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Posts Tagged ‘Katherine McMahon’

Interview: The Inky Fingers Open Mic

In Interview, Performance Poetry, Saboteur Awards on April 27, 2013 at 4:45 pm

interviewed by James Webster

inky banner

The Inky Fingers Open Mic has been nominated for the Best Regular Spoken Word Night category in this year’s Saboteur Awards. Here, I chat with the Inky Fingers collective about what makes their event unique.

Let’s start with the basics: how long has Inky Fingers Open Mic been running and when/where does it take place?

 We kicked off in October 2010, and we’ve run an open mic on the last Tuesday of every month ever since. Our much-loved home, the Forest Café, has had to move in that time, so the open mic’s moved three times since, but we’re now ensconced at the Forest on 141 Lauriston Place. Keep track of us at!


Who are the Inky Fingers collective and how did the group come into being?

The core collective currently comprises a shifting, non hierarchical, boundlessly energetic group of the following people, found in varying combinations in time and space at any one time: Freddie Alexander (Soapbox), Alec Beattie (Blind Poetics), Mairi Campbell-Jack, Harry Giles (Anatomy), Ioannis Kalkounnis (Fledgling Press), Rachel McCrum (Rally & Broad, Stewed Rhubarb Press), Katherine McMahon (Outspoken), Rose Ritchie (Craigmillar Writers Group), Tracey S. Rosenberg and Agnes Török (Soapbox). And of the group are also involved organising various spoken word and performance events in Edinburgh (specifics in the brackets).


I set up the open mic back in 2010 with another writer named Alice Tarbuck, and when we realised we were onto a good thing we decided to open up the organisation to whoever had the energy and inclination! So it keeps changing and growing with whoever wants to make things happen.

We’ve answered this interview collectively as well, so you can track us by our initials.


The way you describe your open mic seems to make a point of being inclusive, inviting all different kinds of work, genres and types of performance. Why did you decide on that particular focus/ethos?

Open mics grow us, not just through giving us places to practise, but also because they feed us a wonderful diversity of words. We can find out not what one editor or host thinks we want to hear, but what a scrappy, diverse collective wants to say. Open mics are also the fertiliser of a scene, because they create new performers, and that creates new organisers and events. Without them, we wouldn’t have everything else.

When I have new work in new forms I want to try out, open mics are the first place I go to. A well-hosted open mic is warm and welcoming, and the audience is there not to judge you but to enjoy being with you. An open mic gives me the license to not be that good, to get it wrong, to make a mistake and for that to be OK. Without open mics, I’d just perform the same style of thing over and over, because I’d feel too scared to try something I didn’t know worked. And every open mic I go to – literally every one – has at least one person doing something new with words I never expected.

More than that, people do words, do art, for all sorts of different reasons. Some of them want a career. Some of them find it therapeutic. Some of them want to get their anger out. Some of them want you to fall in love with them. Some of them are desperate for a place to speak out in a world that prevents them from speaking. Some of them are in love with beauty, with many different kinds of beauty. Some of them find that only doing art makes them feel good. Some of them don’t even know why they’re doing this. All of this needs a space. All of this should have a space. That’s what an open mic is. Open, and free, always.


And what have the highlights of this inclusivity been? What kinds of really surprising or different performances have emerged from the open mic?

OK, so for me the best moments aren’t always the most surprising or outré. What I really live for is when a writer performs their words into a microphone for the first time. There’s this look they get, this total joy of connection with the audience, that I’m just so grateful for. That makes me keep hosting open mics more than anything else! Supporting people in finding a voice.

That said. Someone once read the instructions on a loudhailer box, that was good. Someone once performed the poems of Marilyn Monroe. There was a great flash-fiction about toothless zombies last month that made me smile. You know, words!


And what do you look for when you book your feature performers and what have some of the highlights been of their sets?

Availability, variety, experimentation. We want to be a stopping point for international poets on tour, as well as a platform for up and coming local talent. Kristiana Rae Colon was a recent pleasure and privilege to put on; last year a big set from Jon Sands and Ken Arkind was joyous.


What have the challenges been in running Inky Fingers in general and the Open Mic in particular?

