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Review: Sage & Time’s 2nd Birthday 18/07/12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on February 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

– reviewed by James Webster, Dana Bubulj and Koel Mukherjee –

s&t2

The Birthday Boy, um, Girl, um, Evening.

Regular readers will know I’ve hardly been restrained in my love of Sage & Time. The brainchild of Anna Le and home of the Dirty Hands collective, it has been a welcome mainstay of my spoken word experience and that’s why it was so lovely to attend its 2nd birthday party back in July. The evening had an uplifting celebratory feel that was reinforced by the various poems from both the regular and newer performers and it was all totally lovely.

No party’s complete without an excellent host …

The evening was hosted by the confident and fiercely warm Kat Francois, who was always quick to quip and jest with the audience. She focused us into rapt silence before the performances, and provoked rapturous applause after them; you can really see how her experience as a stand-up comic has honed her crowd-handling skills. Francois kicked things off with a machine-gun rata-tat of words explaining why she performs. It was a storm of a poem, stressing the importance of poetry, claiming her place on the stage and asserting her ownership of words. And ‘I Love Being a Woman’ was amazing fun, full of sing-song joy, sensual language, silly orgasm noises, and a perceptive take on the give-and-take of relationships (though it was a bit odd that a poem with that title was all about her relationship with a man). Top stuff.

The party’s welcome guests – highlights of the Open Mic

  • Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson, S&T regular, kicked off the open mic with a quick and powerful flash of a poem on Usain Bolt, before giving us an incredibly sweet take on his youthful gawkish self’s inability to dance.
  • Elaine O’Neil then showed off her way with words with ‘Light Rail’. I really enjoyed how she penciled in the potential of the places railways can take you to, and she took us on a witty and intelligent journey from hope to capitalism.
  • The Wizard of Skill gave his usual madcap performance, full of amusing repetition and imaginative phrasing. Though, some might say that the repetition and disparate references that characterise his offbeat style sacrifices structure and progression.
  • Jazz Man John’s ‘Advice to Young Poets’ was a short piece on classic poets that was nicely witty (if a bit off-kilter).
  • Anna Em’s ‘Chain Letter’ was impressively haunting, had some good natural and supernatural imagery and some killer lines like “he counts his lost days on a calendar of broken dreams”.
  • Errol McGlashen’s ‘One Drop’ (inspired by Stephen Lawrence) was full of powerful rhythm, ranging across civil rights history to a brutal depiction of Lawrence’s death. It was powerful and chilling (and occasionally very funny).
  • Jill Abram performed ‘I have Forgotten my Father’, an endearingly nostalgic piece that was full of touchingly tiny remembered details that captured the miracle-magic that parents can make for their children.
  • Achilles read ‘My Finger’, an amusing take on technology making fingers obsolete that elicited ripples of laughter from the audience.
  • Richard Watkins had some wonderfully tinkly sing-song language in his piece that was a celebration of the mineral world and send-up of the material world. The point was a bit hackneyed, but it worked.
  • Tim Wells gave two poems, the first a witty ‘love poem to anger’, while the second was dedicated to girls his daughter’s age who date hipsters with “tight trousers, a weak moustache and pox” and was super-bleak, but much fun.
  • Koel Mukherjee’s ‘Love Poem to the Universe’ was a stunning mix of pure beauty and ultimate whimsy. Having started performing at S&T only recently, she had clearly grown massively in confidence to reinforce her heady talent with words.
  • Edward Unique’s piece ‘The Rainforests’ came together really well, mixing images together into a cohesive whole he sometimes struggles to achieve with his plurality of ideas.

