Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Spoken Word’

Review: She Grrrowls! Spoken Word Launch Party 11/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

– reviewed by Irina Jauhiainen

she grrrowls

She Grrrowls! Spoken Word launched on Wednesday 11th of September. The pilot night’s theme was Politics, which seemed a little scary in the context of a female spoken word event – but this poetry performance fan was happily surprised by the variety of performance as well as the excellent quality of the night.

A rather charming hipster-ish venue …

The show took place at The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It seems like a hipstery café that would be lovely to have lunch in, but needs quite an effort to transform into a performance venue. The café’s large tables make it a rather clumsy audience space. The best way to be comfortable is to get to the venue early, have some food (the menu looked fantastic) and sit at a table before the space gets crowded. There was a slightly late start for the show due to technical problems and organization issues, but since the number of open mic performers was relatively low (as you can expect on a pilot night), the show was not too badly delayed.

A political kind of poetry …

Host Joelle Taylor kicked off each half performing her own work. Out of all the performers that night, Taylor was probably the closest to what I expected from a politically themed female spoken word night, but definitely in a good way. It was a pleasant surprise that while this was advertised as a female spoken word event, there were still men in the open mic who were willing and able to contribute to the night’s themes. While the themes of politics and feminism were present in most of these performances, clichés were successfully avoided and a wide range of issues regarding equality and social justice were brought up. The great thing about events like this is that you’re bound to get like-minded people in the audience; the atmosphere was incredibly supportive. There was a feeling of ‘yes-I-want-to-change-the-world’ in the air and it’s hard to imagine anyone left feeling angry or depressed about social injustice, since the performers conveyed their social agenda with just the right amount of optimism and hopefulness.

A stunning blend of styles and subjects …

Poetry workshop organiser Momina Mela and winner of London Teenage Senior Slam Aisling Fahey featured in the second half. These brilliant poets provided a contrast for the slam-style of the open mic with beautifully crafted and literary poetry performance. While neither of the feature poets were overtly political, both had a feminine and feminist viewpoint behind the poems that engaged beautifully with the event’s focus. The night was structured so that the open mic took place in the first half and all of the features in the second, which worked so well particularly because there was such a clear distinction in style of performance. Especially in themed events it is rare to achieve such a variety of styles and subject matters – this night was definitely successful in keeping the audience interested and wanting to hear more.

And ending on a high note …

The night finished with a lovely, uplifting and not at all political music performance from Sunshine in Mae. Lead singer Sula Mae entertained the audience during set-up by telling cheese-related jokes. It must be said in the defence of the venue that with its complications in transforming into a performance venue, the Gallery Café has a stage big enough to accommodate a full band, which is a major bonus and not exactly easy to find, so it was a very nice and rare treat to hear a full band with double bass and all. Sunshine in Mae‘s happy lyrics were a perfect pick-me-up on a rainy autumn evening and ended the show in great spirits.

A wonderfully entertaining and inclusive event …

The next She Grrrowls! Spoken Word event will take place on Monday 18th of November, and follow each third Monday of the month. Entry fee is £5, but admission is free for those reading at the open mic. Next month’s featured acts will be Sophia Walker, Greta Bellamacina, Sarah Perry, Sarah Arnold and Hannah Rose Tristram. She Grrrowls! is certainly not only for female spoken word artists, as the brilliant launch night proved, and the organisers undoubtedly have a great taste in performers and the right contacts to put on more nights just as amazing as the first.

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Review: Stand Up and Slam 17/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 3, 2013 at 9:22 am

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

stand up and slam

Stand Up and Slam at The Comedy Café, Rivington Street

Poetry vs Comedy

At this inventive and energetic new monthly night Chatback Comedy Club and Canterbury’s Poet Laureate, Dan Simpson,  have teamed up to create a slam concept with a difference. Pitting the best of London’s Stand Up and Poetry performers against each other they hope to create a compelling hook to get audiences from both scenes involved.

They have also bagged themselves a fab monthly venue in the heart of Shoreditch. The Comedy Café, tucked away on Rivington Street , is cosy and fairly unintimidating.  So far, so good. This event is definitely the sort of thing you can feel very cool inviting people to. Trendy bar. Tick. Plenty of folks in rolled up jeans and chunky knits. Tick. Overpriced beer. Tick.