As we’re all volunteers, sometimes we get tired…the advantage of working as a collective means that there are (usually) just enough of us to cover everything, should one or two people take a(n entirely reasonable) sabbatical.

We run an open platform and you really never know what you’re going to get. We have had, on occasion, difficult performers – drunk, offensive or over running – and it’s the host-of-the-evening’s job to manage that, and the audience… it can get interesting.


What’s the spoken word scene like in Edinburgh in general?

 It’s as dynamic as a circus held inside a dance club within range of an exploding supernova.

Scheduling spoken word events in Edinburgh is notoriously difficult because no matter what night you choose, something else is always happening. A classic example of this was one Tuesday night when Ian Rankin was speaking at the Central Library, Janice Galloway was talking across the street at the National Library of Scotland, and the City of Literature folks were having their monthly salon about five minutes away. But here’s the beauty of it – all three had a good audience.


You also have a focus on open mic performances being entertaining and engaging, encouraging people to ‘bring their words to life’. Has this been a challenge for some open mic performers?

 It just takes practise and passion, really. As long as you feel it, the more you practise, and the more different kinds of audience you practise with, the better you get. Some people are more nervous, or more over-confident, or have frailer voices, or aren’t used to speaking, but everyone can live their words in time.


If you’re trying to convince someone who’s never heard of the Inky Fingers Open Mic to come to your events then what do you say?

 When I first performed, I remember thinking I would need a whisky or two to get up and do this if I was prepared to be criticised for my offerings. It was not like that at all, in fact the audience couldn’t have been more encouraging. When I finally got to run away from the scene of my first ever slam poetry event my heart still beating fast with nerves and excitement. At one time I still preferred the 5 minute spots. My nerves couldn’t stand it! I stuck with it because I didn’t want to be unstuck from this amazing feeling of performing your own words.

I have been inspired so much over the last two years by so many people. The person that I nervously was changed and became more dramatic. That is because the words that I am expressing are mine. I edit them in my head, I own them. I listen and believe people when they tell me that they enjoy my poetry.


Try it. What do you have to lose? Also, you look lovely today.


And finally, have you heard of Sabotage before and are you pleased to be nominated for a Saboteur award?

 Sabotage provides a platform for some of the most insightful, original reviews out there. Long live Sabotage. And Yes! We’ve been squealing with delight!



‘Treasure in the History of Things’ by Katherine McMahon

In Pamphlets on February 17, 2013 at 10:19 am


-Reviewed by Dana Bubulj


Published by Stewed Rhubarb Press, Treasure in the History of Things by Katherine McMahon (of the Inky Fingers collective) is a gorgeous pamphlet of twelve poems, complete with an audio CD of them performed accompanied with the occasional music and atmospheric sound-base. McMahon really impressed us when we caught her perform in Edinburgh this Summer, so that it seemed fitting to review how her words translate to the page. While the CD is a nice touch in principle, her engaging performance is slightly lost in the recording, a weak reminder of the real thing. Fortunately, the pamphlet itself holds up well to individual scrutiny.

The poems could be split into two categories: that of finding and developing a personal, poetic voice and using that voice to evoke memories of past relationships. Some of the strongest images are in the latter, firmly tied to weather and seasonality, with the warmth of beds like the “leaf litter in the summertime” (‘Afforestation’) and berries shared between lovers like “shared secrets” (‘Blackberries’).

‘Blackberries’, one of my favourites in the book, features a lovely line about giving blackberries to a small child who’d not seen them before: ‘wide-eyed, he put it in his pocket for safekeeping’. It’s fitting that this first poem in the collection echoes the idea of preserving memories for our delight. Another stand-out poem, ‘Gold’, expresses the lure of the past, like “pie-steam from an open window” without becoming maudlin. Instead, it acknowledges the changes in people and relationships: the ‘sticky stained glass’ of boiled sweets in the ‘gingerbread home’ past is too sickly to last for instance, leading McMahon to call for ‘something bitter / to make it stick. / Give me gin and lime… give me anger’. Similarly the line: “sometimes dealing with [struggle] / looks a lot like being a dick” grounds the poems in an accessible reality.