The guests of honour – Features

  • Anna Le performed two pieces herself, the first ‘What is it?’ was an evocative and endearing description of walking into an open mic for the first time and segueing on to sum up some of the lovely things about Sage & Time (“S&T loves the jokes, but doesn’t need the happy every after”). And her ‘All the While’ was especially heartfelt on the night, its verse reaching out to you, the cadences rising and dropping just as you think it’s going to peak.
  • Lettie McKie: Lettie’s first poem was a humorous take on getting groped on the tube, which hilariously summed up a familiar feeling, but didn’t seem to offer any new/interesting perspective. That said, her performance (complete with amped-up middle class voice) was top notch.
  • While her second was a poem of two halves, the first essentially a very well constructed list of minor annoyances and first world problems that combined to blow each other out of all proportion. While the over the top hatred of life was fun, it didn’t really speak to me and felt a bit trite. The second half, however, was a lovely, soft and tender piece on the joy of words, friends and people’s differences and segued charmingly into congratulations for Sage & Time’s 2nd Birthday.
  • Keith Jarrett is a charming performer. Coupling intense and lush poetry with a winning stage presence, he started with an awesome piece made entirely of references to the previous performer’s poems that was a lovely and inclusive way to start his set. He also performed a fun, lyrical and accessible poem that was great on how the young construct their sense of selves and sense of ‘cool’ and also turned into a surprisingly good sing-a-long. It was rich with nostalgia and warmth and it really invited the audience into his reminisces.
  • Amy Acre continued the trend of poems celebrating Sage & Time with an immensely fun rap to introduce herself to the stage. She followed up with ‘Run’, a poem apparently inspired by a woman she met travelling in Nepal. Now … I’m usually wary of this kind of introduction, as far too often it leads solely to a vacuous poem that either reduces the locations talked of to mere exoticism or exposes nothing but the poet’s own privilege. However, this piece was a beautifully simple and incredibly powerful poem on gender disparity and the dangers of tradition for tradition’s sake that actually acknowledged the speaker’s own privilege along the way. Gorgeous stuff.
  • James Webster performed “Flat-Pack Lover”, his contribution to the Penning Perfumes collection of poetry inspired by different scents. The imagery was a rich, sensual, slightly quirky jumble, describing a personified piece of furniture, a warm, inviting, pinewood-and-brass lover. This was followed by a lovely tribute rooted in the there-and-then – “The House of Sage and Time” imagined Sage & Time as a home, the walls made of words that you could spend a hundred years reading, the spice cupboard full of sage, and the doors only open to those with “words in their hearts and fire on their tongues” – an electrifying statement of welcome and intent for anybody who loves poetry.
  • Peter Hayhoe … how do I even describe the ridiculous genius of his poem? He performed a poem that was pretty much his entire life in poetry form (all the way up to that very moment) and it was spellbinding. It was filled with geeky nostalgia, teenage doubts and plenty of jokes; a disarmingly honest and adorable performance.
  • Maddy Carty finished the night off with an ice-cool set of songs that we both perceptive and entertaining; a real treat for the ears.

Overall this was a warm embrace of an event. An inclusive welcome for the new, a celebration for the regulars, and a damn good party for all involved. While there were some poets I enjoyed more than others, the joy of Sage & Time is how inclusive and supportive it is of everyone and that tells in the ever-improving and enjoyable poetry its regulars perform. And this was such a fun night I’m already excited about the 3rd birthday!

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Top Spoken Word Moments of 2012

In Festival, Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

– listed by James Webster

As the year is (fairly) recently ended and a new one begun, it seems a reasonable (ok, fairly late) time to round up some of the Spoken Word events and reviews that have made this such a successful year for Sabotage.

Top 5 Most Viewed

1. Edinburgh Coverage – by far and away the most viewed Spoken Word reviews were from Sabotage’s coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe. You can find them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 part 1, Day 4 part 2, Day 5, Day 6 part 1, Day 6 part 2, Day 7 part 1, Day 7 part 2. Phew, that was a lot of reviews: special mention should go to the most viewed day featuring: Ben Mellor’s ‘Anthropoetry’, Lucy Ayrton’s ‘Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry’ and Phill Jupitus’s ‘Porky the Poet – 27 Years On’

2. Hammer & Tongue National Slam Final!  – a wealth of poets competing from all over the UK with Adam Kammerling emerging as the worthy winner and UK National Slam Champion.

3. WASTED – by Kate Tempest – Tempest’s first play blended theatre and poetry into a heady intoxication of words.

4. The Stoke Newington Literary Festival – a bevy of events, speakers and performers all descending on Stoke Newington in a myriad of Literary goodness.

5. Edinburgh International Women’s Day All-Female Slam – a brilliant idea to promote female poets in the Spoken Word scene in a medium still dominated by men.

My Personal Top 5

On a more subjective note, here are a few of the events that I’ve most enjoyed this past year.

1. Nth Entities by Anna Le and Phil Manzanera – I’ve long been an Anna Le fan, and hearing her complexly evocative language soaring around Manzanera’s dizzying guitar created a unique duet of words and music.

