Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Poet’

Bang Said The Gun! 23/02/2012

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

– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –

@ The Roebuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEATURED POETS

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

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

RAW MEAT STEW ~ judged by Nia Barge

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

CONCLUSION

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

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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)