Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Cat Brogan’

Poetry Olympics: Word Games 17/07/12

In Performance Poetry on September 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

@ Theatre Delicatessen

It was rather difficult to miss the looming [Redacted] over London this season. What better way to respond to this is by appropriating it for poetry? In a pop up Theatre Delicatessen, housed innocuously in an old BBC building, Cat Brogan hosted an alternate [Redacted], with poets hailing (or having grandparents) from all across the globe. The venue itself was gorgeous, a very red Twin Peaks-esque draped basement with cushioned benches and low lamps. As an official slam, the poets had three minutes, but in the absence of score cards, audience judges (and increasingly their entire rows) called out scores. With only three judges, there were no discarded scores, so the standard biases (humour, acquaintances etc) were a visible and embraced part of the event. The prizes suited the ‘grandeur’ of the corporate-free occasion: homemade medals, fruit shoots, vegan cheese & toilet roll.

Cat Brogan was an effusive host, full of energy despite the sheer number of poets involved, many of whom were slam champions in their own right. She performed two pieces: first, a fantastically scathing comment on the rigmaroles of the [Redacted] and its shadier practices where “wetland marshes become marchés”; second, an abridged epic history of the Irish (accompanied by a bodhran) that was suitably mesmerising.

Sacrificial Poet was the “Usain Bolt of poetry” Harry Baker, whose tale of proper-pop-up-paper people (after which his Edinburgh show was titled) was sickeningly slick. His political alliteration was astounding, in his pop-up metropolis of paper people hurt by all the “paper cuts” of “paper thin policies”. The last third, about people as inspiration, was almost less powerful for giving us time to breathe. (25.5)

First Round Highlights

Esther Poyer (Guyana)’s ‘Fruitcake’ was a nicely paced story about moving to a Victorian-terraced-England of fine china and English tea carrying an awkward box of Caribbean fruitcake steeped in demerara sugar. “We in England now, we must leave behind silly things”, her characters say, reluctant to put it down. It was her first slam, and I hope to hear more. 22.75

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson (Jamaica) is a familiar face, and his Cultural Chameleon was fabulously performed, discussing the possible concept of a cultural “mean, mode or median” between roots in Jamaica and London. 27.5

David Lee Morgan (USA) Another Sabotage regular, Morgan performed an impressive ode to giving in to primal natures (“when the tiger hunts me I become the tiger”) and the disassociation/coming to terms with thoughts (“outside tiger, inside tiger, outside me”). 22.3

Michael Wilson (Northern Ireland) ECT poem was powerful, and the use of BSL added an interesting element to the relearning of communication (“my mind struggles into the clothing of thought”). 24.7

Stephanie Dogfoot (Singapore)’s ‘Asian people eat a lot of weird crap’ was great, both comic (“we look into its eye and dig eye out”) and mouthwatering in its conjured smoke and blistering chilli. 24.5

Ingrid Andrew (Australia) created a quiet personification of trees after bushfires, a “charcoal woman” with a “broken back where light comes through”. The extended womb analogy, while not novel, was very atmospheric. 21

Rose Drew (USA) had two particularly cutting political poems, one on the Olympics as distracting pomp (“leap like Superman over trash they can’t afford to collect”) and the particularly prescient ‘Dead Republican Girls’, a comment on the current erosion of Roe vs Wade in contemporary America. 23

Also ran (First Round):

Young Dawkins performed ‘Streets’, a nicely ponderous take on having done their time protesting as a younger man, now supporting from the “window seat” rather than frontlines. (21)

Oskar Hanska (Sweden) gave an exhilarating sensory explosion, but might have done better without the screaming. 24.25

Trudy Howson (England), whose poem is being used by the BBC for the [redacted] themselves offered up ‘English’, a succession of hat-tips that certainly hit all the traditional jingoistic name-checks. 22

Dareka Daremo (France)’s ‘Nouveau Globe’ alternated languages throughout in a fluent rhythm, with talk of the “chaos of endless night” and “les yeux d’un fou”. The times in which he committed content to one language rather than repeating multi-lingually was much more effective. 24.5

Ian (Canada), while published, has never performed, and it was evident; Hs ‘Rhapsody for Minimum Standard’ was dry and while he stated it was “no pedantic tirade”, it was monotonous and lecture-like (despite good intentions to “emancipate” the mind and dethrone corporations). 20.5

Matt Cummins (Canada) performed ‘I was a teacher’s pet’, an ‘it gets better‘ poem on being “kicked out of the closet” but lucky in having his friends’ support, urging people to turn the cross your bear into “wooden wings”. 26.5

