Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

‘Acquired for Development by…’ A Hackney Anthology

In anthology on May 30, 2012 at 10:39 am

– Reviewed by John McGhee

“In recent years Hackney has become synonymous with London Cool,” says Invest in Hackney. “Hackney – a crime infested craphole,” counters Your City’s Worst District. Until the new Overground line connected east London to south, my own preconceptions about Hackney lay somewhere between these two extremes.

Acquired for Development by... A Hackney Anthology cover

Clapton. Hoxton. Dalston. Homerton. Haggerston. Shoreditch. Hackney Wick. Hackney Marshes. Stoke Newington. The polarities and paradoxes of Hackney’s districts are surveyed in Acquired for Development By…, an anthology of contemporary fiction, non-fiction and poetry from Influx Press. The stories in Acquired for… are inspired by and set in Hackney and their writers are Hackney citizens by birth or residence. Taken together, these pieces reveal an original cultural history and a leftfield psychogeography of the borough – and an unsettling blueprint for its future. The collection is structured by locality and there are strong indications it would be best read with a copy of the London A-Z at hand.

The non-fiction works particularly well, especially Tim Burrows’ ‘Dalston Kittiwakes’, a sprawling exploration of random connections between places and events centred on the Four Aces reggae club, demolished five years ago to make way for a multi-million pound regeneration of Dalston Square. Burrows avoids making his subject matter feel too insular and inward-looking, and instead chooses to meander through Scotland and Northumbria, wandering as far as Egypt, Jamaica and America’s west coast: a gloriously circuitous narrative. Nell Frizzell’s profile of the River Lea’s canal boat dwellers, ‘Rivers of Change’, is a charming, succinct documentary of a small-scale battle between boaters and the bureaucrats of British Waterways, of lives soundtracked by early morning ‘jaggering coots’. Natalie Hardwick does her best Louis Theroux impersonation for ‘Alevism and Hackney’, an enquiring, sincere portrait of Dalston’s Turkish community.

Slam and performance poets are well represented. Sam Berkson’s Hackney Numbers’ mixes the urban genial with the urban ominous to great effect: kids, neighbours, booze, house parties and violence. There is a chance to revisit Molly Naylor’s sparky monologue Whenever I Blow Up I Think Of You, with two pertinent extracts reprinted here. In Siddhartha Bose’s ‘Wicklove’, memories of the ‘performed bohemia’ of a summer festival sizzle and tumble and Bose’s lines dazzle:

Chicken-shopped, corner-kebabed, glimmer dereliction, Hackney
Wick – chromatic – fizzes, bobs, pops in soap bubbles, like tube-
travellers on a plunkt escalator.

There is a haiku sequence, urgent like graffiti; perceptive flâneurs reconnoitring ‘Dalston Lane’ and ‘Dark Island: Wallis Road 09.03.11’; and a warm-hearted memoir of growing up between Vicky Park and the Murder Mile. There is much wit, darkness and variety in this poetic selection.

Within the constraints of their Hackney setting, the short stories and flash fictions manage to be wonderfully eclectic. At the heart of the anthology is ‘Tautologies’ by Gary Budden, a detouring commentary on identity, the passing of time and the self-contradictions intrinsic to living an art life in Hackney:

I took a certain uncomfortable pleasure in the knowledge that my lifestyle, or at least
part of it, would be considered by some as worthless and pathetic. Derided as left-wing
posturing, or the sad trappings of an adolescence that really should have been let go of.

The impact of passing time on pleasure-seeking lifestyles is also considered in Gareth Rees’ funny and sinister ‘A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes’. This story transcends its high concept – a man falls in love with an electricity pylon – to be a memorable take on the destabilising effect of ‘the pram in the hall’. In a similarly darkly comic style, David Dawkins’ ‘A Hackney Triptych’ comprises three twisty anecdotes that only pretend to be unconnected. Other pieces stray further from the everyday into the absurd. Andrea Watts’ ‘All Gone’ is a modern parable pivoting on a bizarre metamorphosis. Amongst the flash fiction, I most enjoyed Kieran Duddy’s ‘Demolition: Clapton Park Estate 1993’, a snapshot of a life-changing double towerblock blowdown.

Perhaps most ambitious are the three dystopias: ‘The Battle of Kingsland Road’ by Paul Case, ‘The Finest Store’ by Kit Caless and ‘2061’ by Ashlee Christoffersen. All three are entertaining, if somewhat broad, hyperbolic extrapolations. ‘The Battle of Kingsland Road’ documents a future clash between rival Stoke Newington and Hoxton militias through manifestos, memos and transcripts – more parody than serious post-riot commentary. I am a huge fan of the original The Twilight Zone and felt the class-and-consumerism satire ‘The Finest Store’ could have sat perfectly next to the likes of classic TZs like The After-Hours and The Fever. ‘2061’ cleverly plays off different interpretations of the word ‘estate’ (a tract of Council housing, or a slave plantation). Whilst its economic analysis is debateable, ‘2061’ commits fully to its sinister hypotheses, its chilling vision.

Acquired for… is a chorus of rich and diverse east London voices. The collection neatly pinpoints some of the most critical tensions in modern urban life – tradition versus innovation, the real versus the perceived, the modern versus the post-modern – and sees how these play out in a borough perceived as both lawless and cool.

Advertisements

The Word House 28/04/12

In Performance Poetry on May 29, 2012 at 11:51 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj –

@ The Gallery Cafe

Host: Dan Simpson who was congenial and subtle as Jeeves, introducing acts and letting them take the limelight. His two poems were comic and warmed the crowd: from the chronically silly “Place in the Sun”, (which isn’t much fun, truth be told) to “Ride”, which used the fourth wall like a trellis: playing with “a lazy stereotype” objecting to zebras “coming over here, taking out metaphors from hard working animals, like a badger or some such”.

The Night itself: Was definitely enthusiastically attended, to the degree that all space in the location had transformed into a crowd in variations of sitting and standing. DJ Able performed during breaks that gave the event a trendy bar atmosphere. The performing poets tended towards short, punchy lines of varying efficacy.