The vignettes are strongly tied to the Scottish Coast, with namechecks of Bass Rock, Arthur’s Seat and Haar (coastal fog). Water is a strong presence, both as the familiar and comforting sea (‘Jetsam’) and as the lush storms that echo the characters (‘me and her, we were so full of weather’). McMahon does manage to engage with such familiar imagery without it becoming trite, and with a self-awareness (‘they call that ‘pathetic fallacy’ / and I think, oh really?’) coupled with wonder at nature that makes it rather charming. There should be more poets who can both marvel at anthropomorphised wind that ‘scrawls its name across my cheeks’ and discuss astronomers’ wavelengths. Or germination, come to that. It helps the poems stay away from the realms of the overdone sublime and stay fresh.

The nod to pathetic fallacy is a relevant one, as the emotional developments are closely linked to the workings of nature. Much like storms are ‘mirror[ed] in your own breath’, comfort in being a poet is likened to ‘sea-legs’ (‘Labyrinth’). And take this line from ‘Nautical Almanac’:

‘I want to reach out to the constellations
and be held by their far-flung fiery arms.’

The searching for a ‘polestar’, or a voice (a “warm heart and a steady rhythm / somewhere in that mechanism”) is given a response in the final poem, ‘Shine’, a fantastically jubilant statement (“this is my voice / take it how you will”) that urges for ‘solidarity’, acknowledges the importance of having someone ‘reaching across voids’ to help those lost, despite how difficult it may be. After the car journey of ‘Labyrinth’, with a scratchy John Cooper Clarke record and a friend’s confidence in them, it is a testament to paying it forward.

The title of the pamphlet comes from ‘Gold’, which we saw live & loved. An excerpt:

“They aggrandise the damage
by filling the cracks with gold,
because they believe that there is treasure
in the history of things.

She said that she thought that
culturally, that was a load of balls,
but she liked the idea.”

It’s a nice sentiment that sits well with the poems that deal with their relationship: a nod to the history wrought between them. The creation of the pot itself (before its mending), works as a good simile for their relationship (“maybe love is like wet clay”): borne of a myriad of reactions and processes and tested by heat and water. And on that note, what better way to aggrandise memories than with poetry?

Treasure in the History of Things, published by Stewed Rhubarb Press and can be bought at Bandcamp.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 6 part 2 (06/08/12): Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart, Flea Circus Open Slam

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

This week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and contrary reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. stand-up-orienteering)

Midsummer Night’s Dream

This Drunk Tank production set the play in a Post-apocalypse, where the characters come from Athens Bunker and music, clothing and technology seems to have stagnated in the Forties. This as a concept drew us in, and it’s a shame that a lot of its potential was wasted.

Titania’s rendition of ‘Summertime’ was delightfully decadent and the old-style film-competition of the Mechanicals was a nice nod to the era, but the setting wasn’t fully utilised. Oberon’s court were decked as soldiers, using sleep gas at the end, and the ‘lover’s remedy’ was clearly radioactive, but more could have been done to incorporate the theme.

The acting was great and the direction showed some deft touches, really managing to hit all the humour of the play; Helena in particular was fantastic. The Jazz Age wasted fairies of Titania’s court were also a nice take on the otherworldliness of Faerie, and the truculence of Puck was hilarious. As such, it was great fun, if missing some tricks.

Star Rating: 3/5

Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at 5.45 at Paradise in St Augustine’s from 4th-27th Aug (not 13th or 20th)

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart

Richard Tyrone Jones has been a driving force behind the burgeoning Spoken Word scene at the Fringe this year, and his own offering chronicles his problems with heart failure. From the unexpected beginnings just after his 30th birthday to his near-death experience (spoiler: he didn’t die), the show gives us all the fascinating (and sometimes disgusting) details.

And it is fascinating. The show is like a ventricle clogged with interesting facts and gobbets of medical information and NHS anecdotes (some flattering, some not). You come away with a much enlightened view of how the heart works (or more specifically, doesn’t work) and possibly a sudden sense of paranoia at how badly and suddenly your body can go wrong (encouraged by RTJ’s song detailing all the genetic problems you could inherit, to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Elements song, which is very well done).