But what about this Poetry vs Comedy idea? It sounded good enough to give it a go, but to be honest I was dubious as to how hosts Dan Simpson and Paul Sweeney were going to pull it off. My main reservation was how can you compare two art forms that on the surface are so different? Surely the audience will simply see the good in both performances and be unable to choose between them?

As the night got underway however it was clear that however successful or otherwise their slam concept proved to be in the end, Dan and Paul were definitely going to entertain us! Playing to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, Dan was the straight man to Paul’s quirky tongue in cheek character (a loveable prat). The two hosts were slick, well prepared and quickly built a witty rapport with the audience, playing off each other’s exaggerated onstage personas.

The Heats

The event was split into 3 rounds, each with a nicely timed bar break between them. Round 1 was between Canadian comic John Hastings and rapper/poet Charlie Dupré. John was charismatic with a relaxed storytelling style of comedy, he combined fresh capricious punch lines with effortless charm.  As I had predicted to myself all three poets decided to perform work with a comedic edge.  Charlie’s laid back performance allowed for the dry humour in the pieces he chose to come across naturally and the audience appreciated his clever pairing of comedic stories with pithy rhymes and metric wisecracks.

At the beginning of the evening a member of the front row had been picked out to decide a winner at the end of each round based on the audiences’ reaction. The hosts used this feature to ham up their links, competing with each other to impress her through gifts and well- timed compliments. However when it came to the  actual judging she was asked, in front of the whole crowd, to choose between each act and this felt uncomfortable. By the end of round 1 I already felt like there was little point to the slam element of the evening, with such good performances and a great atmosphere in the room why bother picking a winner based on such a flimsy judging idea?

As the evening progressed the quality of acts continued to be extremely high however. The line-up was carefully balanced and showcased a range of different styles across both art forms. Next up was poet Rob Auton and impressionist Anil Desai. Bang said the Gun poet Rob’s poetry is brilliant and he has a unique onstage persona; he’s naturally hilarious and never does what you’d expect.  If you have never seen him before, he’s quite simply wonderful.  Fresh from winning Best joke of the Fringe, Rob is quietly confident on stage and is a master of the well timed pause; the only downside to his sets is that if you have seen them before you are unlikely to encounter much new material. Rob was a great addition to the line- up because his work genuinely crosses the borders between the two art forms.

Anil  was totally different but equally talented and this was definitely the most inspired pairing of the night. Asking a member of the audience to read out names from a pack of cards he romped through his take on these different personas at an impressive rate. He was great to watch as he had the ability to make himself look like each character as well as speak like them. He combined this talent with witty material which was a little hit and miss but generally a great crowd pleaser.

After another break I noticed the audience had started to dwindle and this was a shame. I felt like this was another bad mark for the slam concept, because if they had not been confined to rounds the event could have been shorter, allowing Dan and Paul to distil the best elements of the night into a tighter format.

As it was, although I enjoyed comic Dan Schreiber’s engagingly geeky set and Keith Jay’s articulate, rhythmic poetry, I was quite glad when it ended a little before 11pm. Again, however, what made it worth staying for was the satisfying pairing of two completely different performers which was thought-provoking as well as entertaining.  Dan’s style was very relaxed and cerebral for a comic and Keith managed to successfully bridge the gap between making a few jokes and retaining the integrity of his own poetic style.

The Result

This event worked despite the slam element being, for my money, unnecessary. The pairings were interesting to compare and contrast each act, but to assume the audience needed a competition felt like dumbing it down, when the night was entertaining enough to move between the two genres, soaking up the enjoyment to be found in both.  The slam also meant that the poets had to compete with the comics for laughs and the line-up reflected this. The poets chosen were all very funny as well as good poets, but there are plenty of amazing poets out there who aren’t good at jokes and I’d love to see some of them on this stage!

This event was extremely good fun and succeeded because of the interesting mix of high quality performances which allowed the hosts to showcase  talent and variety across the two art forms.

My opinion? Ditch the slam and continue to book great artists for this fresh, highly entertaining midweek event! And with the next Stand Up and Slam coming up tonight (Thursday 3rd October), why not give it a go?

Review: Landscape II by Melanie Wilson

In Performance Poetry on October 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

– reviewed by James Webster

The thrum of deep base sound ebbs away, leaving only a ring of tinnitus. The lights retreat to a dim glimmer, the shivers stop running down my spine, and the audience audibly exhale. We’re about two thirds of the way through Melanie Wilson‘s haunting multimedia poem, and she’s holding us on a knife edge.