Features:

  • Emma Jones has a great stage presence and uncanny ability to take on accents that bring characters to life in fast paced and exhilarating poems. Performing a mix of old favourites and the newly written, her exuberant delivery had the audience in stitches, following every word.
  • Her Love Song to Hull was particularly memorable, chronicling a teenage girl’s night out, from club to someone’s home to being blissed out on a pill (“I’m made of light and diamonds and songs”), Jones’ delivery transporting us to every moment.
  • GCSE, drawing from teaching experience, was a nice take on SE London youth vocabulary (“you should ‘low it, Miss”), as her students tell her of the things they’d rather be doing than Drama.
  • Another old poem was to Shoreditch House (reviewed previously), taking on the home turf of the “twaterrati” in a personable manner (“fuck me! This is a pricy venue!”).
  • Her newest poem was more political. Raging against Michael Gove with her “best angry teacher death stare”, she responds to his academy opening speech by “[plotting] to train children to take back what’s theirs” from a world unfairly stacked against them. Truly a passionate teacher’s lament for the children who grow between “the gaps in the curriculum”. 
  • Sabrina Mahfouzis fantastic at creating poems that encapsulate crowds of disparate people reacting to the same stimulus. Starting with a poem set in the changing room of a nightclub, she channels several women using “down another hole”, adjusting their belts with varying aims, from the frantic to the sultry, crossing oceans in accents.
  • In an excerpt from Dry Ice (her solo show, sadly just finishing at the Bush Theatre), she revisits knowledge of strippers describing the various types of customer with unerring accuracy, conjuring them in our minds, from the “knobs with families”, the stereotypical skin-crawling creeps who call them “good girl”, the millionaire dream “removed from real world” who “just likes to give”, and the young twats who ask what their mums think of what they do (they’ve “got a nice girl at home like you”). Such specimens of mankind.
  • Mark Grist has a down-to-earth quality about his poetry and delivery that makes him appealing to his audiences. He often has an accessible humour, effectively using self-imposed poetical restrictions like rhyme schemes (“the hottest of all the gingers” is rhymed with “that list what was Schindler’s” at one point) or his (quite impressive) univocalism. (His popularity on Youtube probably speaks for itself in this regard).
  • Of the poems he performed tonight, my favourite was his enthusiastically performed The Fens (using only words with ‘e’), a surreal tale of a couple camping with a horror-twist ending, where a “beefy yet nerdy” Stephen becomes an entrée for his beloved.
  • Girls Who Read was a sweet poem used as a response (in the spirit d’escalier) to being asked what he goes for in a girl, again has humour shining through (classics are lauded because they’re “dirty”). While it could be argued that he’s just objectifying a different aspect of women than their “tits or arse”, he keeps it insightful and comic.
  • He also performed his poem about Beth Builder, a formative unrequited crush in primary school. He does well to encapsulate the bluntness of children with her voice, like nails on chalkboard, as she tells him to “piss off, cabbagehead”.

Open Mic:

  • Zia Ahmed had a Milton Jones-esque take on popular expressions and pop culture references (as diverse as Monty Python, Byker Grove and the funny bone books). With a hectic narrative of short, rhyming phrases, he effectively destroyed the comfort zones of familiar expressions (Um Bongo’s jingle led to child soldiers).
  • Jill Abram attempted to conjure the scenes visible from a train’s window in ‘On the 10.22’. Using a list format, there could have been more of a coherent transition from the urban to the rural via the gradual suburbia (“sundials, aerials, satellite dish”). As it was, the journey seemed indistinct.
  • Jack Dean‘s fantastic”Let There Be Light” was a fiery defence of youth and life from “hipster angels”. Concluding powerfully, (“It’s our generation to fuck up”), it’s a love letter to the “vast, pointless gorgeousness of it all”.
  • Billy Hicks took us on a whistle-stop tour of pop-cultural signposts for those who were born in the 80s but children of the 90s. He listed age appropriate nostalgia bait like Super Nintendo, listening moodily to Keane as a teen, and discovering himself in his twenties in a cheerful and highly personable manner.
  • Sarah Chapman had never performed before and sadly, it showed. It would have been stronger had she stuck to fewer poems; as such, the poems were over before they began. The most substantial, “Since We’ve Met“, had the narrator growing distant through insecurity about a woman with a “river-filled brain” who can be glamorous despite living “in a shithole”.
  • Janek Gossetthad an interesting take on Icarus, plummeting from the sky having seen a “glimpse of god”. An adrenaline fuelled fall, filled with dense imagery, that questioned the truth of narrative and gave Icarus a new life: phoenix-like, with “wings earned through strife and dreams of change”.
  • Richard Tyrone Jonesperformed a poem from his show, RTJ has a Big Heart (touring this year, preview in June), called “Heartstopper”. With good modulation, his rhythm matched the state of his heart: slowed by drugs and sped by adrenaline. (it also had echoes of sitcom humour: the cardiac arrest was brought on by a particularly sexy student nurse.)
  • Da Poet‘s “The Significance of Being Insignificant” was absolutely fantastic. With fluent and passionate wordplay, he urged us to set aside the differences of the Abrahamic religions and become a “resisting filament resisting belligerent militants” together, not divided by faith or race. A highlight of the night.
  • Oh Standfast‘s delivery (example) reminded me somewhat of the Wizard of Skill. Short phrases, repetition and shouting made the randomness and mundanity almost absurd, with a mildly threatening undercurrent in the refrain (“check you out with your…”), which was received with laughter.

It was a lively and enjoyable night, so do check their facebook page for when it’s next on. I believe it’s their anniversary in July, so that should be something special.

‘Nth Entities’ by Anna Le and Phil Manzanera – Poetry Album Launch

In Pamphlets, Performance Poetry on May 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm

@ The Charterhouse Bar

25/04/2012

– reviewed by James Webster –

On the Collaboration

Mixing poetry with music can be a tricky business. For every resounding success where the music sets off the rhythms and themes of the poetry and vice-versa (such as Kate Tempest’s Sound of Rum or Dizraeli’s Small Gods), there’s a smattering of poems set to music that do little to compliment either medium and seem to exist solely to fulfil the poet’s long-standing desire to be in a band.

Anna Le and Phil Manzanera’s Nth Entities happily slots into the first bracket, with Anna’s poetry roaming and diving through Phil’s rich and diverse music, each highlighting the strengths of the other.

It’s a collaboration born of mutual interests and, perhaps more importantly, mutual friends. Gavin Martin, who introduced the pairing at his ‘Talking Musical Revolutions’ event, gave a warm description of how he had met the two individuals and the part he played in bringing them together. It was a great intro that highlighted the role the various interlinked strings of their lives had started to intertwine (from Anna’s beginnings on the spoken word scene to Phil’s background with Roxy Music), making the collaboration seem the easiest and most natural thing, whilst also gently reminding us of all the little turns their careers had taken to bring about this album.

The Evening

The Charterhouse was packed, full of friends, long-standing admirers/fans and family, making for a welcoming and friendly atmosphere (though the sheer number of people standing in the room did make things a little sweltering).

The event was gracefully hosted by Richard Marsh who needed only the gentlest of touches to set the night in motion and guide it along. He gave a charming welcome, doing what was needed then humbly letting their work speak for itself.