2. Hammer & Tongue Oxford: Valentine’s Day Slam featuring Dizraeli and Superbard – Sabotage didn’t actually review this one, but it was a phenomenal evening of wordplay, love and gorgeousness. Dizraeli’s set was stupefying in its verbal ingenuity and poignancy, while Superbard’s interactive love story was a monument to his storytelling prowess and creativity.

3. Once Upon a Time in Space by the Mechanisms – an event of storytelling and music, twisting well-known fairytales into a dark sci-fi setting that frightened and delighted.

4. Dirty Great Love Story by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna – full of memorable characters, hilarious wordplay, and all tied together by the charming performances of two outstanding poets.

5. Word Wrestling Federation Presents: Page Match 2 – bringing together my love of poetry and professional wrestling in a way I didn’t think possible. For all its flaws, this night was great fun; full of posturing, put-downs, poetry and larger-than-life performances.

A Fiction Round-Up 2012

In Seasonal/End of year on December 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

-Decided by Richard T. Watson

‘Tis the season to be making lists and round-ups of the previous year, so it’s just the right time for a look back over the year for Sabotage Reviews and our fiction coverage. Arguably, we could do this at any time of year, but it seems more fashionable in December.

Our Poetry Editor, (now Dr) Claire Trévien, has already given her best bits and highlights from Sabotage’s poetry coverage, which you can read here. Now it’s my turn.

Following last year’s pattern of giving a ‘Top Ten’ [or Three] of most-viewed reviews, I’ve prepared a list of the most successful fiction reviews of Sabotage’s 2012. The publications might be considered as Christmas presents for that special reader in your life…? Just a thought.

#1 I Wrote This For You
A printed selection of posts from Jon Ellis’ and Ian Thomas’s blog I Wrote This For You, which the two men have composed through a process of intercontinental collaboration. There’s a narrative and a theme, but much of it is left up to the reader – Ian Thomas claiming that ”There’s no story I can tell you that is as powerful as the story you can tell yourself”. Our reviewer, Ian Chung, praised the way that ”Thomas and Ellis seem to have distilled something of what it means to remain profoundly human in a digital society”.

#2 Acquired for Development By…
A hyper-local collection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction based around and inspired by the London Borough of Hackney, and published by Influx Press. Our reviewer, John McGhee said: ”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.”

#3 Armchair/Shotgun #3
Following the success of Armchair/Shotgun #2 in this year’s Saboteur Awards, their third instalment has also been popular. Our reviewer, Rory O’Sullivan, had this to say of the New York-based collection of poetry, pictures and short stories: ”The magazine manages to embrace so many art forms and yet remain a predominantly literary offering; storytelling is at the heart of literature, and indeed central to this publication’s mission statement”.

On a more subjective and personal note (as if the previous paragraphs have been really objective), I was pleased that the winner of this year’s Saboteur Awards in May was the second issue of Armchair/Shotgun, a review from Sabotage’s Fiction stable, and that their third issue also got a very positive review. We also got a rather lovely mention over on the Guardian website, thanks to Dan Holloway.

If you’re looking for more round-ups of Sabotage activity this year, why not have a look at the results of this year’s Saboteur Awards?

This is also a good time to thank all of our reviewer team for their hard work in the past twelve months, and to thank you all for supporting the independent and often low-budget publishing we cover on Sabotage. So thank you all. Well done you.

Oh, and have a happy Christmas.

Published Poetry 2012: a Top 10

In Seasonal/End of year on December 10, 2012 at 12:14 am

-Listed by Claire Trévien

June

As the end of the year approaches, it is customary to attempt round-ups of sorts. Last year, I asked for people’s favourite poetry pamphlets on twitter. This year I will be taking inspiration from last year’s fiction top ten and providing links to the top ten most read published poetry reviews (from this year). If you are looking for gift inspirations or wanting to stumble on something new, you could do worse than take a look at this list.

They are:

1. Four 2011 Poetry Business Prizewinners (Smiths/Doorstop 2012). Reviewed by Sophie Mayer.

2. Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Reviewed by Harry Giles.

3. Human Shade by Robert Peake (Lost Horse Press). Reviewed by Martha Sprackland.

4. lapping water by Dan Flore III. Reviewed by Ian Chung.