When we reach the end, spines thoroughly chilled and edges of our seats somewhat worn, the silence is palpable. There’s a distinct feeling that we’ve just been taken on a journey, carried away by the tides of Wilson’s story, submerged in her words and soundscapes. This mesmeric story merges together three different strands of narrative (a photographer, her great-great-grandmother and the woman she photographed in Afghanistan) that flow in and out of one another, all layered over a rich and discordant soundscapes and vividly absorbing video.

It’s a stunner of a show, overwhelmingly immersive, fascinatingly reflective and frightfully tense.

A variety of tools to shape a show …

Wilson uses some incredible technology to shape the show. Evocative images, in beautifully rendered video, are projected onto the massive screen that makes up the venue’s entire back wall, and they draw your gaze, showing you some key imagery, while also dancing round the edge of the story (we see feet, hands, the back of a neck, a cloaked figure, close-up of a spider’s web and the Devon landscape in first person). The electric cacophony of Wilson’s soundscape surrounds us, pulses under our skin and vibrates through our bones, as it plays with contrasting harmony and discord, noise and silence, thickening into an almost physical atmosphere around us. And the sounds of the story (a fox’s yelps, the click of a camera shutter, the bumps and groans of an old cottage, the sound of steps behind us) leap out at us at unexpected moments, provoking repeated shocks of static up the spine and surprised gasps of fear. The set, too, plays its part, with a hardwood floor, table full of letters, photos and technical equipment; it gives proceedings an intimate feel, as if you begin the show sitting in someone’s living room, with Melanie Wilson seated behind the desk, whispering to you through the microphone …

There’s an element of the puppet-master around Wilson’s performance …

As she sits behind the desk almost spider-like, visibly operating the sound and video, shooting out strands of story to ensnare us. All the aspects, the video, sounds and Wilson’s own voice, come together into one powerfully moving tale, each element blending with the others to enrich the sensory experience that presses in on us. It’s consummately done, Wilson’s carefully controlled voice always informing, but never overpowering the visuals and audio, instead it seems to drift out, directly into our brains, falling to a taut whisper and rising to fraught emotion.

It all streams very nicely around the narrative – and around us too – with moments of quiet reverie contrasting against the sudden bursts and threat that reaches into your gut and tugs at you. Together, the visuals and sounds merge with her voice, getting under our skin and leaving it tingling as we’re immersed in the story and the character.

It’s a story that you can lose yourself in …

The writing is clever and thoughtful, constructing a stirring and sparse language with a fragile kind of poetry to it. It’s kind of haunting and kind of gorgeous, leaving a lot of feeling unsaid behind the words, feelings that are fleshed out by the show’s multimedia elements. To use her own words, her turns of phrase “radiate their secrets like old gold”, trickling into our ears and then later building to a rushing surge for the piece’s finale.

The pacing and structure of the show is just right, each stream of the story has just enough meat on its bones to keep you involved. Wilson fills in the blanks of the three women’s backgrounds gradually, like a puzzle, letting them gradually build, before the different strands come together in a crashing crescendo.

And as they all come crashing over us, the sound builds into a rhythmic thump that comes up from the floor and vibrates through your bones into your chest, while the words wash over you and the video flashes with its interconnected imagery and it feels like we’re caught. As if we’re held in this intense moment and suspended in Landscape II’s narrative. But it passes, and the show ends on a quiet, contemplative note that leaves us with plenty to mull over.

Overall, this is an always involving and often scarily intense show …

It tells an intricate, otherworldly and profoundly moving story. While its high concept may not be to everyone’s taste, everyone will agree that the tech is phenomenally done, and it is definitely a hugely enjoyable and interesting way to spend an evening.

Landscape II is on at the Burton Taylor Studio tonight as part of its ongoing tour (presented by Fuel) that also takes in Exeter, Crewe, Brighton, Coventry and more. I strongly advise you to catch it if you can.

Review – SPOKEN: A Night of Poetry and Spoken Word

In Performance Poetry on September 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

– reviewed by Hayden Westfield-Bell –

Spoken

Feat. Michael Pedersen | Jenny Lindsay | Colin McGuire | Lach (Steve Rogers)

The venue, the atmosphere …

Tucked away just off from the Water of Leith, Sofi’s Bar is a cosy collection of hard stools and cushy sofas. Candles flicker on tabletops and textiles twitch in the fresh wind that blows in from the open door. The mic is set, amps buzz with anticipation, the stools arranged in solid lines slowly fill with readers and writers. Lach takes centre stage.