The Music highlighting the Poetry

From the moment Anna and Phil started their first piece ‘All the While’ it was clear that Manzenera’s guitar (alternately cheerfully jangly and mournfully ambient) was an excellent companion to Le’s powerful verse, the constant rhythm of his music grounding the poem, just as his occasional wail of strings washed over it. Anna’s repetitions of ‘continuously’ were very effective in settling the poem into the music’s beat, while her words pulsed with Phil’s lower bass notes in a poem that described the beat of a life both everyday and beautiful. The music’s reverb highlighted such lines as ‘reverberations, bamboozlements, a bomb or two’ and after the closing line of ‘I am continuously, all the while continuously … inescapably falling in love with you’ the music’s flow swelled and broke like a wave washing over the audience, driving home Anna’s words.

‘Nth Entities’ was similarly excellent, Phil’s guitar reverb’ing soft thunder that Anna’s voice rolled over, before Phil’s beat began to build dangerously beneath her. It’s Anna’s love poem to everything that has made her herself, explaining that she ‘come[s] from many rivers’, that she ‘season[s] everything with anything I can think of’, and Phil repeats a nice harmonious chord throughout that emphasises each different current of the rivers that have made her. And as Anna weaves her words around the music, announcing ‘I am the nucleus of my destiny’, Phil builds the music into a discordant storm around her voice, ending in a simple heart-like beat.

‘Mountaintop Dreaming’ was possibly the only piece where I felt the music added little to Anna’s excellent poem on race, politics and Black History Month. Starting with the amusing idea of a computer virus “from Enoch Powell corrupting [her] PC” asking her “why an entire month is dedicated to black history?”, it ranges onwards in a complex dissection of Black History Month’s importance in helping our society get to a stage where we no longer need something as potentially patronising as Black History Month, describing it as another “jagged piece of the perplexing puzzle”. The music for this piece took a necessary back seat, retreating into a more relaxed kind of easy listening that let the poem make its point (which was needed), but adding little other than (possibly) a bit more urgency.

The Poetry highlighting the Music

In ‘Jimi’ Phil’s Hendrix-esque guitar riffs and soaring solos took centre stage, while Anna’s words formed a steady build and backbone of the piece. Phil’s guitar work really summoned the spirit of Hendrix to the audience, while Anna’s lyrics matched the riffs with effective repetition (a particularly nice moment was the “his-his-his-his-his-history” repetition that echoed the barely constrained ‘dum-dum-dum-dum’ of the guitar) and mirrored the solos with her aspiring and spiralling wordplay and impressive vocabulary. And as the cascade of guitar span into silence, Anna left us with the simple words “James Marshall Hendrix, music misses you.”

‘Scratch’ was another poem where Manzanera was given free reign to play music (clearly inspired by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry) with real swerve and sway to its rhythm, getting the whole audience swaying their hips in time. It’s appropriate that Anna talks of Perry’s “musical voodoo” just as Phil is employing some pretty powerful melodic mojo himself; while Anna’s verses spin on between the music, providing us with a moving and imaginatively described biography of Lee Perry’s life and the “simplicity that made his approach complex”. My only criticism is that the words get a little bogged down in the details of his life, but this may be necessary to allow the music to take the forefront.

‘Lego Limbs’ was a poem transformed by the music. Always a hugely sweet poem, the Dylan-like quality that Phil gave to the jangly guitar, complete with harmonica, really set off the whimsical beauty of Anna’s piece about getting to know a new lover through the night-time wrestle of trying to get comfortable (the lover tells her “wouldn’t this be easier if we had limbs of detachable lego?”). The jauntiness of the music perfectly set off the comedy and romance of the poem, and it was very impressive how Anna’s words were detached from each other to fit around the music, just like the ‘Lego Limbs’ she’s talking about.

Buy this Album

Is the only conclusion I can come to. It’s a great mixture of different styles of music blended seamlessly with Anna’s powerful, funny and moving verse. It’s clear a lot of love and care has gone into making it work this well.

It’s available in a truly gorgeous book/cd combo that has the text of the poems, lovely intro’s from Phil and Anna, and all the poetry and music on CD. It’s also available to simply download (at a much cheaper price).

If you like the sound of this then Anna’s regular poetry night Sage & Time resumes tomorrow night at 7.30pm at the Charterhouse Bar in Farringdon. Be there.

An Interview with Tim Wells

In Conversation on May 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm

-a virtual conversation with Claire Trévien

Tim Wells

Hello Tim, and thanks for ‘joining’ me for a quick chat about your projects, and in particular, your involvement in Penning Perfumes, a creative collaboration that pairs poets with perfumers. What made you decide to take part in the Penning Perfumes project? Were you interested in scents prior to the project?

It sounded like an interesting project, definitely something I wouldn’t typically be asked to do. As a burly, tattooed ex-skinhead I just had to be involved!

Prior to this I’d worn Brut, all the chaps did in the 70s. These days I usually wear Eton College cologne, to be honest it reminds me of the poet Hugo Williams. I’m not overly interested in scent, the scent of breakfast, lunch and dinner excluded. I am interested in how scent adds to the transformation of a person: from a humdrum someone to Mr Saturday Night. It seemed quite a Jason King thing to be a part of. Fancy.

You’ve written a poem inspired by an anonymous scent you were given, can you tell me a little bit about your first reaction to the scent?

It took me a while to ‘get’ the scent. Two years working with industrial chemicals and liquid fibreglass hasn’t exactly left me with a sensitive nose. The perfume was warm and I liked it. I wanted to write something about how clothes, a new attitude and scent help to form someone. In my poem it’s someone who’s going out on the pull with a new mindset after a romantic dumping, and certainly not the sort of someone who’d dump by text.

How was the process of writing this poem for you, I hate the term ‘comfort zone’, but do you feel that it took you away from your usual writing practice, or did you find a way to make it adapt to your style?

It did but that was one of the reasons I thought it would be interesting. I deliberately wrote a ‘male’ poem. I used quite a bit of nadsat, the slang from Clockwork Orange. In our  heads, me and my mates are quite often droogs. I’d been wanting to use nadsat in a poem and it suited to show the difference in a new tougher attitude and someone throwing themself into Saturday night for whatever fun that might bring. I often use vernacular and a vocabulary from slang and M25 languages in my work, so it was good to expand on that and use something we don’t actually use for real, but do talk in for a laugh.

Did finding out what the perfume was change your interpretation of it?

No, I was interested in how scent is used to transform your own attitude and focused on that. I liked the mystery of not knowing what it was. I thought it a warm, quite woody fragrance and it turned out to have liquorice in it, so I wasn’t too far off. I liked the ambiguity of whether it was a male or female scent, or even if that mattered.