Sophia Walker (Malaysia) performed a satirical take on ‘desirable’ laddish stereotypes. The seductive tone of “oh baby, I will separate your whites” made it, though the reveal that she is bereft of bad examples of men in her life could have been more incorporated. 29

José Anjos (Portugal) performed ‘I’m Walking’, a somewhat scattered succession of images of “one million worlds in one glance”, trapped in a search for both meaning and a place share or call his own. 22.9

Mel Jones (Wales) performed ‘Mmm’, an alliterative poem on bestiality (a pub challenge, apparently) with a relish suited to riotous filth. Like the acts described between Mandy and her mog, the poem was “magnetic, messy, moreish”, though often mildly disconcerting. 25.

Ant Smith (Rep. Ireland) was asked for raucous, and certainly delivered with a kinky rhythmic song that might have done better with less repetition of its chorus. As such, it dragged a little despite its sexual energy. 19.7

Chuquai Billy (First Nations: Lakota/Choctaw) spoke of gatherings and the ceremony of family and traditions to a rising soundtrack, but he also kept the piece rooted in the modern and quietly scathing of the outsiders with binoculars “convinced sage is a narcotic”. Unprepared for a second round, he later performed stand-up. 25.4

Alain English (Scotland) asked us about the “losers” of history, during this time of podiums, whose “endurance should inspire”. It was a rallying cry to the “survivors” of “overworked mothers”, the “lonely” or “caught-in-between” left “without a future”. 24.4

Final Round: Matt Cummins, Mel Jones, Mark Thompson, Chuquai Billy, Michael Wilson, Sophia Walker

Sophia Walker‘s ‘To the Man Who Punched Me’ was a fantastic piece: taking the “dyke” thrown at her, and reclaiming it with its original meaning (“please accuse me of holding back the sea”). 28.1

Matt Cummins‘ Valentines poem was a sweet stand against the overblown theatrics of the movies, with fireworks and orchestra-soundtracked declarations in favour of quieter affections. 25

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson had a nice poem on respecting people and learning the “true value” of love and those around you. While it did advocate a particular type of relationship, it boiled down to “don’t be a superficial arse”, which we can get behind. 23.8

Mel Jones performed ‘Family’, a lovely domestic scene in a child’s memory, with a “wall full of eggs, tipping tapping shells” to the adventures of “invincible youth” and feeling the “Welshness in bones”. 25.3

Michael Wilson‘s poem to an old friend who committed suicide (an endemic problem in NI) definitely marked him as my favourite poet of the night. The quiet grief of looking through his room, seeing a “half pack of gum – he collects them, sorry, collected” was palpable, as was tying it to the greater context: “they say it’s the Troubles, but we always had troubles”. 27.5

1st Place: Sophia Walker
2nd Place: Michael Wilson
3rd Place: Matt Cummins (after Mel Jones’ disappearance disqualified her)

Verdict: Chaotic but enjoyable night. The sheer amount of poets dragged on a little, but it was a friendly atmosphere that made it fun, with some real gems to make it shine.


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


  • 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)

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.


  • 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)


  • 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)

Utter Nutters @ the Green Note Cafe 07/06/11

In Performance Poetry on July 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Dear Utter: Spoken Word,

Re: Your ‘Utter Nutters’ event, 06/07/11

I apologise that it has taken me so long to write this review, Utter, but, well, I’ve been dreading it. You see, I like writing reviews, I like trying to capture a poet’s style and performance. But I had such a bad time at ‘Utter Nutters’, your night dedicated to the theme of mental health, that I honestly had no idea how to put it into words.

You had promise. Your monthly events on selected themes ensure variety and can keep you on the pulse of society with events like ‘Utter: Coalition’, where your use of Alternative Vote to decide the winner of the Paid Gig Competition helped your event interact with the events of the day.

And the Paid Gig Competition! You give talented poets the chance to get paid to perform for the first time. As your website claims, you really do nurture new talent.

And it wasn’t all bad. It’s just that the good poets made the bad ones seem so much worse.

The Good

There was a little. But for the sake of positivity it will take up the majority of this review.

