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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Parnassus’

Saboteur Awards 2013: Performance

In Performance Poetry, Saboteur Awards on June 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

-in which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards –

saboteur awards - performer

Best Performer

When it came down to the final day, Best Spoken Word Performer was the most closely contested of all the categories, with first place going back and forth several times and only three votes separating the winner and runner-up. That runner-up was Dan Cockrill, who deserves real credit for pushing the winner all the way to the wire, receiving many enthused comments from voters along the way. One such person said they voted for him “Because he is funny, engaging and full of bags of energy. And you never get bored of him however many times you see him!”

The other nominees also deserve a lot of kudos, Raymond Antrobus (who is one of the co-hosts of Chill Pill and whose pamphlet The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus was published this year) reportedly “has a way with words, is unique in delivery and is spinetingly inspirational.” While Emma Jones (regular at Bang! Said the Gun and virtuoso performer) has “A tongue so sharp they call it a mouth knife. FACT!!” and an “Uncanny ability to absorb a character and present a perspective rarely seen.” Fay Roberts (host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge and founder of Allographic) was said by one voter to have “a range and depth that I envy. Her poems combine beautiful word-smithery, wisdom and wry humour and her highly original delivery is a delight.”

The winner, however, was Vanessa Kisuule. A phenomenal poet whose performances are often heartfelt, often funny, and always excellent, and have delighted audiences all over the UK.

Winner of a multitude of slams and a regular at festivals, she “combines warm humour with beautifully measured emotion and a sprinkling of bite, Vanessa Kisuule is simply one of the best performing poets around.” Another voter said “Vanessa’s poems actually steal me and take me on an adventure”, while another commented “Vanessa has a depth and maturity to her work I’ve never seen matched in spoken word”. The most prevalent commendation, however, was her uncanny knack of expressing the inexpressible, she has “the ability to articulate feelings previously considered ineffable; a skill as rare as it is wonderful” and “has the most relevant poetry to so many people, she finds the perfect words to express what so many people think but can’t vocalise because they don’t have her words. She is a total boss.”

Best One-Off

Another close category, with the intriguing events that were Penning Perfumes (exploring scents through poetry and vice-versa) and Poetry Parnassus (an almost unprecedented conglomeration of poets from around the globe) coming in joint second. Penning perfumes was called “innovative, bold, mixing genres and going outside poetry audiences to engage through use of the senses with a wider audience” while Poetry Parnassus was praised for being “a once in a life time gathering of poetry and poets and community and sharing and wisdom.”

Also in the running was Poetry Polaroid (mapping Edinburgh through poetry) that was “a beautiful concept that drew a lot of people into exploring the city and thinking about it in different ways”, while Binders Full of Women (beautifully hand-made binder celebrating poetry of writers who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral) that was “urgent, organised and awesome: a combination of creative publication and lively gatheration, with a side order of campaigning poetics”.

But the winner was the massive nationwide platform that was Shake the Dust. A mixture of performances, workshops and other events, it gave a platform to young people across the UK to explore poetry in a way that “visibly changed young lives, connecting the poetry and spoken word scenes around the globe with new rising stars. Total brilliance.”  In fact, several people commented on the power of the event that was “really changing young people’s lives through poetry”, that “provided so many opportunities for so many young people who were able to come together for a unique and special event on such a large open scale. it changed many lives” and that was “bringing together the disparate youth in art and spoken word; an undervalued gift”

Overall: “An amazing celebration of the voice of youth”

saboteur awards - one-off

Best Spoken Word Show

Some truly wonderful shows of different kinds were celebrated in this category, from the Wandering Word Stage that brings poets to new crowds at various festivals and provides “a marvellous sanctuary in the daytime and a hubbub of insanity at night”, to Dirty Great Love Story‘s fusion of verse and theatre, winning a Fringe First, touring to New York and according to one voter being “truly awesome inventive ninjas and made me cry”. And Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) who provides rhymes in a crisis from a real ambulance: “The world’s first and only emergency poetry service, in a genuine 1960s ambulance, do you really need to ask why it should win?”