You’ve been running an underground zine called Rising for many years now. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

I started Rising some 19 years ago as I wasn’t reading enough poetry that I liked. I’m very much from a ‘build it yourself’ background. Initially I was going to do a one-off ‘zine but the copies we did flew out. My next issue is our 55th. I’m pleased that the ‘zine has the best bad reputation in poetry. We have a sense of humour, enjoy punchy poetry and also generally (without it being deliberate) half or more of our writers are women. I never thought that a big deal but it is quite noticeable against many of the po-faced poetry mags. Funny when half of the world is female. I love a passionate, Alexis Colby, Ingrid Pitt, Angela Mao type voice in a poem me. Being a prole myself I’m always happy to have working class people in the ‘zine. The culture of many poetry mags is alien to me, and to many of the poets I print. I’m out and out anti-academic, pro-learning and have a sense of humour. The way forward for the working class isn’t for us to become middle-class, sorry Oxbridge.

What prompted you to make the leap from writer to editor? Does the ‘other side’ give you a new perspective on your own writing?

The main editing job in Rising is seeing how dull the majority of poetry mags are and not being like them. I read a lot of poetry regularly and go to many readings, finding voices that are entertaining, engaging and meaningful is definitely the best bit. It hasn’t really affected my work other than as a reminder to be proud of being a prole and that poetry can be a punch or a kiss but it should always be felt.


I expect you’ve read Jon Stone’s excellent post on poetry tribalism. I know that what I was keen to do with Penning Perfumes was to recruit a varied group of poets, which poetic ‘tribes’ do you feel you belong to? You’ve been notoriously publishing what people like to call ‘page’ and ‘stage’ poets in your zine for many years, do you feel that these distinctions are finally starting to blur?

I was a teenage suedehead, so that’s the tribe I’m happiest with. Even better, these days it’s practically non-existent. Jon made some interesting points. I’ve frequently said the page/stage divide, if it existed, was one constructed by and for administrators and arts professionals. I don’t think intelligent and engaged writers worry about labels. They’ll dip in and out of styles and have fun with them as well as standing styles on their heads. That to me is more important. When writers themselves are putting on gigs, editing anthologies and ‘zines then those distinctions are irrelevant. Leave it to quackademics, admins and desk jockeys to construct labels that make themselves important and, more importantly, funded. Me, I’d much rather earn a few quid and some pints doing real poetry to real people in a decent boozer.


When did you first call yourself a poet and to whom?

I’m happy being called a poet, but it’s a bit like being the murderer at a dinner party. I’m not happy being called a ‘performance poet’. That’s a very loaded term used by toffs to reinforce that I have an accent and am not a ‘pwopah’ poet like what they are. I’m aware of the power of names, I see how they’re used, especially about myself. I’ve been doing live poetry since the late 70s. I started out gigging with reggae and punk bands. After being a poet in front of those audiences everything else is easy, anyway I’m not posh enough to be a comedian.


What projects are in the pipeline for you?

I’ll be gigging as ever, I’m also working on a new collection with Donut Press. I enjoy some of the weirder gigs I get; refereeing inter-gender wrestling for the comedian Simon Munnery, the ‘two dads on a sofa talking about records’ gigs I do with Phill Jupitus, poetry with the reggae sound Tighten Up Crew, so definitely more of those. I’m hoping to be gigging with Pam Ayres, she’s the last person left on my ‘people I’d like to gig with’ list, though hopefully there’ll be more people added to and ticked off. I’ve enjoyed the many gigs at the Betsey Trotwood, easily the top venue for poetry in London. I love gigging in pubs, there’s a lot of drek talked about people not relating to poetry, the problem isn’t people, it’s some of the poets. I’m working on an appreciation of Sei Shonagon for Liane Strauss’ Poets on Poets, I have a flat full of Penguin Classics in the old black jackets. My biggest project is enjoying poetry, wherever it comes from, having great friends and the right enemies. Claire, it’s your round x

‘Squawk Back’ #50

In Blogzines, online magazine on May 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Squawk Back #50's colourful coverSquawk Back is an online publication that publishes on a weekly schedule, boldly proclaiming that it is ‘far less interested in exploiting emergent literary voices than providing them with a slightly louder box with which to squawk’. In an article on The Lit Pub, editor-in-chief Zak Block offers this description of Squawk Back’s aesthetic:

…greatly interested in what could be described as ‘postmodern-outsider-literature’: written works of prose, poetry, non-fiction and memoir that can, among other things, be appreciated through, or have been created in, a kitsch/camp spectatorial mode; and that have been created, in some cases, by dwellers of the very fringes of society: be they the abjectly impoverished, mentally ill or incarcerated, but almost un- or intentionally beautiful.

Issue 50 opens with ‘Grünerløkka’, a short story by Adam Moorad. What unfolds reads like a miniature Beckett play. An unnamed narrator wakes up in a backpacker motel bathtub, his roommate Malibu ‘sitting on the toilet beside the tub, in a bathrobe’. Moorad deftly paints a picture of the characters’ relationship within a short paragraph: ‘We had shared a bunk bed for about a week. He claimed to be an aristocrat and an avid surfer. He had no accent. I thought he was insane.’ Following some desultory conversation, the toilet begins flooding (‘The way the sewage spilled, it reminded me of a birth’), then a knock on the door brings not housekeeping but a ‘throng of skinheads’, who proceed to trash the room. ‘Nothing made sense’, as the final paragraph admits, but the story still manages to wrap the disconcerting enigma of itself up in an aesthetic moment: ‘We were lost there, somewhere in what qualified as civilization. It could have been daytime, but the sun outside held no more power than a sponge. In this light the smoke, which had been a bright orange, had turned a deep blue.’

Next up comes Elizabeth Walton’s ‘A Service Announcement’, a flash fiction that begins as a contemporary fable (‘One day there was a lion with no eyes but extremely keen hearing’), swerves into a critique of the politics of prize-giving (‘See, prizes are funny; awarded at the awardee’s discretion, no interview or funny poll or quiz beforehand in order to determine what would be most appropriate’), before getting completely derailed (‘Gifted with the powers of transformation and transmitigation and illustrious intelligent adjectives for which they pawned their underage daughters on the stock exchange’). The true bite of this flash though, is in its ending: ‘Grandpa closed the book and set it down on the old nightstand and folded his hands and eyes and lungs into a perfect square and sent me off to bed. I’m not sure if even he knew the moral of the story.’ Clayton Lister’s ‘Parsnip Pop, It’s Good for You’ is an offbeat tale of young love, set in the countryside, perhaps hinting at the tension of the urban-rural divide in its sporadic references to Leeds.