Lach: rich in voice and rhyme …

He ambles up and reverbs his way through his first poem. Settings are adjusted, but he’s got a voice that carries and feels more comfortable closer to the bar. He scrolls through his poetry on his phone and picks out a poesy rich in rhythm and rhyme, his voice rich with USA beat culture and references to New York bars and clubs. He stands how he reads; a kind of swagger, kicking in comments about other gigs and how he feels out of place without his guitar (some of his music can be found here). A few non-poetry folk walk out of his set: ‘I’ll teach them to leave’ he says, he flicks wildly through his phone and reads an appropriate poem about a place exploding into action after an unnamed character leaves. He throws his weight behind his poetry, slipping in colloquialisms and adding bass beats. And he’s easy with his humour too, one piece wrestles with a familiar topic in ‘Poster War’, eliciting giggles from an audience well-versed in the papery particulars of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Colin McGuire: an intense, live wire performance …

We pause for pints. The sky darkens a little, then Colin McGuire steps up and launches into an energetic set of Glaswegian incidents, gesturing at the crowd dramatically and pulling at the mic; spitting sex and alcohol across the audience. He’s all voice, and the mic can barely hold him on stage. Twisting, shouting, arms flailing, like electricity’s shifting through his body and lighting up his eyes. He’s a fire of rhyme and rhythm with a great sense of humour. His poetry engages and explores the world of drink and sex, rich with vivid (and disturbing) imagery that thickens in the imagination, testing the boundaries of the audience. He delivers lists of lines that pile onto one another; surreal photos on an unmade bed.

Jenny Lindsay: a dark kind of magic …

A break. The crowd thickens. More candles are lit and the flickering lights behind the mic begin to produce effective light. Jenny Lindsay shuns the stage for a more casual bar-lean, sipping her pint and selecting her poetry. She starts with the dark and cynical and forages through the difficult folds of love and loss. She gestures delicately with her hands, as if plucking the words from the air about her. There’s a round of applause, she flicks through her poems and muses as to whether she has anything positive. She paws the air like a cat, pauses for dramatic effect and brings delicate situations to life with a tilt of the head and a flick of the wrist. She finishes with ‘The Truth’, a touching poem exploring the leftover memories of a lost relationship, moving from socks to Battlestar Galactica and back again, always exploring familiar details, sharpening the magic of a delicate moment, Jenny’s poems feel both intensely personal and intimately familiar; approachable, memorable and heartbreaking.

Michael Pedersen: a man with a mic, a message and a great sense of rhythm …

A last break then Michael Pedersen wanders on stage. He takes the mic (because he likes the sound of his own voice) and launches into ‘Jobseeker’. The pace builds through alliteration and assonance and he keeps hold of a strong rhythm through good use of brief pauses between words. His hand clutches the microphone as he muses on walking into the Job Centre and meeting Neil; ‘thinning silver hair and evocative paunch cast a hostile shadow.’ Michael finds a vivid magic in this most mundane of all environments, describing in detail the psychology of the environment and the defeatist nature of JSA, whilst remaining light and humorous. He gestures, swings the mic about himself and uses the stage confidently, moving swiftly through his set and provoking smiles all round.

SPOKEN was full of talented poets, with real atmosphere, and was the first of (they hope) a number of performance poetry and open mic events at Sofi’s Bar, Leith.

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix-Up and We Are All Orange Ghosts

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

As poetry is, like much writing, an essentially solo activity it is not surprising that many performance poets, after several year on the circuit, will eventually feel like the time is right to develop a one person show. Many careers have been launched after successful shows, Kate Tempest and Luke Wright being the most obvious recent examples.

This year several London poets who could all be described as ‘emerging’ are taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe; Paula Varjack, Rob AutonDan Simpson and Keith Jarrett amongst others. I managed to catch Dan Simpson and Keith Jarrett’s shows which are both part of PBH’s free fringe 2013.

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First up: We are All Orange Ghosts – by Dan Simpson

This show has recently finished its run after 16 consecutive shows. Putting the ‘One Man’ into the proverbial title Dan Simpson did everything himself from set up, costumes, props, music and welcoming guests. He was chatty and friendly as we arrived, efficiently organising himself whilst putting us at our ease. He started by introducing the premise of the show as a ‘lecture’ about Pac-Man interspersed with poetry and complete with the inevitable teaching aid, a flip chart!