Runner up, Lucy Ayrton: Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry (a selection of feminist fairytales and dissection of the power of children’s stories) got a lot of love, one memorable remark saying she “not only harnesses the seductive power of fairytales to make powerfully incisive and beautifully made points about gender and society, but also she has lovely hair”

But the winner was Whistle by Martin Figura, a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale drawn from his own childhood that has toured throughout the UK and abroad. “It made me want to cry and I never want to cry except in the bank” said one fan, while others commented that this “Immensely personal tale of tragic upbringing yet hugely enjoyable” and that it “Invaded my dreams and will stay with me forever”. It’s a show that truly seems to have matched content to performance, with audiences saying: “Whistle is a bravura performance and a valuable text that makes no concessions to simple delivery but is delivered with great dramatic conviction.”

Finally, the comment that perhaps most sums it up is this one: “The most heartening true story of human resilience told in stunning poems I’ve ever seen in such an intense, understated show.”

 saboteur awards - spoken word show

Best Regular Spoken Word Night

It was a running joke on the night that we would repeatedly refer to categories as having been ‘an incredibly close race’ or having gone ‘right down to the wire’. This was not one of those categories, the winner of Best Regular Spoken Word Night was clear and deserved.

That is not to say the other nominees didn’t put up a fight, Come Rhyme with Me (blend of food and poetry) earned plaudits because “the poetry is consistently amazing both from the headliners and the open-mic-ers. Plus it’s worth going simply for the food!” While Hammer & Tongue Oxford (founding branch of the national network of slam poetry events) was praised for its “friendly and funny organizers, great community, and excellent performers”. Inky Fingers (inventive and inviting Edinburgh based collective) “provides a welcoming and open space for new spoken word artists whilst also showcasing some top spoken word talent to inspire”.

The runner up, Jibba Jabba (multi-disciplinary and superbly supportive open mic in Newcastle) really looked like giving the winners a run for their money (read: rosette) for a while with their “great performers, great venue, great audience & words that sear into your chest & stay with you for days”.

But in the end there was only ever going to be one winner: Bang! Said the Gun, whose anarchically fun and involving events have consistently raised the bar for poetry events. As the voters said “BSTG show us all how it should be done – fun and eclectic and challenging and loud and quiet and generous. They’ve also mastered the fact that poetry nights should be engaging to look at as well as listen to!”.

It’s an event that voters pointed out isn’t just good, but is also always colossal fun: “Rock and roll poetry, why shouldn’t it win?!” Plus, it always gets the audience going: “Let’s shake, rattle and roll with poetry. Need I say more. Absoposifrigginlutely BANGTASTIC!!! The best show for miles.”

Finally, Bang! Is such a unique night because it opens poetry up to new audiences: “Weekly and sometimes on the telly too. Poetry’s best chance of a tv breakthrough.” and because it “makes poetry electric and sexy”.

saboteur awards - regular spoken word night

All very deserved winners and nominees, plus a fantastic night. Can’t wait for next year to do it all again!


Saboteur Awards 2013: The Winners!

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

A more in-depth post will come soon, with comments from voters, logos for each winner, pictures and links to videos from the night (if you have any, do email them to us!), but we thought some of you might like to know as soon as possible who won in each category. You can find links to reviews of the shortlisted works here. We’re also featured in the Guardian today here, while Dan Holloway reviewed the event here! There is also a storify here of the event.


The Results!

Best one-off 

Winner: Shake the dust
Runners up (joint-place): Penning Perfumes and Poetry Parnassus

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

From @jsamlarose's twitter after Shake The Dust's win

From @jsamlarose’s twitter after Shake The Dust’s win

Best short story collection

Winner: Tony Williams, All the bananas I’ve never eaten
Runner up: Tania Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano

Best magazine:

Winner: Rising.
Runner up: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Best poetry pamphlet:

Winner: Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman
Runner up: Lune by Sarah Hymas

Best spoken word performer:

Winner: Vanessa Kisuule
Runner Up: Dan Cockrill

Best regular spoken word night:

Winner: Bang said the Gun
Runner Up: Jibba Jabba

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards!