Yet of all the work in Issue 50 of Squawk Back, it is Schemelia’s two free verse poems that to me best reflect Block’s professed interest in ‘postmodern-outsider-literature’. In fact, one of the poems is named for Block, in which Schemelia writes, ‘I heard the disease last afternoon / … / the disease told me to close my eyes… / … / to have faith in something from some thing’. His other poem, ‘pyeon sai’, plays games with language, blending English and French (‘color me clear / as a mirage du mer’, ‘every / I say every / day, speak one more word than the jour before’), even as it insists:
‘plain
loud talking
and the pain what comes
to vain brains

has been known to cure aggressive infection’

The ‘infection’ in question is not explicitly named, although earlier lines like ‘the boy what forced his Irish accent / well into the tenth grade’ and ‘any prosperity begets suffering / as there is no king among the working class / except one’ are suggestive enough. The literal and metaphorical heart of the poem though, comes in the two stanzas ‘what spoils we’ve disrobed and rerobed in shocktoxic shame what nothing the / metropolitan with crinkled hands can do // but live because you are still alive as far as you care to tell’. That single line, isolated in its own stanza, sounds a defiant cry to hold on, a bold squawk from the fringes of literature, if you will.

As Squawk Back marks its first anniversary later this month, it is indeed heartening to see how far the publication has come, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to squawk back to more mainstream literature.

Oxford Hammer & Tongue: May Mayhem @ The Old Fire Station 08/05/2012

In Performance Poetry on May 10, 2012 at 12:59 am

– reviewed by James Webster

The Night

After a few months of ping-ponging between different venues it’s nice that Oxford Hammer & Tongue has found a permanent home at the Old Fire Station. It’s a friendly charity venue, promoting social and creative enterprise that H&T have been happily ensconced in since February. And it made an excellent home for a very enjoyable evening of poetry this past Tuesday.

The Hosts

Tina Sederholm and Lucy Ayrton (both of whom are bringing solo shows toEdinburgh this year) continue to impress with their friendliness, humour and buckets of enthusiasm. Tina’s hosting always seems to come with a smile and a sly wink, quick to take the mick out of herself and the audience, while Lucy’s boundless energy is hard to match; they make a great team.

Tina’s poem ‘Christmas Day: A Miracle’ was about her niece, a 5-years-old ardent feminist. It captures a moment of heady childish freedom and energy, as the feminine girl born into a sporty family lets loose of a Christmas walk and just runs and runs.

The Features

  • Alison Brumfitt gave an entertaining set that at her best was insightful, very funny and impressively rhythm’d and rhymed.
  • Especially good was ‘I Believe’, a fun mix of Alison’s affirming personal beliefs and her takes on more universal issues. From her funny belief that ‘the root of all evil is the road to Milton Keynes’ followed later by more meaningful epigrams like ‘I don’t believe war feels any better if you win’, it’s a well performed and uplifting approach to life.
  • Her poem on Sex Ed was an interesting mix, brilliantly pointing out the floors of poor sexual education and how it fails to warn you that penises are not like broom handles or that sex ‘messes with your head’. But then it descends into moaning about ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends.
  • Indeed, at various less enjoyable points some poems came off as a little trite and obvious, picking on easy targets such as people with allergies or ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends. But even at weaker points, she always did just enough to undercut her own points, making her poems pleasingly 3-dimensional (the Sex Ed poem for example ends with ‘there’s no such thing as safe sex, that’s why I like it so much’).
  • Gerry Potter introduced by the hosts as a ‘Scouse Legend’ this did not begin to do justice to his captivating stage presence, easy banter and verbal wizardry.
  • It may seem over the top to say it, but it was one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. He blends strong performance with phenom-like wordsmanship, the performance always perfectly matching the poetry.
  • ‘And Then the Man Said’ conjured the voice of a warm, friendly and inspiring nonsense-prophet, whose advice spans the ridiculous to the profound and back again (‘negotiate friendship without language or money/ and DANCE, kid!’).  ‘Love Those Frankenstein Guys’ distilled the essence of the ‘shivering fragility’ of the old pub drunk, captivatingly rendering their sad and ugly beauty. ‘Jimmy Bling’ summoned an image of a working class ‘scally’ turned class-warrior-poet (which was great even when he forgot the words).
  • But it was ‘The Magician’ that really blew me away. A ringing indictment of the reality television created by the rich to elevate and laugh at the broken (such as X-Factor), it is at once damning (‘Yes! He eats babies!’) and totally understanding of this magician’s appeal as ‘the magician sinks into the belly of his magic as Disney animation tickles him to sleep’.
  • But the real magician here is Gerry himself, making such magic with his words.

The Slam

If you’ve read any of our H&T reviews before you should know the format: 3 minutes (30 second grace period), one microphone, one sacrificial poet (to get the ball rolling) five judges (marking out of 10), and a final score out of 30 (top and bottom scores knocked off in case the judge is sleeping with the poet). Winning poet goes through to the regional final next month.

  • Davey Mac’s ‘Life, the Universe and Everything For Richard Dawkins and His Students’ had several amusing lines (‘life is a sexually transmitted disease’), but relied a little too much on scatological humour for my tastes. He did clearly and cleverly express how science, the big bang and evolution are all, fundamentally, a bit silly, but didn’t seem to go anywhere definite with it. 24.3
  • Dyedre Just, performing for the first time in English, gave a thoughtful and earnest piece on the multiple meanings of ‘time’ and the different ways it impacts on our lives. But it ran overtime slightly and occasionally fell into the trap of being a little pretentious in her ruminations on death. 19.7
  • Andi McCrae gave us three short, perfectly formed poems. A man bragging about his extramarital exploits on the tube is told the ‘screeching’ sound is not the breaks, but his soul (hilarious). A woman is lovingly described in the warmest terms. And a broken shoe becomes a forlorn symbol of a relationship just too damaged to work. Her poems were skilfully constructed and performed. 25.8
  • Phat Matt Baker’s comedy revenge fantasy of serving his estate agent’s left testicle on a barbeque tapped into a common hatred of a crooked industry. But bitterness, cheap jokes and violence played for laughs seemed to divide the audience and did nothing for me. 24.6
  • Andrew Thomkinson performed a superbly phrased poem painting Oxford as an unwelcoming town: graduation gowns turn to crows and there’s ‘no space for angels to land on Oxford’s prickly back’. Lovely rich language, but his performance could have been stronger. 24.2
  • Anna McCrory’s ‘Wizard of Argos’ is incredibly entertaining, enlivened by Anna’s gift for easy and amusing rhymes, clever use of colloquialisms and intensely likeable delivery. It’s the kind of comedy poem I’d think shallow, if it didn’t get so neatly to the heart of what makes such a common thing as Argos stores a little bit magic. 27.1
  • Paul Fitchett’s ‘Child Soldiers’ drew powerful parallels between the courage and bravado it takes for a teenager boy to approach a girl across the dance floor (with a spray of Lynx as ‘body armour’) and the bravado said teenager takes with him when he goes to war. He brilliantly brought the powerful and terrifying realities of love and war in adolescence crashing together. 26.5

Winner: Anna McCrory

A really strong slam, with great potential from several new faces to Hammer & Tongue. I’m really looking forwards to seeing more of Paul Fitchett, Andi McCrae and Andrew Thomkinson and see how they develop as performance poets.