Dan’s persona as the geeky Pac-Man lecturer was instantly likeable and warm, but not overdone. He started the performance with a neat, tongue in cheek delivery of his Pac-Man rap introducing the slightly pathetic character of Clyde the Orange Ghost. As the show developed he presented a parallel between this character and himself and with people in general, using Clyde as a representative for human vulnerability. Over an hour he delved into his own past using poetry largely inspired by his childhood, alongside a story written when he was a teenager, to illustrate his carefully considered points about growing up, finding yourself and happiness. His performance was earnest, heartfelt and had moments where it was very easy to relate to. The strengths of the piece lay in entertaining, image rich poetry which he used to tell his own story, picking out funny stories and giving us a sense of his character as well as how he has come to see the world and his place within it.

Although Dan was charming and very likeable, I felt the show could have benefited from less explanation and more direct engagement with his art form. He used the lecture format to express thoughts and feelings that could have been more deeply explored through the sort of poetic storytelling that he so effectively showcased at other times. By choosing not to use his poetic expertise more thoroughly the show floundered a little bit in places and occasionally lacked impact. We are All Orange Ghosts was undoubtedly a little unpolished, but showed great potential as an interesting exploration of identity and happiness.

Star rating: 3/5

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Next up: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix Up – by Keith Jarrett

This show was a very interesting contrast to Dan’s piece. Delivered in an entirely different and less formal way, Keith’s show took a more straight forward format as a series of poems and linking sections. This meant that it was easy to focus on the poetry itself (which explored very similar themes to We are all Orange Ghosts) and although Keith did include costumes and props that I felt were largely unnecessary.

Keith chose to develop and deliver poems that focused on specific issues, all of which impact upon a person’s sense of identity e.g. name, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, and disability. Like Dan, he drew heavily on his own personal experiences from childhood and adolescence, building up a rapport with the audience using no obvious persona other than a public version of himself. He delved into stories about his background and upbringing in lyrically rich poems, charged with emotion, passion and lots of humour. He played around with different characters, for example the differences in himself from weekday school boy rapper to smartly dressed Church goer on Sundays. He tackled controversial issues head on with tongue in cheek humour, I found his ‘gay’ poem was particularly clever: asked in the past why he didn’t have a ‘gay’ poem he wrote one in the guise of the poem itself being confused about its own sexuality. This is a great example of Keith’s ability to turn an interesting twist on a subject, making the audience see it from a different and unexpected perspective.

Star Rating 3/5

Both shows were a delight to watch for slightly different reasons. Identity Mix Up was less conceptual than We are All Orange Ghosts and benefited from this simplicity. Both poets are consummate storytellers and approached their subject matter with honesty.

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Charlie Dupré – The Stories of Shakey P

In Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

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The Stories of Shakey P – Shakespeare Remixed

The first piece in this hour long Shakespearean remix see’s Charlie Dupré present the world’s most famous Elizabethan playwright as a rapper. Leaping onto the stage with characteristic energy, Charlie goes straight into his first story with very little preamble. He presents Shakespeare as the underdog in a playground rap battle against an older bully, Marlowe. Shakey P ultimately triumphs because of better insults, tighter plot lines and more enduring posthumous popularity.

Thus begins an intense hour’s retelling of some of the bards most famous plays including Othello, Richard III, Macbeth and Hamlet.

A Cerebral Approach

It is a well-known fact that much of Shakespeare’s verse is written in iambic pentameter. The five beats to the bar rhythms were develop by early writers because they closely mirror the natural pace of speech and this form of metre is one of the most popular forms for verse to take; period.

In this fast paced poetic romp Charlie uses this fact to his advantage by cleverly contrasting the iambic pentameter with its four beats to a bar alternative the iambic tetrameter, commonly used as a basis for much rap music.

The result is an immediately accessible performance. Intersecting his stories with helpful explanations and insightful asides the show feels, at times, like a GCSE English class, albeit the coolest one you’ve ever had.

Multiple Characters

Charlie slips effortlessly between multiple characters and voices to tell his stories. He hooks each retelling on a different premise, Richard III is told through his ‘counselling sessions’, Othello compared to Eminem’s stalker hit ‘Stan’ and so on. Some poems are more polished than others but all command attention for the original way they tackle very familiar storylines. Reminiscent of the comedic Reduced Shakespeare Company, these poems distill the key themes and plotlines of the plays into witty vignettes.