5. ILK #1. Reviewed by John McGhee.

6. Fleck and the Bank by Rob A. Mackenzie (Salt Publishing). Reviewed by Harry Giles.

7. All the Rooms of Uncle’s Head by Tony Williams (Nine Arches Press). Reviewed by Charles Whalley.

8. Antiphon #1. Reviewed by John McGhee.

9. Poland at the Door by Evelyn Posamentier (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press). Reviewed by Ian Chung.

10. Four Rack Press pamphlets. Reviewed by Angela Topping.

Originally published in 2011, Charles Whalley’s review of Megan Fernandes’ Organ Speech (Corrupt Press) would have otherwise appeared third.

There’s a pleasing presence of webzines and self-published work on this list. Group or anthology reviews also appear to have been popular, though I suspect that the popularity of the Smith/Doorstop and Catechism reviews is in part due to their controversial natures – but if so, where is Eireann Lorsung’s thought-provoking meditation on poetic tourism in Colette Sensier’s début pamphlet How Many Camels is too Many?

So far the least viewed review of a poetry publication is Diidxadó by Víctor Terán (Poetry Translation Centre), which seems a shame considering its reviewer, Judi Sutherland, describes it as ‘Pablo Neruda in a bitter mood’, what’s not to love?

If I were to construct my own personal 2012 list free of the constraints of what has been reviewed in Sabotage, and comprising magazines, anthologies, and pamphlets, I should no doubt curse my poor short-term memory. Such a list would undoubtedly include however: Cat Conway’s Static Cling (Dancing Girl Press, being reviewed soon for Sabotage), Agenda vol. 46 no. 4, Azita Ghahreman’s Poems (Poetry Translation Centre), Kayo Chingonyi’s Some Bright Elegance (Salt Publishing), and Adelle Stripe’s Dark Corners of the Land (Blackheath Books). A couple more impose themselves, but would be ineligible since I have poems in them: Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins), Fuselit: Contraption, and Poems in Which. What would be on your list? Please do share in the comments.

Preview: Hammer & Tongue Oxford 2012 Final

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on June 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

-preview by James Webster

This coming Tuesday the 12th of June sees the culmination of another year of Hammer & Tongue: Oxford with their Slam Final, pitting the winners of all 7 of this year’s heats against each other. Champion will slam against champion in an intriguing mix of established veterans and up-and-comers, youth and experience, with only one winner able to go on to the National Final (which if it is anything as exciting as this year’s finals at the Walton Music Hall, will be very special indeed).

As an added point of interest the winners will also be joined at this slam by the ‘Best of the Rest’, as the H&T team put all the runners up from this year into an online vote, allowing public opinion to decide which poet would take the ‘Wildcard’ spot in the final. After a close-run vote Neil Spokes emerged the victor!

With less than two days to go until the slam itself, Sabotage takes a look at each of the poets who will take to the stage to try and claim their spot in the national final.

October: Paul Askew

The self-styled ‘Official Sex Symbol of Oxford Poetry’, Paul booked the first place in the final by winning against stiff competition at the H&T February heat at Turl Street Kitchen (an event that included fellow finalist Anna Macrory as one of the feature poets and was headlined by Henry Bowers). Sabotage have reviewed Paul several times since, and if anything his comically surreal (and often surprising perceptive) poetry has improved. Askew’s more recent pieces like ‘Chaos Café’ and ‘The Extremely Abridged History of Paul Askew in 5 Dream Sequences’ have remained funny, while showing considerable depth and a talent for performance. Paul also edits the Ferment magazine.

Biggest Strength: his capability for blending humour and pathos, with an extremely original and absurdist voice.

Weakness?: his surrealism, while excellent, may not be for everyone, and he often reads his poems off the page, which usually hinders slam performance. But Askew is nothing if not a bucker of trends.

November: Pete the Temp

Pete the Temp should be known to most spoken word fans. A veteran of Hammer & Tongue he’s a former H&T National Slam champion (2009), and his funny, political, exceptionally performed works have wowed audiences all over the country at all kinds of poetry events and festivals. Boasting an easy and engaging stage presence, and a wealth of material (his ode to pedestrians and piece about working in a charity call centre always go down well), he has also just debuted his one-man show “Pete the Temp versus Climate Change” (soon to be reviewed on Sabotage).

Biggest Strength: performance experience. As well as having a way with audiences honed over years of gigging, he knows what it takes to win a slam and could easily do it again.

Weakness?: motivation. Having gone all the way before, and with the one-man show to concentrate on, he might just not want it as much as the other slammers, which could hinder his performance.