In the end every poet was at the least entertaining, and at the most they were powerful, charming and borderline transcendent: a very good night from Hammer & Tongue Oxford as they build to their final in June.

‘This Is The Quickest Way Down’ by Charles Christian

In anthology, Short Stories on May 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm

-Reviewed by Tori Truslow

Small-press speculative fiction is often where the interesting stuff is, so I was intrigued by Proxima, Salt’s new fantasy/sci-fi imprint. One of their first offerings, Charles Christian’s This is the Quickest Way Down, is a collection of “dystopian sci-fi, dark fantasy and urban gothic” fiction that promises to “tread the fine line between the normal and the fantastic, where the unknown lies behind every unopened door and every unread email.” Unfortunately, the collection seems rather to tread the fine line between the banal and the fantastically clichéd, where the “unknown” takes the form of eyeroll-inducing stereotypes.

Take flash fiction piece ‘Already Gone’, which offers a twist straight out of Goosebumps: the protagonists arrive home, bantering about their crazy car ride, only to see a car crash on the news and realise it was them – they’ve been dead all along. Betcha didn’t see that coming.

This is the Quickest Way Down by Charles Christian

Even the less hackneyed stories show a depressing dearth of imagination. In ‘Kastellorizon’, a distant-future tale of space exploration and interstellar war, humanity has penetrated deep space. Yet the narrator refers to “blogs posted over the Net” and “news bulletins coming in over sub-space from CNN and Sky”, suggesting that despite immense advances in space technology, information networks and social media have barely changed since the early years of the internet. Perhaps the book’s constant corporation-namechecking and product placement – I was sick of Starbucks and BlackBerries by page 20 – is supposed to be a comment on the superficiality of modern society, but it felt lazy, especially in the futuristic stories.

Most of the stories are written in a conversational first person mode, padded with jaded observations: “modern life sucks. We all have bills to pay and we all have our price,” the narrator of ‘Waiting for my Mocha to Cool’ tells us; a few pages later: “modern life sucks, but people always get what’s coming to them.” If the fantastical elements were more engaging, or the narrators less myopic, this style might have been tolerable, but I found it grating.

My biggest problem with This is the Quickest Way Down, however, is the women. From the goth chick who (surprise!) turns out to be a demon to the “hot chick” dressed as an alien who (surprise!) turns out to be an actual alien, they are often one-dimensional and uniformly sexualised. Sure, the male narrators are one-dimensional too – self-confessedly so, in several cases – but they aren’t used as objects or plot devices first, characters second. This is a book that sets the tone on page 1 with a blowjob, delivered by a woman described as “emotionally sterile, empty, unlived-in”, and goes on to present a stream of female stereotypes, filtered through a relentless male gaze. Diet-obsessed women notable for their “amply filled pairs of designer jeans sashaying their way across my eyeline”, weepy suicidal women, clingy women, femmes fatales. By about halfway through I was ready to quit, but kept going, forlornly searching for some – any – redeeming quality.

Then I read the title story. ‘This is the Quickest Way Down’ gives us a “cute Asian chick”, who catches the eye of a student at a party. A scant three pages, this one offers up some fetishised exotica – “with my brain now packing a suitcase for an imminent trip to Karma Sutraville and my brain trying to remember some tips I once read in an article about tantric sex, I slip one hand beneath her choli” – before the big reveal. Surprise! She’s the goddess Kali, who apparently has nothing better to do than hang around a British university town and butcher people. Playing straight into colonial stereotypes, this story has no apparent purpose other than to titillate and scare: the Orientalist nightmare-sex-fantasy, alive and well. This is the low point, but it doesn’t get all that much better.

‘The Hot Chick’ is, I suspect, trying to be a clever role-reversal story. Our hero is a “C-list science fiction writer” who makes extra bucks writing sci-fi porn, and attends sci-fi conventions for the female fans – women who lead dull lives, for whom science fiction is an escape, “who are so grateful when a fully-grown adult member of the opposite sex pays them a few compliments and takes an interest in their costumes and characters, that after a couple of drinks or six they are happy to act out some of their fantasies in the comfort of a king-size hotel bed.”

The twist here is that he meets a sexy blue-skinned alien and, assuming she’s in costume, jumps into bed with her; turns out she was secretly filming him for a porn channel back in her own galaxy. But if the narrator feels exploited it’s not made anything of, and his own exploitative attitude towards women goes unexamined. As for the descriptions of female fans, let’s just say that as an attendee of sci-fi conventions, it wasn’t the aliens in this story that tested my suspension of disbelief.

Ultimately, This is the Quickest Way Down failed me as a reader but it also failed on its own terms. It claims to “nudge” the everyday into the weird, then offers ‘weird’ elements that are so predictable as to have no effect. Proxima calls it “daring”. I guess Proxima is not the answer to my search for thoughtful small-press British sci-fi.

Skittles by Richard Marsh

In Performance Poetry on May 3, 2012 at 11:43 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster

@ the Battersea Arts Centre

15/12/2011

About Richard and Skittles

Richard Marsh is a very gifted performer.

A superb poet, who hosts one of my favourite poetry events Sage & Time every month in Farringdon, and has won a bevvy of slams (and has been reviewed several times by Sabotage at Sage & Time and Hammer & Tongue).

He’s also a talented playwright. He’s a writer in residence at Theatre 503, having written several shows that have been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at 503. His one-man poetry-play Skittles premiered in Edinburgh last year, garnering a fistful of ebullient reviews, and he went on to do several sell-out performances at the Battersea Arts Centre. It was in the second run at the BAC that I saw the show and I have to admit I was blown away.

A sweet relationship – the story

The premise of skittles is simple enough. Take a witty, geeky, everyman, throw in a suitably quirky love interest with a tempestuous love-life who sees our everyman (called Richard, but Marsh maintains in the show he’s not playing himself) as just a friend, while he expresses his interest by never mentioning his feelings. So far so standard. Add a dash of skittles, have the characters bond over a shared love of this confection, and stir the resulting sweetness into your otherwise stereotypically bland romance. Where Marsh succeeds in crafting his story is that he takes an overused trope (geeky guy meets quirky girl, but she sees him as a friend, but he’s the only one who understands her) and puts his own stamp on it, showing us the story of a relationship that is eminently believable and swiftly overcomes its slight stereotyping by being equal parts sweet and insightful.

