and dispossessed). ‘Cannibal Kids’ is an excellent example, a poem that surges through the streets of London amongst the young people fighting for a place, for what little power there is there, with the moving chorus ‘These cannibal kids wanna be kings/ But there ain’t no royalty left’.
  • ‘Balance’ is another piece on disaffected youth and friends who find and lose their way in the urban wilderness that is London. It evokes teenage friendships and rivalries going on through a grimy and reckless city background, building onto adulthood as the ‘four firm friends become four fierce forces’. It uses a superbly effective premise – that the four friends in the poem are Pride, Envy, Talent and Ambition – she creates an allegory of characters as believable people who ‘hung out, got strung out’ while also being aspects of a fractured psyche that can only prosper when in ‘balance’.
  • Classics
  • In her own words ‘if you wanna write, first you’ve gotta read./ I read Shakespeare, Beckett, Blake and Sophocles’. It is clear in many of Tempest’s poems that she’s a lover of classical literature; something that she feels society tells us belongs only to an elite few who are smart enough to appreciate it. By working the classics into the poems that are often grounded in her life, in London, that is so definitely for all to enjoy, she reclaims them as works of art that are relevant and accessible. These feelings are the subject of ‘What We Came After’, a powerful affirmation of words and knowledge as being yours that draws upon Shakespeare’s Tempest with its refrain of ‘Hell is empty, ‘cos all the devils are here’. It’s a storm of language steeped in Shakespeare’s language and in self-belief, raining down incendiary and scouring verses as Tempest tells us to ‘call [her] Caliban’, a powerful statement for anyone who feels they’ve had to learn and claim language as their own.
  • ‘Icarus’ is another poem using its roots in classics (after the myth of Icarus and Dedalus, obvs) to spread a contemporary message. One of several pieces that Kate performs as both a solo poem and a song with Sound of Rum, its neat refrain ‘Icarus, come down from the sky/ You’re flying too high/ Icarus, heed your father’s words/ This ain’t your territory’ musically highlights the fundamental truth that the story of Icarus has always told us. Who can’t relate to feeling constrained by well-meaning advice and wanting to fly higher, even though it’s dangerous? It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told, making the transcendental points of Icarus’s story and making them so so relatable. ‘No-one even noticed as he crashed and hit the sea-bed/ So those who never flew before could learn from what he did.’

 

  • Her Style
  • ‘Bubble Muzzle’, one of the newer pieces she performed at the Hammer & Tongue gigs in Oxford, was a great example of Tempest’s style. Her poems flow with rhymes that slip and fall over each other, using a central chorus to keep the piece grounded, while her words paint vivid imagines to convey the essence of her point. While she utilises her charismatic and expressive performance to drive the point home and elicit a few laughs along the way. In this case the images she eloquently conjured were of the 9-5 grind wearing you down, when ‘it’s tunnel vision all week and the weekend’s for seeing double’ and you convince yourself ‘YOU’RE REALLY HAPPY’ when in actuality you feel like ‘a dog wagging its tail … to put on its own muzzle’. One of the reasons this piece (like so many of her poems) is so good is that it’s so well rounded, it understands so well the temptation to be ‘so caught up in the everyday [that] we’ve given all our strength away’, but Tempest highlights the importance of rising above it by looking the audience dead in the eye and telling them they have to gather and tell each other ‘there’s more to life than the daily struggle’. Inspiring.

Her Performance

  • Accessible
  • One of the great things about seeing Tempest perform is her funny, unpretentious and rambling banter. She chats to her audiences as if meeting them for the first time at a party, which belies her practiced patter that charms audiences all over the UK. Case in point: at both gigs in Oxford she apologised for seeming insincere, before pointing out that ‘if you hold a stare and point into the middle distance’ it’s easy to fake sincerity  (hand on heart also works here apparently) to big laughs. And she’s always humbly self-deprecating and gracious towards both hosts and audience, easily endearing herself to both.
  • Another example of her engaging style is ‘Love Poem’. She starts with the line ‘Let’s spend the afternoon in bed with 3 bottles of wine’ and then pauses to allow the audience to laugh uproariously, discusses how she should just end the poem there, then continues the poem. It’s a great way of getting a laugh out of the audience and making the poem immediately relatable and accessible. The poem itself is an adorable picture of lazy days, tipsy confessions of love and drunk nights out ‘staggering through this broken town like pennies thrown for wishes’.
  • Intense
  • The captivating ‘Renegade’ is a perfect example of her electrifying intensity. A poem for the ‘hopeless romantics’ and the ‘broken’, she was at her spellbinding best as she seemed to gather every member of the audience into her poem, telling them ‘I will write every one of you a poem and together we’ll burn them’. Starting from describing herself as the eponymous Renegade, by the end she made it clear that we all had it in us to be one, that ‘every minute is the minute to begin it’, that she would show us that ‘you’re fucking incredible, mate’. At Hammer & Tongue Camden it garnered the first standing ovation I’ve ever seen in a poetry event.

To Sum Up: Kate Tempest is one of the best performance poets in the UK today (if not the best). I thoroughly recommend you see her perform or buy her new spoken word album (recently recorded at the Battersea Arts Centre) when it comes out.

Tempest’s first play, Wasted, is currently touring and Sabotage will be publishing a review (as the second part of this feature) on Wednesday.