Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Laila Sumpton’

Keats House Poets’ Forum 11/12/11

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

– reviewed by James Webster

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

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

Keats House Poets

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

Open Mic

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


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

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


Beaconsfield Reading Series – Poetry and Wine 23/11/2011

In Performance Poetry on February 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

-reviewed by James Webster

@ Royal Standard of England

There’s something wonderfully quaint about Claire Trévien’s Beaconsfield based poetry night. Maybe it’s the gorgeous surroundings of the Royal Standard of England (oldest alehouse in England apparently) with its warren of low-ceilinged rooms. Maybe it’s the charmingly mixed audience, comprising all different ages and a mix of locals and visitors. Maybe it’s Claire’s glittering hosting. It’s a very relaxed, supportive and fun environment in which to enjoy some poetry.

HostClaire Trévien

  • Claire began proceedings herself with her ‘Novella’. Apparently it usually goes down well (woof), and, with its nostalgic and joyful look at pretentious and bohemian youth and incredible turns of phrase, I could see why.
  • Next was a piece written using the ‘hipster poetry generator’ method: start with a place, a list of things, vague references to a person and cut the first and last stanzas. It was suitably pretentious and incomprehensible.
  • Finally she read a sort of sestina called ‘Love From’ that started with expressive poeticism and then seems to wear itself down to flat, but exposed, disappointment.


  • Dan Holloway (curator of 8 Cuts, winner of Literary Death Match and whose books are available on Kindle) was a strong performer and very aware of his audience (and wearing particularly dashing braces).
  • ‘Adam’, the first of two poems on Old Compton Street, flowed with slightly destructive hedonism; Dan talks of ‘this absinthe in my blood’ and ‘haunt[ing] the shelves of Foyles’. It was moving and softly seductive.
  • The second ‘How to Make a Soho Quilt’ was at once both rich and actively stripping itself bare. It spat up pictures and images that formed a ‘patchwork skin’ made up of strange places with an urban-bohemian-grime feel to them.
  • ‘Holly’ was on an artist attempting to recover a lost week by spending 40 days locked away trying to get that mad again. It was filled with verdant language that used slick rhyme to race from one image to the next (almost too fast to follow) that earned a chorus of appreciative ‘mmmmmm’ noises.
  • ‘Petals’ was a piece on the Kurasawa film Dreams. It melded the romantic, personal and political in a harrowingly engaging portrayal.
  • Finally ‘Her Body’, on the way peoples’ lives are appropriated after they die, blended fond remembrance with the jolting and grievous loss of a person ‘made of pieces of pain that no longer hurt’. It was triggering and hauntingly beautiful.
  • Laila Sumpton, of the Keats House Poetry Group, was next. Her poetry was steeped in a family history spanning larger than life personalities and a fair amount of strife that went through Bosnia via Pakistan and Hull.
  • ‘Patterning’ was on the characters in a family’s history that almost blend into mythology. It was resonant, using imaginative, interlocking language, but there’s almost too much to take in.
  • ‘Pakistani Postal Collapse’ was a surreal take on a sugar shortage, amusingly describing ‘black market cafes in upmarket homes’.
  • ‘The Only Photo’ (if I can read my own handwriting) was a moving poem about the two objects that survived the war inBosnia. A rescued coffee grinder becomes a ‘device that would defeat everyone’ and you can feel a real sense of pride and resilience reflected in the image of a family gathered in front of the wreckage. It’s a piece that is planted in destruction and struggle, but becomes so joyous. Ace.
  • Jill Wallis, editor of Rhyme and Reason (a poetry collection-cum-diary), read a selection of poems from their last edition which all offered something different.
  • Her poems, while not always as rich or imaginative as other poets, are full of gut-wrenching emotional honesty that really resonated with the audience.
  • ‘Owl Pellets’ described the ‘horde of tiny bones wrapped in hide’ in eloquent and poignant language, almost digesting the idea of the lost loved one and her own feelings, just as the ‘Owl Pellets’ do.
  • Her poem about dying in hospital built a really strong connection with the audience, as she described clinging to your last night with a loved one.
  • ‘Dust to Dust’ expressed the inability to scatter the departed’s ashes. She used hurt, clipped sentences with the smooth assonance of breath, as at the end of the poem she says ‘deeply, deeply, I breathe you in’.
  • Her final ‘Walk by Moonlight’ was a clear expression of the difficulties of using ‘the grotesque props of immobility’. It invited the audience in, then surprised them with the otherworldly beauty of the moonlit walk.
  • Simon Barraclough has been published in the Financial Times and Guardian, and has three collections: Neptune Blue, Bonjour Tetris, and Los Alamos Mon Amour.
  •  ‘Los Alamos’ evocatively compared love to an atomic bomb test in an entertaining (if pretentious) extended metaphor of destruction and recreation.
  • ‘Saturn on Seventh’ started with some nicely expressed grumpiness, then takes a lovely turn into describing a ‘homeless astronomer’ who lets you ‘See Saturn for a dollar’ leading to a charming and fleeting transcendental moment.
  • Poems on hearts: ‘Starfish Heart’ was pleasantly whimsical; ‘Pizza Heart’ was expressive and alliterative; only ‘Celeriac Heart’ disappointed, as it seemed slightly pointless.
  • Poems on planets: ‘Earth’ was amusingly phrased, with nice interwoven imagery running through it as he described ‘God’s gobstopper’. While ‘Neptune’ was quietly and jocularly fond of the planet that’s ‘so blue/ you probably think that Jarman’s Blue/ is about you’. While ‘Sol’ made the danger of impending apocalypse seem so sweet.

The Open Mic

  • Anne‘s ‘Terminal Therapy’ cleverly summed up how airports seem to distil emotions, with some nice phrasing on the ‘second hand arrivals’.
  • ‘White Noise’, on the sound installations of Bill Fontana, highlighted the contrasts of the bustling city against sea noises, but the imagery was a little suffused and unfocused.
  • ‘Evolution in the City’ gave a well-realised portrait of their life, but both the rhyme scheme and the ‘I just want a man …’ message were a little simplistic.
  • Mary‘s ‘Release Me from This Hell’ about Milton returning to London was impressively resonant of Milton’s rich style, making me feel the heat and smoke of industrial London.
  • And her ‘Ultramarinus’ was a lovely delicate sounding poem, all crystals, gems and precious stones.
  • Ted Pike introduced himself with a confident preamble, his ‘Man of Other Peoples’ Words’ was a concisely clever picture of a committee clerk’s life.
  • While ‘West Whittering’ was a charming celebration of human insignificance compared to nature.
  • Phillip read a series of haiku that were in places beautiful, sweet and adventurous. He gave us some really engaging snapshots of a mixture of subjects; rainbows, capitalism, airports, tears and umbrellas.

Summary: a fun, welcoming and moving night, with plenty of different voices, in a warm and inviting venue. If you feel like venturing out to the sticks for some poetry, definitely check it out.