There’s not a lot of poetry in the show, but what there is, is well done and Jones’s prose-poem style means some of the poetry goes unnoticed, but certainly enriches the show. And Richard’s illness, hospitalisation and eventual slow recovery is a powerful and inspiring narrative, with a great structure. The show’s use of whimsical drawings that are projected over Jones, creating characters and sets is also really well used and draw the audience into the action.

There’s a lot of black comedy, which may not be to everyone’s taste, and some gross-out humour (that wasn’t really to mine), but it’s well done and fits the show, which ends of a touching piece appreciating life and a final tribute to those with heart problems who won’t recover.

Star Rating: 4/5

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart is on at 6pm at the Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-25th Aug (Not 13th or 19th)

Flea Circus Open Slam

This night’s slam had good mix of subjects, each allowed 5min with some grace period and called-out scores that often leaves scores higher than needed.

Winning poets (and feature):

The highlight of the night was Katherine McMahon (whose chapbook will soon be reviewed on Sabotage) with a lovely poem about a good break-up turning to friendship. It had some lovely imagery, particularly feelings that “filigreed our veins with time”. With a score of 28, she goes through to the final on 14th August.

Fay Roberts’ ‘Credit where it’s Due’ had a nice thread of money as a debilitating addiction, with a cry to arms against banks full of “electronic mockeries of life”. It was quite quiet, however, and a little stumbly. (27.1)

Harry Giles‘ jazzy Love Poem was also good, with a nice use of rhythm matching frantic feelings and compulsion that only briefly became indistinct. (27)

Feature Jack Heal performed ‘The Relationship’, an origin story of his show’s character (Murderthon reviewed here). It was a bawdy story replete with relentless puns (“she was shrieking like a virgin or some other Madonna song”) that went down well.


James Webster’s ‘What are you thinking’ (reviewed often) had a nice touch of updating its political content to be more topical, and Lucy Ayrton’s ‘I don’t hate men, I just hate you’ was a fantastic put-down to dismissive men with “big, hard, throbbing degrees in economics”. David Duff’s school disco piece was sweet, with conversation mishaps and first kisses. Least favourite had to be Alec Beattie’s played for laugh poem about squirrels raping pigeons (sigh).

Performance Star Rating: 3/5 (a nice enough mixed bag)
The Night:
4/5 (less formal than most slams and slickly hosted; chaotic fun)

Flea Circus Open Slam is on in the Banshee Labyrinth at 7.30 from 4-14th August.

Edinburgh’s International Women’s Day All-Female Slam

In Performance Poetry on March 17, 2012 at 11:16 am


@ The Banshee Labyrinth

– reviewed by Harry Giles

A couple of days ago we reviewed the International Women’s Day event Poetry in the Parlour, now continuing this theme Harry Giles reviews another of the plethora of IWD events, this one in Edinburgh – ed

The Event

Poetry slam can be difficult, chaotic, oppressive, liberatory, or many other things besides – but at its best it’s a beautiful expression of poetic community. At its best, slam stops being about competition and starts being a celebration of poetry’s diversity  and of our direct and passionate relationship to an audience.

Edinburgh’s International Women’s Day All-Female Slam, organised by local poet Claire Askew, set out to redress the male bias often prevalent in Scotland’s slam scene (a bias both in numbers competing and in those winning) by showcasing some of the most talented and ambitious of our female poetry talent. The make-up of the slam was also aiming to break down some of the perceived barriers between page and stage, welcoming poets more comfortable on the page into the performance arena.

This deliberate mix led to one of the most surprising and delightful slams I’ve ever attended. Though I attend and compete in slams regularly, I often find myself twitching impatiently through tired forms and heard-it-before comic turns – but every performer at the women’s slam brought something fresh and new to the stage. The audience was packed into the Banshee Labyrinth, filling every available corner, but host Claire Askew’s welcoming enthusiasm made sure everyone was happy. Although her nerves were sometimes clear, she used her passionate belief in the event and warm encouragement of every single poet to ensure that every participant has the best possible time.

The Slam

In the first round, Gayle Smith and Rose Ritchie both gave us comic observations from the tradition of Scots ballad verse. Both performances were rough and unpolished, but had real heart and warmth. Hayley Shields and Theresa Munoz‘s poems, very much from the page-led tradition, had the complexity and richness of imagery we often miss in slam, though again more practised and paced performance might have helped the audience appreciate their depth. Elizabeth Rimmer and Katie Craig both had wit and charm, and performed with enough aplomb to carry the audience with them in true slam style. A surprise performance late in the night from Lara S Williams, although she arrived to late to compete, treated us to a romp through the difficulties of trans-national identity – something that certainly spoke to a diverse audience in a country like Scotland.