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards! Photo from @bangsaidthegun twitter feed

'They don't shake themselves' (Bang said the gun)

‘They don’t shake themselves’ (Bang said the gun)

Best spoken word show:

Winner: ‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
Runner Up: ‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best poetry anthology:

Winner: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot
Runner-Up: Adventures with Form

Best fiction anthology:

Overheard: Stories to be read aloud
Runner Up: Unthology volume 3.

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Best mixed anthology:

Winner: Estuary: a Confluence of Art and Poetry
Runner Up: Still (Negative Press).

Best novella:

Winner: ‘Holophin’ by Luke Kennard
Runner-Up: ‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Most innovative publisher:

Winner: Penned in the Margins
Runner-up: Unthank Books

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien (photo by Tim Wells)

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on April 1, 2013 at 12:09 am

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!


Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)

Alderburgh Poetry Festival 2-4 November 2012

In Festival, Performance Poetry on November 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm

-Reviewed by Judi Sutherland

Aldeburgh – huddles of poetry lovers, but not very festive?

Arriving in this quiet Suffolk town on a Friday afternoon in November, you’d be forgiven for not realising there was a poetry festival going on at all. Where were the banners, the bunting and the buskers? I am more used to the Henley Festival, the Edinburgh Festival and Towersey Village Festival, where a range of sideshows, posters and children’s events create a joyful atmosphere of celebration.  The liveliest thing in Aldeburgh was the smoked mackerel stall on the shingly beach. Maybe I’m missing something, but for a festival, it wasn’t very… festive.

To be fair, the Aldeburgh Festival is mostly not in Aldeburgh at all. The audience outgrew the cramped Jubilee Hall, and in this 24th year the events moved to nearby Snape Maltings, where larger venues are available. Aldeburgh veterans told me the whole event felt more ‘corporate’. For the first time, a free shuttle bus took the huddles of poetry lovers off to the huge and well-appointed theatres six miles away; a logistics solution that worked pretty well. Poets of all ages, shapes and sizes mingled in the foyer of the Britten Studio, where books were on sale, and the TLS and the Poetry Paper were interesting, learned giveaways.

Before we got there, we knew we weren’t going to hear everything we wanted to hear.  I booked my tickets on line a month in advance but even so, many events were already sold out. Are the venues not yet big enough? Some other festivals offer festival tickets or day tickets, with which the punter can wander about and get in to any event where there is space.  I found that the Aldeburgh Festival system denied me the spontaneity of the impulse-buy. Nonetheless, I settled in for the Friday night main reading with eager anticipation.

Friday – Nancy Gaffield, Leland Bardwell and Christopher Reid (Olivia McCannon strangely absent …)

It was strange from the start.  The compere, Naomi Jaffa, first of all announced the winner of this year’s Fenton Aldeburgh prize for best first collection, who is Olivia McCannon.  Jaffa told us she hadn’t met McCannon, but believed she was somewhere in the theatre; she wouldn’t invite her down to receive a large cheque because the prize money was nowadays paid by direct bank transfer, and then she misquoted the name of McCannon’s collection, which is, for the record, Exactly my Own Length.  We were then treated to a reading by last year’s winner.  As a PR exercise, this is a disaster.  Imagine building up to the announcement of the winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2012, and then only showing us clips of Harry Judd’s 2011 performance?  Here was a winner, sitting in the audience, with a prizewinning collection to read from, and she was silenced for a full twelve months, allowing all the fizz of interest to dissipate like flat coke.

Nancy Gaffield – last year’s winner – did read beautifully. Her spare and thoughtful collection Tokaido Road was based on a series of woodcuts she encountered when living in Japan. But, for a selection of ekphrastic poems, could we not have seen the inspirational artwork?  I know there was a screen and overhead projector in the studio, because it was used on Saturday.  Wouldn’t some visuals with Gaffield’s poetry have transformed our experience of the work?