December: Aubrey Mvula

Sabotage have only seen him perform once. As a virtual unknown, he came out of nowhere to deliver an intensely moving poem about abuse and vulnerability, his understatedly powerful performance stunning the audience into silence. He won the slam (from a difficult early slot) and is possibly more of a wildcard in this slam than the actual ‘Wildcard’ Neil Spokes.

Biggest Strength: the power and clear emotion of his poetry.

Weakness?: from what we saw in December, he doesn’t lean towards comedy, and comic poems tend to win more often than not.

February: Davy Mac

Mac won the Valentine’s Day Slam with a funny and socially relevant poem about homosexuality and ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell’ attitudes in the military. Having seen him perform several times now he’s got a range of poems about powerful issues that are always well expressed and often have a strong grasp of comic timing. His subject matter, while brave and always interesting, doesn’t always carry his audience with him, as his poem at the last H&T event (an odd mixture of juvenile fart jokes and creationism) demonstrated. But he maintains a talent for tackling bold issues clearly, boldly, and often with surprising beauty.

Biggest Strength: the strength of his beliefs that comes across in his poetry.

Weakness?: some of those beliefs may not take the audience with him.

March: Dan Holloway

Another poet that Sabotage have known and admired for a while, Dan runs Eight Cuts (Oxford multi-discipline arts organisation), organises gigs with a collective of poets known as the New Libertines, was the mastermind behind the Not the Oxford Literary Festival in March, and has just released a collection ‘Last Man out of Eden’ (soon to be reviewed on Sabotage). While his intricately constructed poems don’t always play well at slams, he crafts beautifully haunting images like few other poets I’ve seen. He also has a talent for social and political subject matter, pieces like ‘Mentalist’ and ‘Monsters’ tackle issues of riots, workfare schemes and mental health in original and intelligent manner (without ever descending into rhyming rants as some poets might).

Biggest Strength: the way in which he uses rhyme to flow seamlessly and quickly between his striking imagery.

Weakness?: honestly he has a tendency to over-perform his poems, as if trying to adopt a ‘slam style’, making the emotion and imagery seem a little forced.

April: Mark Niel

Another seasoned spoken word performer, he’s won a clutch of slams (he appeared in the H&T National Final this year) and always goes down a storm with audiences. He’s the epitome of the comic poet: voice, structure, body language and writing all leading towards the inevitable punchline. While it could be argued that doing so comes at the expense of meaning, it cannot be said that he doesn’t do it well; his poems have been greeted with big laughs every time I’ve seen him perform. But for me his poems sacrifice too much for the laugh, even their own internal logic lost to the funny (such as a comic poem about poets who perform in silly voices, delivered entirely in a silly voice and only enjoyable for that reason).

Biggest Strength: his aptitude for comedy, which almost always wins over the audience.

Weakness?: the nagging feeling that every one of his poems is fundamentally the same kind of joke, always delivered in the same way, which may hamper him when performing multiple pieces.

May: Anna McCrory

President of OUPS (Oxford University Poetry Society), Anna has performed aroundOxford,ManchesterandLondonand she organises a bunch of events too. She writes poems that are rich in whimsy and comedy, inviting the audience into her own charming world in which geeks rock out (in the library), children rap andArgoshas its very own wizard. While her material might come off as trite in the hands of a lesser poet, it’s her warmth as a performer and perceptiveness as a writer that make her poems more than just rhyming stand-up.

Biggest Strength: her easygoing and geeky performance.

Weakness?: perhaps a lack of the weighty themes that tend to garner high scores in slam.

Wildcard: Neil Spokes

Spokes performed strongly at two different H&T slams this year (coming second and third), which was enough to get him through to the Wildcard round and win his place in the final. His poetry when Sabotage has seen him has been strong, with a real aptitude for the slightly comic slam style. At best his poetry has been funny and adorably sweet, and even his poem about dropping his phone down the toilet was funny, if not especially deep (unless it was a really deep toilet).

Biggest Strength: his humour and sweetness.

Weakness?: toilet humour may not always go down well.

Conclusion: honestly with a real mix of styles and experiences, it seems to Sabotage that anyone could win. But regardless of who actually emerges victorious, we’re pretty sure after a night of excellent poetry it’ll be the audience who feel like champions.