Amongst the stand-out performances in the first half, qualifying for the second, Katherine McMahon startled thhe audience with real joy in her delicate but celebratory performances of “Shine” and “Forest”, which drew on the American declamatory slam style as well as a more English simplicity. I’d like to see more texture in her delivery, to help navigate her often quick and surprising poetic moves – she feels like a performer still discovering the power of her rage. Camilla Chen‘s tight, sparse verse journeyed through both snap puns (“Camilla Chen is a vegetable”) and moments of astonishing grace and insight (“Tell me the sea”). All I could wish for here is more time to enjoy the full range of what she’s reading. Tracey S Rosenberg treated us to a dry transatlantic wit with both “Genderclusterfuck” and “So where are you from?” – she found a raconteurish style that kept well away from the cynical comedy prevalent in slams through its audience-focussed warmth, while still revelling in wordplay and cynicism. Sally Evans – the editor of the venerable Poetry Scotland, who it was thus a real delight to find at a slam – gave us poems so rich in meaning and direct intention, so pleasingly funny, that her inexperience with a microphone barely mattered at all.

The Final

Tracey and Camilla both qualified for the final, and both again changed pace to perform some of the most lyrically beautiful moments of the evening. Tracey’s “Miracle”, which she revealed to be a wedding poem, was an extraordinary expression of love, while Camilla’s “France, Spring 2011 (as soundtracked by Badly Drawn Boy)” evoked waves of place, experience, and feeling with sharp, quiet stanzas. Both poets seemed slightly fazed by finding themselves in the slam final – or perhaps it was simply tiredness from the many highs of the evening. Nevertheless, it was a real pleasure to hear these last performances.

The star of the night, though, and its eventual winner, was Rachel McCrum, whose frank and resounding poems captivated the audience every time. “Are the Kids Alright?” reflected on urban unrest and violence with an enquiring and passionate concern, while “Last Night Ashore” delivered timely reflections on masculinity and poetry. Her finest turn was “Broad”, for me the highlight of the night, which moving journey through the working female bodies of the poet and her mother. This performance, in the first round, held every breath in the room: a poet talking simply, directly and beautifully about her own experience of her body while she stands just a few feet away from you is just the kind of extraordinary magic that slam at its best can work.

The Allies

Alongside these great female talents, Claire had invited a number of local male performers (including myself – see the disclosure below) to be sacrifical poets, or warm-up acts, before each round. The male performers took this opportunity to express their solidarity, and both performed with great aplomb. Matt McDonald‘s devastating poem on male shame, “Open Letter to a Rapist”, was delivered with an unrushed quiet sincerity and written with honesty and, astonishingly, tenderness: it was a highlight of the evening for many.

Colin McGuire‘s exploration of Glasgow’s queer masculine identity, “Filthy Man” brought the house down multiple times per minute – but had real depth too. The decision to include male performers was important to the integrity of he slam – it demonstrated quite clearly that this was about celebrating diversity rather than separating female poets somehow, and allowed men to vocally express their support for the slam

Colin’s set saw an extraordinary expression of just how strong the sense of solidarity and community in the venue was. Earlier in the evening, Rose Ritchie had been forced to leave the stage when, as has happened to so many slam poets, nerves claimed her memory of her poem: Colin used his own stage time to welcome her back to the stage to perform the poem she had left unfinished, which she did brilliantly.

It’s hard to say whether this slam was so exciting just because it was an all-female slam. Certainly, a sense of purpose and solidarity united the audience behind every performer, and gave each performer a definite support and welcome to play to. Certainly, a slam setting out to improve diversity will always have a better chance of surprising us with something fresh. But in the end, the success is down to something much more basic: great performers, speaking directly to the audience with skill, style and originality. That’s something that every slam needs. I hope the legacy of the first all-women’s slam is that we see it more.

Claire Askew’s own reflections on the event can be found here and here.