Leland Bardwell, the 90-year-old Irish poet, was our second reader.  The aptly-named Bardwell suffered a stroke three years ago, which has left her unable to read, but she recited some of the poems she has from memory. Her son Nicholas read her other poems, and they colluded memorably on the introductions.  This woman has very definitely been A Character.  In an aside to the audience, Nicholas Bardwell wryly commented ‘I’ve been around the block with this one’.  After a fervent round of applause, Bardwell fairly danced back to her seat.

Christopher Reid, who is currently championing the long narrative poem, topped the bill on Friday night. In Nonsense, he thinly disguises himself as the ‘lately widowed and chronically befuddled’ Professor Winterthorn, off to an academic conference on the pursuit of futility. Reid tends to over explain the extracts in advance; the audience can pick up the narrative more easily than he expects.  To my ear, Reid, who reads his poetry with a minimal emphasis on the rhyme and rhythm, sounds very like David Lodge or Tom Sharpe, whose bewildered academics inhabit the world of prose.  I preferred Reid’s shorter pieces, which seemed more meaningful and less self-indulgent.

Saturday part 1 – John Stammers, David Wheatley and Julia Copus

The beauty of a festival like Aldeburgh is the chance to hear poets you know little about.  Being a relative newcomer to poetry, I had heard of all three of the poets reading on Saturday morning, but knew very little about their work.

John Stammers was our first reader, whose low-key style was immediately likeable.  I love the way some poets can take on popular culture as a basis for poetry.  Stammers’ poem ‘The Other Dozier’ wonders about a forgotten Tamla Motown songwriter:

Turns out he had a tin ear
for everything except irony,
so his lyrics all emerged as modern verse

David Wheatley, followed, his poetry sailing close to the coast of zany.  Several of his poems were shorter than their titles.  There were many poems about birds and birdwatching, a popular subject for the introspective nature poet. My favourite, though, was a magnificently mad piece about the mediaeval habit of putting animals on trial. I’ve got to find that poem again.

After a comic first half, we regrouped for a change of atmosphere from Julia Copus, who apologised for not being so cheerful, reading from The World’s Two Smallest Humans. Most striking among these poems are Copus’ account of IVF treatment, in the sequence Ghost. It was not the most comfortable material to hear, but it faithfully charts an important modern human experience and it needs to be told. Lightening the atmosphere was the vibrant ‘L’Esprit de l’Escalier’ – a poem about the perfect putdown.

Saturday part 2 – The Song of Lunch (stealth-poetry?)

Time to grab something to eat – a difficult exercise, as Snape is somewhat under-catered at peak times – before The Song of Lunch, the BBC film of Christopher Reid’s poem.  A middle aged publisher, played by Alan Rickman (Reid in another thin disguise), arranges to meet an old flame in a Soho Italian restaurant.  First, Greg Wise, who wrote the screenplay, and Reid, discussed the making of the film in 2010.  How depressing it was to hear that the BBC had to be cajoled and implored to film some poetry.  ‘It isn’t a genre piece’, said Wise, ‘so the commissioning departments didn’t know what to do with it.  We felt strongly that it shouldn’t have to be good for you, like broccoli or cod liver oil. The audience should not realise what it is watching’.  So there.  The only way to make an audience, or a broadcaster, like poetry is to smuggle it past them unawares.  How utterly depressing. Despite the fact that the Aldeburgh festival is now too popular for Aldeburgh, it will be a while before poetry is the new rock and roll for our public service broadcaster.

Saturday part 3 – Anthony Thwaite, Ghassan Zaqtan and Jackie Kay

Anthony Thwaite, whom, we are told, is in his 83rd year, showed himself to be completely up to date with a poem called ‘Predictive Text’.  I’d noticed that sometimes ‘good’ comes out as ‘home’, but Thwaite made a thoughtful poem from it. His poems were charming and witty. Thwaite told us, jovially: ‘I used to be studied in schools.  Now they think I’m dead’.