And just because their relationship is sweet, doesn’t mean it’s saccharine (Richard woos the brilliantly drawn ‘Shiv’ by drunkenly telling her to ‘fuck off’). The play charts their relationship from its romantic and lovestruck beginnings, but is possibly at its heart-wrenching best when alluding to the tiny cracks that appear in their relationship, movingly describing the couple’s arguments, moodiness and the use of Toploader’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ as an offensive weapon. The story is as good as it is because its so heartfelt, Marsh conjuring up the feelings of dizzying love and evoking bleak and crushing heartbreak with equal skill.

Playing with poetry – the medium

Another reason the story works so well and the show is so enjoyable, is that he uses the medium of a one-man poetry show so well. His performance persona is approachable, friendly and easy going, making even his more florid and descriptive verse easily accessible to the audience. Thus the poetic nature of the show magnifies and distills both the humour and the emotion of the play, while the free-flowing and natural rhythm keeps things moving and prevents Richard from ever seeming pretentious. And the action switches seamlessly from narration to well-defined and expressed characters and dialogue that are often very funny (the exchange where Richard proposes is especially fun as the characters get more and more exasperated, finishing with ‘I need the loo!’ ‘Will you marry me?’ ‘Yes, but I still need the loo!’), impressively taut and strained (an argument about wedding planning and excel spreadsheets is especially fraught) and sweetly moving.

Skittles also makes excellent use of music, sound and props. The props are mostly for comic relief: a t-shirt that reads ‘I don’t care about your fucking kids’ and a bowl of skittles that is offered to the audience at a wedding (coupled with the audience being told ‘you owe me a toaster from John Lewis’, in an excellent example of Marsh’s smooth way with the audience), although the skittles are also used again later to impressively depressing effect as a forlorn Richard shovels a giant pack of the sweets into his mouth, letting the crushed rainbow juices flow out the sides of his mouth and down his chin. Especially impressive as he did that every day of his run in Edinburgh (and apparently doesn’t really like skittles). ‘Taste the fucking rainbow’ indeed.

The music and voice recordings are also used to great effect. Toploader’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, as mentioned above, plays a big role as a kind of emotional marker in the play’s central relationship that’s easy for the audience to identify. While an answerphone message from Shiv is also used several times in the show for varying effects, a very effective tool to show the changing nature of the characters’ relationship.

Language with character(s) – the phraseology

A big reason why the show works, why the characters are so endearing and why the audience were so carried away by the play’s alternating sweetness, sadness and wistfulness, is the strength and originality of Marsh’s language.

From the amusing and sweet descriptions of characters who are alternately ‘hotter than a pile of kettles’ and who the main character loves ‘like Oedipus loved his mum’ to a drawn out description of a break-up over a long car journey (‘a 60mph maggot’s nest’) that was so moving I felt like I was breaking.

Especially good was a lengthy personification of Sorrow as a woman he’s cohabiting with (while appropriately listening to Morrisey). It’s mournful and bleakly humorous, filled with language that is bled through with misery.

Throughout the show he lifts up little mundane details and makes them astonishingly beautiful, tearful and funny (I enjoy the phrase ‘salt and vinegar kisses’ on a flirtation in a pub especially’), and weaves them carefully into his verses and rhythms so they feel perfectly natural. Which of course they are, the feelings and experiences he describes are relatable to most and he manages to convey them in ways that seem plucked out of the audience’s collective consciousness. Only more eloquently expressed.

Saboteur Awards 2012: The Winners

In Saboteur Awards on May 1, 2012 at 11:40 am

The voting closed last night at midnight with 191 of you letting us know which of the nominated magazines were your favourite. Reading your comments has been one of the most rewarding parts of the process and demonstrates how passionate you feel about magazines, which is a very wonderful thing indeed.

The winner of the Saboteur Awards 2012, with nearly half of the votes cast overall, is….Armchair/Shotgun!

Here are some of the comments you made about this fine publication when we asked you why your vote should win:

‘Armchair/Shotgun is a saboteur in the best and worst ways–it sabotages complacency, which is a very dangerous thing in a mass marketed, preprocessed, single-serving-container society. A/S is not the kind of publication you’ll find at the dentist’s office, alongside US Weekly and The New Yorker. Its pages sabotage insensate reading and rote thinking. A/S is the single lit magazine out there that has the power, issue after issue, to physically rearrange the contents of my brain.’

‘Evan Simko-Bednarski.’

‘Obscure, powerful and entertaining.’

‘Because they don’t just stay on the page, they come out to the people and give great animated events.’

‘Armchair/Shotgun is an interesting mix of content. Its philosophy that “story” is the only element that matters, is refreshing and inclusive.’

‘Armchair/Shotgun is as beautiful as it is brilliant. Deeply serious, irreverent, socially aware, sassy, at once dressy and casual. Sexy. Literate and fun, in a world where “literate” and “fun” are, too often, mutually exclusive categories. The kind of magazine I’d not only like to read while drinking, but that I’d also like to have a drink with.’

High praise indeed and a worthy winner! We will feature Armchair/Shotgun soon on these very pages and send them a winner’s logo.

In second place, we have a tie! Ilk and New Linear Perspectives!

Here is what you had to say about Ilk:

‘because they rip apart what people think poems ‘should’ be about’

‘For a new journal, it is focused on its aesthetic while still be exciting, slick in design, and professional in its submission and publicity policies. Doing it right!’

‘In the immortal words of David Berman: “I know these recurring news articles are clues, / flaws in the design, though I haven’t figured out / how to string them together yet. / But I’m noticing that the same people / are dying over and over again.”‘

‘A great, fresh and varied collection of new writing edited with a sense of adventure.’

‘Ilk is a new magazine with a stellar mix of new and established poets. They have consistently incredible work and yet are still new and excited about what they are doing.’

‘I love the way the stories are presented on the site and I like the community-spirit that the editors have created in such a short time. Also, great editing.’

and on New Linear Perspectives:

‘New Linear Perspectives offers a unique blend of art, cultural review and poetry from a corner of the world (but not limited to it) that is often underrepresented. Plus, it’s always fun to read and really interesting!’

‘Always interesting and diverse, never dull.’

‘Cutting edge and inspirational’

‘Quality, variety, originality – and AFG, the captain of their ship is vim and verve full, a delight to deal with in person and in print. He doesn’t wait for the verse always to come to him but seeks out content, a rare trait for which there’s amble room in this sector. Michael Neu! Reekie! Limited’

‘Innovative, highbrow, current.’

‘Was there at the birth of NLP and have watched it grow, broaden and deepen – an impressive achievement.’

In third place we have… Anon!

Here are some of the comments:

‘It is a fantastic poetry magazine. I probably owe my current interest in poetry to it and have become a faithful reader. It offers a critical and loving approach to its subject, is has particularly good taste and it has so far never bored me! I wish Anon plenty of luck!’

‘it introduced me to poetry.’