Hammer & Tongue Oxford 2012 Final: Tuesday 12th May, 8pm, The Old Fire Station

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)

The Farrago Zoo Awards and New Year Slam 27/01/2012

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on March 8, 2012 at 2:20 am

@ The Rada Foyer Bar

– reviewed by Issy McKenzie –

This thing called ‘Slam’

When Sabotage asked me if I’d like to review a poetry slam, I had some reservations. My taste in literature runs out at around 1918, so I only had the vaguest idea what slam poetry was.

I had images of being put on the spot by people who knew ten times more about the subject than I did, or being exposed as a fraud and frogmarched out of the RADA foyer bar by beret-wearing bouncers who understood postmodernism. I even took notes on a few articles about performance poetry, presumably in case there was some sort of test.

When I reached the venue, though, I was very quickly put at my ease. People were friendly (even before I mentioned I was here as a reviewer) and more than happy to explain how things worked. There was definitely a real sense of community here; one that seemed happy to welcome newcomers into the fold.

Overview and a loving tribute

The first half of the show started with a tribute to Fran Landesman, nominated posthumously for Best Overall Performance/Reading, and I would encourage readers to look up the work of this highly talented lyricist. A smooth and uplifting performance from Sarah Moore, with Miles Davis Landesman accompanying.

Throughout the awards, which had been decided by online ballot, we were also treated to a number of non-competitive performances by nominees and winners. Highlights included Nia Barges highly charismatic deconstruction of the beauty myth, and Kemi Taiwo‘s flawless verbal barrage of anti-war protest, but these were by far not the only strong performances of the evening. I only wish I had the time and space to talk about them all.

The Awards

  • Best Performance by a UK Poet: Mark Niel from Milton Keynes, who encouraged the audience to “live every day like you just had your first kiss”, a polished performance showing a great deal of vocal versatility.
  • Best Performance by a performer working in English and another language: Susana Medina, with translator Rosie Marteau.
  • Best SLAM! Performance: Amy Acre, delivered to rapturous applause. Her performance of Blackbird, a highly sensual poem of sexual fluidity and self-doubt, did a lot to explain why she seemed to be a crowd favourite.
  • Best Farrago Debut Feature Performance: Amy McAllister. This Irish poet had a deceptively underwhelming stage presence; her visceral, earthy and fluent performance was one of the highlights of my evening.
  • Best Performance by a performer using spoken word, comedy or music: Miles Davis Landesman & ensemble. This was followed by a performance by Miles accompanying singer Kath Best. An enjoyable tribute. I would love to hear Kath singing from a more soulful repertoire, as it is clear this would suit her voice immensely.
  • Best Performance by an International poet: Penny Ashton (New Zealand), who sadly couldn’t be here tonight, due to the trains from New Zealand being delayed that evening.
  • Best Overall Performance/Reading: Fran Landesman, awarded posthumously for a performance at Farrago only days after the death of her husband. One poet remarked that it was “the most courageous performance [they] had ever seen”.

The Slam

The second half of the evening kicked off with performances by the hypnotic-voiced Abraham Gibson and UK Slam Champion Harry Baker.

If I still had lingering fears about slam being inaccessible to me, then Harry Baker‘s love poem about dinosaurs put them solidly to rest. With his strong geeky charisma and his talent for seamlessly combining rap influences with maths jokes, it is clear that this performer will go far.

Then came the competition.

It soon became clear that since I was neither performing in the slam, nor friends with anyone in the slam, nor “in a sordid sexual relationship with anyone in the slam” (I am not kidding, this was one of the criteria), I was one of the few people eligible to judge. I applaud this attempt at objectivity, although it was somewhat negated by the tendency of the audience to boo when lower-than-average scores were given. When this happens on X factor, I throw stuff at the screen, but I didn’t think that response would be appropriate here. Still, whilst perhaps meant in good humour, it is never conducive to a fair competition.

To the MC John Paul O’Neil‘s credit, the whole process was explained clearly, so even as a complete newcomer to slam I was able to pick it up very quickly. However, I did notice that the scores were perhaps more disparate than they should have been, which I learnt afterwards is a common phenomenon at slam events. This should probably have been explained to us on the night in order to avoid “score creep” (the process by which judges award higher scores as they have more fun and drinks – ed).

Highlights of the slam included Katrina Quinn, with a breathless and highly evocative performance that showed a lot of potential; Kathleen Stavert, whose fluent and conversational style made me want to hear more, and Lettie McKie, a first-time performer who delivered a highly promising ode to chefs, although her choice of subject matter didn’t grab me.