  • Cat Brogan’s cameo was a highlight with ‘I had a dream last night’. She skillfully weaved parallels between people with mental health issues, immigrants, those living below the poverty line; all groups who are made ‘other’ by their differences. It was very neat and very moving.
  • Rosy Carrick the co-host of Hammer & Tongue Brighton was excellent. The only truly excellent poet of the night in my opinion. She gave us an insight into stalking and psychological obsession. She tells us there are 2 kinds of stalking: the bad kind ends in death; the good kind does not. She practices the good kind.
  • Her first poem ‘Trochee’ was a joyous tale of twisted, kinky, obsessive weird-love. The idea of a woman in love with a train-spotter who ‘took her interest for abuse’ was well-expressed in beautifully awkward fashion.
  • Her 2nd was apparently based on host Richard Tyrone Jones’s false hand. It was resonant of Tom Lehrer, was very   funny and an intriguing take on getting over your past obsessions in sometimes grotesque fashion.
  • Her 3rd, on stalking Vladimir Maikovsky (posthumously) was odd, beautiful and really quite sensual.
  • Her final poem ‘Cat-Sitting for Nick Cave’ was (once more) surreal and so much fun. The narrator claims to be cat sitting for Nick Cave and so posts catfood through the letterbox and must intercept the postman to maintain the façade. All illustrated with Rosy’s odd little turns of phrase, like ‘like a magician I torture the thought that something’s about to fall’.
  • Dan Simpson the winner of May’s Paid Gig Competition. His poems were tight and well thought out. Especially good was his Mathematics love poem was filled with clever maths and physics puns, creating a lovely new language of scientifically expressed love.
  • In comparison his ‘Girl’ was a little prosaic and a little creepy. And his ‘We’ve Changed’, about being changed by your ex, had a good performance, but was an overplayed sentiment.
  • But his final poem on feeling sorry for the orange ghost in Pacman brought him back to his geeky and sweet best. Did you know the orange ghost is called (in different places and languages) ‘slow’, ‘stupid’, ‘crybaby’ and ‘clyde’? Now I do. And he managed to make me feel impressively sorry for poor ‘Clyde’.
  • Richard Tyrone Jones, the host. He was engaging and frequently funny. He had a genuine interest in the night’s mental health theme (he himself is Bi-Polar) and his material engaged with it frankly and intelligently.
  • His poem on male suicide was a strong start, encapsulating the urge to drastic action just to reach some resolution, but finding only separation.
  • His second on senile dementia was just as cheery. Sorry, I mean, heart-wrenchingly and soulfully depressing. It was horribly moving and captured an image of a life replayed and remembered in fragments.
  • His third, on his own manic phases, was a powerful performance that encapsulated how a manic phase can make you feel like you can (and almost have to) do anything, and also of the strengths needed just to go about a normal day.

It was a shame his enthusiasm for the, ahem, less enjoyable poets made his taste seem suspect and gave the whole mess of an evening a bizarrely self-congratulatory tone.

The Ok

  • Anthony Fairweather peaked with his first poem that segued neatly from intro into verse. It had a great rhyme and rhythm that really churned the poem along. That rhythm and superb performance kept going through all his poems, but often they seemed to lack meaning, acting as more of a vehicle for his verbal dexterity and aptitude for tongue-twisting rhyme.
  • Clare Saponia who played along to her poetry on some kind of strange and tiny stringed instrument, gave us ‘Good Medicine’ a deeply depressing meditation on medication and therapy. It was bleakly and rhythmically discordant, a haunting way to express the methods used to get people to cope for a little while before being discarded by the system. It just seemed like it needed a little more polish and accessibility as she didn’t quite keep the audience with her.

Sadly, due to the frankly horrendous standards of the vast majority of the night I am forced to submit the following invoice.

The Invoiced

Description: Hours of My Life

Amount: 1.5


Helen Burke: 5 mins

(Her poem consisting of Eastenders jokes did not justify the time taken.)

Liz Bentley: 40mins

(A psychotherapist by day and poet by night: she managed to offend me several times. Her poems were mostly condescending and obvious, filled with barely thought through opinions and vacuous truisms. So bad I felt compelled to argue with her during her set.)

Ashley Reaks: 40mins

(Nonsensical poetry; distorted recordings of his own voice; twisted puppets of his grandmother reading nonsense football scores; and he tried to market his album as a suicide aid, which was in quite impressively horrible taste.)

Sid Ozalid: 5mins

(Has a new book out in support of MIND, which is getting some very positive reviews. Here he suffered from an overly long preamble, a strange sense of humour, and a pretense that a ‘quirky’ style and jokes about Adam West make good poetry.)

To be paid by: time travel. Or some other quantum chicanery.

Conclusion: There were some mitigating factors to ‘Utter Nutters’ but they were far outweighed by a night that really did make me wish for those hours of my life back. The worst part? They get Arts Council funding to book this dross.

In fairness it’s entirely possible this night was atypical of Utter and the usual standard is higher than this, and, call me a glutton for punishment, I will be back to see if they can do better. I just don’t really want to.