The second poet, Ghassan Zaqtan, is Palestinian, and read in Arabic, with translations from Fady Joudah. Zaqtan speaks for his displaced nation, eloquently charting their suffering. ‘Pillow’ is an example:

good evening,
I’ve come back
with a bullet in my heart
There is my pillow
I want to lie down
and rest.

Jackie Kay came after that harrowing reading, her warm personality illustrating the other end of the poetic range.  There were of course some very moving moments in her reading; the eighty year friendship between two Scottish ladies charted in ‘My Fierie’, and the tender poem about her four year old son waking after an epileptic fit. But Kay reduced the audience to near hysteria with ‘Ma Broon’s Vagina Monologue’.  As I grew up with the Sunday Post, I got the references straight away, but this poem is really about many women of a certain age, women of our mothers’ generation, and their ignorance of sex.  At one point, Ma Broon cries: ‘But I haven’t got a vagina! I’m a cartoon!’ which made the Britten Studio shriek. It was so good to remember that poetry, although often serious, does not have to taste like cod liver oil.

Sunday – the collections of Sam Willetts, Fady Joudah and Andrea Porter

My last event of the weekend featured three first poets presenting their first collections.  I was overjoyed to see that they were all over forty, therefore there is hope for those of us who come to poetry a little later in life.

Sam Willetts is ‘famous’ for the ten years he spent as a heroin addict. He quoted Beckett in the preface to his reading from New Light For the Old Dark: ‘It passed the time, but the time would have passed anyway’. His poems were indirectly about drugs, charting lost relationships and dead-end jobs, such as his time working with a rag and bone man.  The poem about piles of salvaged furs in a freezing warehouse appealed to me -I’ve got a thing about work poems that allow us into unusual occupations, and this was vicarious labour par excellence.

Fady Joudah read his own work from The Earth in the Attic. Joudah is a Palestinian-American who works as an ER physician in Houston, Texas. He has also worked in Africa for Doctors Without Borders, and his poems describe operating theatres, refugee camps, and soldiers committing sex attacks.  I listened, wondering about Western poets who attend workshops and take part in writing exercises in order to tempt a jaded muse. Joudah’s poetry is fuelled by an insistence that we should see what he has seen. For him, as for Zaqtan, poetry is an imperative.

If I was close to deciding that Western poets often write about trivia, Andrea Porter made me reassess that assumption. In A Season of Small Insanities, Porter addresses brutal aspects of modern life.  In ‘Night Shift at the Petrol Station’ she records her daughter’s job, which included putting black modesty wrappers on porn magazines. ‘Haike With Her Dictionaries’ portrays a friend who worked as a simultaneous translator for the War Crimes Commission:

They brought six soldiers here. They dragged six boys here.
They executed them here. They shot them here.
Gesture left to speak.
They buried them here. They hid them here.
Gesture left to speak.
Pause. Rewind. Play Kosovo.

Her most personal series of poems was about a fatal car crash, caused by a drunk driver, in which Porter lost her partner and her unborn twins. If there is grief to be charted in Africa and Palestine, Willetts and Porter show that there is also grief in England.

I wasn’t able to attend a conversational exchange between Reid and Anthony Thwaite, but I am told they spent some time listing out their favourite bedtime reading.  A canon of international poets from Eastern Europe to South America was mentioned, but not one single woman poet counted among their influences.  I’m afraid that preoccupation with the usual suspects shows in their work.

Coming back next year?

The three of us who shared a seaside cottage for the weekend were all Aldeburgh newbies, and we all want to go back next year. It was exhilarating to spend so much time listening to very high quality poetry.  There were lots of events I missed; the fifteen minute close readings, for example, that I’d like to make more of next year.  I hope the festival takes over the enormous Snape Concert Hall with even more poetry.  I was left reflecting on the atmosphere of the event.  There was nothing much for children, there were none of the fun poetic sideshows that livened up last summer’s Poetry Parnassus. There were no collaborations with visual artists or musicians.  The formats of the events I attended were unremittingly similar – three mainstream poets and a lectern.  There was no slam, not enough workshops, and no bandstand for open mic busking.  There is so much more the Poetry Trust could do with this, the largest poetry festival of the annual calendar, to showcase the whole world of spoken word.