The Result

The winner, by .1 of a point, was Anthony Fairweather with an energetic and well-delivered image of the Olympics gone wrong. Anthony obviously has a great deal of potential as a comedy poet, and had the audience laughing a number of times. In retrospect, digs at “the health and safety brigade” are a little old even for this Victorian scholar, but that is my only real criticism. A well-deserved victory.

I have to confess, I expected to cringe a lot more than I did. My experiences of non-performance poetry groups and writers’ circles have occasionally been just short of traumatic. However, this was far from the case at Farrago. Although there were some weak performances, all of them had at least one positive aspect, and I even found myself awarding perfect tens to two separate poets.

There were fourteen participants in total, all of varying abilities. Although previous Sabotage reviews have criticised this aspect of Farrago slams, I think it has the advantage of making the slam seem accessible and welcoming to newcomers whilst still being entertaining for non-participants. Perhaps more experienced poets and performers might need to supplement their circuit with more selective events, but there is a definite sense of inclusion and community here, and I would definitely like to come back and attend in a non-reviewing capacity.

Conclusion: Any kind of intra-community “award ceremony” always risks being elitist, but the Farrago Zoo New Year Slam Awards successfully managed to avoid this. A highly enjoyable and accessible event. Clearly Farrago’s diversity is one of its strengths.

Last Sage & Time of 2011

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on January 5, 2012 at 1:59 am

@ the Charterhouse Bar, 16/11/2011

– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –

Review of the last Sage and Time of 2011

This was my third time at Sage and Time, and the last event of the year, and that sense of community, supportiveness and general good humour that makes this event so special was very much in evidence, with poets referencing each other and the event itself in their pieces, and plenty of laughs throughout the night.

Hosting:

  • Hosting duties were split between accomplished poets Richard Marsh and Anna Le (both members of the Dirty Hands poetry collective), and the obvious friendship and sense of fun between these two set the tone for a relaxed and welcoming night.
  • Richard Marsh kicked the night off with a sweet, whimsical tale of two misfits who find love at the gym. His characters were touchingly relatable and vividly rendered by a fluid, engaging delivery. As a host, he’s charming, always taking the time to compliment and engage with each performance, picking out a line he likes, or making a friendly joke.

  • Anna Le hosted the second half, and as always I was struck by the obvious passion with which she introduces performers. Her introductions are both a rousing welcome, and a great anticipation-builder.
  • She performed a piece of her own called “Spine”, which I loved, an exploration of courage, fear and determination animated by a mesmerising delivery that used dynamics and careful pacing to great effect.

Open mic highlights:

  • Stephanie Dogfoot’s ‘Equus’ was a wonderful expression of sisterly love and support. It had its share of serious, grown-up emotional content, but masterfully set against the surreal backdrop of childhood –the bizarre worlds that people who have grown up together create, complete with burnt teddybears and clown phobias. Through this lens of shared imaginings she made the serious, adult crisis at the heart of the poem achingly poignant: A surreal exploration of the intense, enduring, and weird nature of sibling love.
  • Donall Dempsey’s ‘A Bridge Is Only A Bridge When…’ imagined a woman’s parting words at the end of an unpleasant marriage. The elegantly phrased poem compared the failed relationship to the striking image of a “half-built bridge, silhouetted by sunset” but “startlingly surreal in its unfinishedness”. He also performed an intimate tribute to his partner Janice’s philtrum (the little cleft between your nose and lip, non-anatomists!), re-imagining it beautifully as “the indent left by the finger of God.”
  • The Janice in question was Janice Windle, whose own pieces were imbued with an elegant, conversational delivery.  One of them was a companion piece to Donall’s, which declared, “I’m in love with your mandible, darling” which concluded an affectionate exchange.
  • Among James Webster’s pieces was an unexpectedly touching musing on his ideal superpower. He would choose to be “quietly super”, with the power to find lost things, especially people. Acknowledging that he wouldn’t be able to take them home, he’d be glad, at least, to “give them someone to talk to”.
  •  Amy Acre’s gorgeously life-affirming “love poem to the sea” was one of my favourites.  “As old men talk to their dogs”, she talks to the sea, and the sea both sets her free and inspires her to love of all the messy wonder of life; from dandelions and dragonflies to the delight of Sage and Time itself. It was intensely sensual and personal; proclaiming the “red earth” as her church, she let us glimpse her relationship with the world. And did so with a graceful, inspiring passion that made me want to run to the nearest beach, take my clothes off and dance around naked in the sea.
  • During Keith Jarrett’s inspiring performance of ‘Parting Words’ I had to work to keep my tearducts from boiling over into undignified spillage. Masterful use of repetition and assonance gave the piece a mesmerising, mantra-like quality, while his quietly determined delivery complemented his perfectly measured pacing. A resolutely optimistic self-reminder to not be defined or limited by one’s postcode, by one’s past, or one’s fear of the future – something I’m sure most of us need from time to time. Keith Jarrett is awesome.