‘An ambitious magazine with a unique code of ethics it also features thoughtful and enlightening essays which bring new ideas to the fore. Yes!’

‘Who can’t be impressed with their tagline: We don’t care who you AREN’T ? It’s fresh, it’s honest, and everyone wins in this scenario. Darned good writing too.’

Thank you everyone for voting!

Bang Said The Gun! 23/02/2012

In Performance Poetry on May 1, 2012 at 12:24 am

– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –

@ The Roebuck

THE HYPE – It’s hard not to turn up to Bang Said The Gun! with a heaving sack full of expectations. A hugely popular night, run by a medley of awesome London poets, Bang! regularly garners glowing reviews and has been featured on Channel  4 and Sky. So what makes it so special? And did this Thursday’s edition live up to the hype?

THE REALITY – I turned up. It was loud, and packed. The room was filled with candled tables offset by wall-displays loudly spelling out BANG! in black and white letters, and making the venue feel like some sort of clandestine punk comedy club. Milk bottles apparently filled with chickpeas sat on the tables waiting for the audience to shake them, and I can confirm that doing so is an awesome and weirdly addictive alternative to clapping.

THE AWESOME – This is an event brimming with quirky features to keep you engaged. At the start, an audience member is randomly dubbed the Hatalyst (Catalyst in the Hat), charged with wearing a preposterously large top hat emblazoned BANG! and leading the audience response / milk-bottle-shaking. On this night we got James, single, occasionally employed and not aware of having any STDs. He accepted the hat with gusto. Other fun things: to kick off the second half, Rob the barman read out some delightfully silly bar and/or pub related jokes from an enormous book titled the Bang Bar Staff’s Big Book of Beautiful Banging Banter. Plus, the excitement of competition! This was the Raw Meat Stew – in which seven poets competed for the Golden Gun award and a slot in the following week’s line-up.

THE HOST – DAN COCKRILL was a fun, charismatic host, projecting the raucous and irreverent spirit of Bang! and giving the performers a rousing welcome.

 Speaking of the performers, here are my highlights (and lowlights).

MARTIN GALTON engaged the audience’s attention by giving us a choice of two books he could read poetry from – a red book of love, or a black book of hate. We chose hate: musings on the dystopian failings of past and future policing, on the disturbing ubiquity of yoghurt in supermarkets, on personal flaws and insecurities – a nice blend of the personal, the political and the absurd, engagingly performed, made this a satisfying and enjoyable set.

NIA BARGE ~ POET-IN-RESIDENCE – This was Nia Beige’s final performance as Bang’s Poet-in-Residence.  What struck me most about her set was her wonderfully expressive delivery, which brought razor-sharp observations and reminiscences of love and living vibrantly to life. Her piece on discovering that a relationship is an affair was devastating and beautiful, with the phrase “if I knew my memories were borrowed from her happiness…” standing out for me in particular.

ROB AUTON’s surreal tribute to yellow was in keeping with the theme of his upcoming Edinburgh show, Yellow in Colour. This shambolic and odd piece charted the poet’s awakening to the wonder of the colour yellow, and conjured up whimsical vignettes involving… well, stuff related to yellow. The fact that my stomach hurt from laughing throughout this hilarious conceptual journey is testament to the fact that this really, really worked. While other poets went for their own brands of surreal humour and abstract weirdness, Rob Auton was the only one who actually made me broaden my ideas of what performance poetry can be, masterfully navigating the fine line between brilliantly absurd and pointlessly random – something which is particularly difficult to get right in performance.

CRAIG MILLER’s guitar-driven set was uninspiring, reaching a low point when he told the audience that, having been advised to write what he knows, he had written about being a stalker. Describing tiptoeing down someone’s hall, this song’s repeated refrain was “I’ve seen your face, I know your name”, and was as tedious, creepy and irritating to sit through as the concept was trite and unoriginal, written solely for the cheap laugh.

JESS GREEN ~ winner of the previous week’s Golden Gun award – was my favourite poet of the night. A contrast to the cheeky, offbeat tone of much of the night, this set was brimming with the kind of well-judged yet passionately conveyed sincerity that lights a fire in your bones and breaks your heart. The highlight was an angry, powerful poem that repeated “I’m tired of…”,  expressing the poet’s frustration with the double standards and restricting expectations young women face, as well as with sexism on the poetry slam circuit. There was an urgency in her delivery, words tumbling out as if it was impossible to keep them in, but controlled and flowing towards an achingly relatable climax.  This was beautifully written, mesmerisingly performed, soul-baring poetry that got right to the heart of the ridiculous endeavour that is being a person.

PETER HAYHOE’s exploration of the self-doubt and uncertainty a new relationship can bring, symbolised by a disappointing hole in a Pizza Express pizza, was insightful and funny, and peppered with a characteristic self-deprecating geekiness that I’ve warmed to every time I’ve seen him perform.

FEATURED POETS

Comedian JULIAN DANIEL combined a straight, deadpan delivery with wry wordplay to create fun, quirky little pieces – a slice of ham, sandwiched by bread, wishing it was jam , or a parody of Kipling’s “If” (the original “then you’ll be a man my son”), that married the expected inspirational platitudes to gems like “If you can wear an ill-fitting thong…”. Occasionally I felt the humour got a bit lazy, such as the climax of a love poem ending with the obvious “…now will you sleep with me?”, or his introduction to a love poem for an ex who called him insensitive, in which he relied on banal sexist stereotype for a predictable punchline,  “…it was probably that time of the month!” Overall though, this was a fun antidote for anyone who has ever sat through godawful, overwrought love poetry.

LIZ BENTLEY – Accompanied by jaunty ukulele, her poetry was replete with eccentric black humour, steeped in the mundanities and struggles of everyday life in London, as well as in difficult personal issues such as the end of a long-term relationship. Maintaining an irreverent tone throughout, this was a highly enjoyable set that combined humour and depth to compelling effect.

RAW MEAT STEW ~ judged by Nia Barge

The performers in the Raw Meat Stew covered an interesting range of subjects – love, Star Wars, abstract personal reflections – but varied in quality and performance skills.  Cecilia Knapp’s piece on young and stupid forays into love was moving and evocative, while Chris McCormick, the eventual winner, had an engaging conversational style and some amusing things to say about Wookies.

CONCLUSION

So, how did my first Bang! (hurr) live up to reputation?  With its exciting catchphrases, “mud-wrestling with words”, “poetry for people who don’t like poetry” – and quirky features – the Golden Gun award, the Hatalyst, the milk bottles – the one thing Bang Said the Gun! promises is respite from mediocrity and pretension. While there were a few poets who failed to avoid one or both of those things, there was more than enough skill, humour, passion and sheer unadulterated awesome from the rest to make up for it. In short: I had fun, and so will you.