‘Muses Walk’ by Christodoulos Makris

In Pamphlets on July 24, 2012 at 9:13 am


-Reviewed by Rishi Dastidar

Where do you find your muse? Can you find it on a street? And if a street is destroyed, can you use words and pictures to begin to rebuild it, and not just your memories, but other people’s?

These, and other questions, are obliquely posed in Christodoulos Makris’ limited edition chapbook Muses Walk. It is more than just a chapbook though. Makris has described it as artist’s book, and also a ‘performance’, in the sense that he has no plans to reprint in its current, lovely form: 32 A6 pages, hand-bound, on heavy, ivory card.

This emphasis on the form the words are delivered in is important because it is also a tribute to the power of literature, and a specific street where it was challenged. On 5 March 2007, a bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, the historic centre of bookselling and intellectual and literary life in the city. Located in a mixed Sunni-Shia area, bookshops, outdoor stalls, cafes and stationery shops were destroyed – with 30 people killed, and over 100 injured.

Makris, Cyprus’ representative in the recent Poetry Parnassus in London, was one of 250 writers and artists around the world asked to produce something to re-create the ‘inventory’ of some of the physical stock that was lost in the attack.

His starting point is one of his existing poems, from his last collection Spitting Out the Mother Tongue, and a rather tricksy challenge: writing a new poem based on, or inspired by, each line within the poem ‘Muses Walk’. It’s almost a form of exegesis on his own work, or rather, an attempt to create a ‘para-poem’, the ‘poem’ that’s lurking within every line of an already existing poem.

‘Muses Walk’ the poem is, in Makris’ words, ‘an attempt to write a specific street in the centre of Nicosia as it stood at a (less) specific period of time’. Short, sharp lines butt up against observations made by a cold, detached eye, which doesn’t miss a thing:

‘The white hour.
From beyond the buildingtops the muezzin’s call spikes the air.
Rows of shop owners push up steel shutters.
At the confectioner’s, apprentices observe displays of cake-making: layers of
marzipan, fresh cream splashed thick in between, brushings of syrup,
flourishes with jelly.
Cold water runs on tap.’

As it turns out, these and the rest of this poem, are all intriguing jumping off points for his new poems. Makris does not limit himself in terms of form in these creations: prose, staccato couplets, even bulleted lists. Dotted through the chapbook are also low-resolution, black and white photos of different scenes – a shop window’s shutters, street signs, porticos with flagpoles and statues – which gives the whole project an attractive air of WG Sebald, and his epic journeys.

Where the conceit of the chapbook works best is when there is space in the original line for the para-poem to take wing itself, and find its own way. Take ‘In a bookshop pervaded by dust an old man sits alone leafing through miscellanies and maps’; now, we have a chance to meet the old man:

‘The Russian knows about facts
and about books, about the histories
of countries and about how things
were made – or became. He’s not

Russian at all, they say, it’s just a name’

And it’s the little moments that one spies out of the corner of the eye that really snag, like ‘no matter / how many lemons are crushed / beneath his feet // they still itch’ in ‘Columns of ants carry bits of potato chips to their nests’. Makris also doesn’t just stay in the one locale. It’s a breathtaking moment when, in ‘A narrow corridor leads to a cramped office space among dense columns of textile rolls; at the back, a hole on the floor is the only decent toilet on the street’ when suddenly we have moved countries: ‘and drizzle that swamps / my baguette – / the new phone captures Paris’.

Sometimes Makris’ showing around his street falls into telling, like the over-eager tour guide who grips our hand a little too firmly while taking us round an unknown town. But generally, the notion of the street as a muse is artfully explored through these sixteen poems, and Makris strikes an excellent balance between a sharp, urban sensibility, an unhurried languor and an elegiac air which reminds us that, even on our streets, there are always stories to be found, to be recreated and to be inspired by.