Featured Performers:

  • The first featured poet of the night was Sh’maya, an engaging performer whose first piece was a meditation on ancestry, history and loneliness developed from the image of a tap-dancing boy on city streets, rendered with a passionate, electrifying delivery and skilfully imbued with a sense of urgency and movement.
  • Sh’maya’s second poem was about a quest to find the most beautiful word in the world. His protagonist imagined travelling around the world, meeting different people who suggested different words with special meaning to them and their lives. Full of potential, but the poem was seriously hobbled by the cliché-riddled depictions of some of the characters, which often verged on patronising stereotype. The worst offender was a depiction which verged on romanticising suffering: a childless woman standing on a Kenyan beach looking yearningly out to sea, clinging to the hope of a child, proclaiming the most beautiful word to be ‘yearn’. As if she (and therefore, the poet) were revelling in her misery. The problem was not the attempt to give a voice to diverse characters, but that they did not sound like real people with real ugly and beautiful life experiences, rather, magical props placed where they were for the sole purpose of providing Sh’maya’s protagonist with a story (and in the woman’s case, a means of transport). This was intensely problematic.
  • The second featured act, Anthony Joseph, was new to me. And he blew me away.
  • Joseph read pieces from his collection Bird Head Son, “an autobiography in verse”, and a few more from his latest, Rubber Orchestras. His poems ranged from touching character portraits, memories of childhood and experimental jazz-poetry, to musings on family heritage and history against the backdrop of colonialism. A prose excerpt about a future colony of Afro-Caribbean people on an alien planet, from his novel The African Origins of UFO, was infused with vivid detail that brought to life the Caribbean cultural roots of the community while retaining the extra-terrestrial, futuristic strangeness of the setting (where exist such wonders as “surrealist butter”).
  • His startling, inventive use of language, vibrant musical delivery and persistently brilliant animation of memory, place and history were a constant delight.

Sum-up:

Anthony Joseph (the crowning moment of the night for me) talked about the need for poetry to be more than flat words on a page, to be alive and affecting, and like all good poetry events, this night of Sage and Timey goodness was full of that. Brisk-moving waves of poets inviting the room into their worlds. While not every performer was as compelling as Anthony, the night was still packed with strong, inventive voices (not all of whom I could mention here sadly) and by the end of it I was filled up with poetry – with language, ideas and glimpses into people’s personal universes, their senses of humour, their stories, the inside of their brains and hearts and marrow. A fitting finale to Sage and Time’s 2011.

Christmas Special: Juliet Wilson

In Seasonal/End of year on December 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

A couple of days ago, I sent a call out on twitter for Christmassy poems or flash fiction, so that I could feature a piece on Sabotage on this special day. Many entries were sent, and I had to make the difficult decision to choose just one. In the end Juliet Wilson’s poem ‘Mythology of Flight’ won out and I think you’ll find it suitably festive! However, I can’t resist including also a runner up for all of us bah humbug sorts, a haiku by Ray Scanlon:

Outdoor speakers blare
Drummer Boy once too often–
where’s my bazooka?

Juliet Wilson has reviewed for us a fair bit in the past, with a particular focus on environmental magazines, you can read them all here. Her second chapbook of poetry, Unthinkable Skies was published in 2010 by Calder Wood Press. She blogs here. Enjoy!

Mythology of Flight

Snow covered fields.
Reindeer dig for lichen,
their breath rising like steam.The ancient ones told stories
of flying with an old man,
of many roofs in foreign lands,
of boxes, brightly wrapped.

The herd eats steadily,
heads down,
ears alert in the solemn matter
of survival.

In the distance –
a faint red glow,
the sound of sleigh bells
Juliet Wilson