The Music

In another interesting twist Charlie is accompanied by Oliver Willems and Oktawia Petronella on strings. The double base and violin are used throughout the piece to create a soundtrack to the pieces, the contrasting tones of the two instruments used to differentiate character and mood. This both helps Charlie to build on the drama of his performances and also takes the idea of Shakespearean rap that one step further, imagining what sort of instruments available in the 16th Century could create the right backdrop for spitting rhymes like a modern day MC.

The Verdict

Teachers all over the country should know about Shakey P! A fantastically entertaining, energetic and fresh account of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, not to be missed! So if you did miss it at the Edinburgh Fringe this August, keep track of his website, Facebook or Twitter for future gigs.

Star Rating: 4/5

Review: Jawdance 26/06/2013

In Performance Poetry on July 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

-Reviewed by Lettie McKie– 

jawdance

So, who runs Jawdance then?

It’s run by Apples and Snakes, the only organisation dedicated full time to performance poetry in the UK, who are veterans of the spoken word poetry event. Running nights up and down the country they give many poets each year a much needed platform for performance at a huge variety of venues.

And how does Jawdance fit in?

Jawdance is their most regular and popular London night at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. It’s a free monthly open mic night where featured slots are often given to emerging poets alongside more established acts. On the last Wednesday of the month this event is chilled out and welcoming, a perfect place to perform your poems for the first time.

And who hosted it?

Effortlessly charming poet GREEdS was this month’s host, and he built an instant rapport with the audience . His reactions to performances were outspoken, but kind, which helped to create a playful atmosphere and put performers at their ease.

He sounds cool. Who else was performing?

The line- up of this particular event was disappointing. When running a regular event it is inevitable that sometimes the performances will fall flat and unfortunately, on this occasion (perhaps because the audience was a bit thin on the ground) the usual buzz was missing.

And what was the open mic night?

The open mic sections of the night were entertaining, with some promising talent and other downright bizarre performances. Regular performer Lucy Carrington was completely in her own world, but looked like she was having a marvelous time. Sophie Cameron is an accomplished poet, but her graphic language and overtly sexual imagery teeters on the edge between acceptably subversive and just plain tasteless. D’links stood out as one of the best performers of the night, her haunting, image rich poetry is ethereal in her smooth southern American accent and she pulls off lines such as “both killer and maker of dreams” that could so easily have bombed in the hands of a less soulful performer. She brought a friend up to sing along to her poetry, although his voice was good it was distracting from her deeply felt and thought provoking verse. The last poet of the evening, Torrey, was also very good, bringing the subdued audience to life with an hilarious poem about growing old (and having sex) disgracefully.

A nice mix then, so how were  the feature acts?

The first featured act of the night was an energetic duo called Ready Meal and Scratch Card (of the band: Anal Beard). They married quick quips, idiosyncratic storytelling and multiple characters in a set that had the potential to be very entertaining. However, their odd choice to ‘sing’ most of their poems in monotone, out-of-tune voices was dissatisfying. It would have been more interesting to put their poems to music or at least a recognisable tune, but instead their voices carried very little tangible rhythm and were grating to listen to.

The second feature, Paloma Heindorff was much more compelling; her impassioned set combined softly spoken delivery with story poems about love and other stuff drawn from everyday life, simple and unaffected. But I feel Paloma could improve by working on building more of a rapport with her audience and on developing more variety of pace.

But there’s more to Jawdance than just live poetry, right?

One of the best elements of Jawdance is their film screening slots. Apples and Snakes have recently been working with artists on a project called Wordsmiths and co-creating poetry videos. Jess Green’s film was a highlight of the evening. It shows her performing a poem that tells the story of a complicated friendship in a charming, raw and energetic style. She can’t keep still on the mic but her earnest and heartfelt verse is very charming.

So how was the last feature?

The last feature of the night was Chicago born Dominique Chestand. Although she is obviously a natural performer, with great comic timing her work itself was slightly disappointing. While she was much very entertaining when chatting with the audience before and in-between her pieces, the poems themselves were a bit hit and miss. She took a ukulele on stage, but only used it sparingly to create a beat, which seemed unnecessary. Although elements of her set were very interesting, for example a poem made up almost completely of noises rather than words that was reminiscent of beat box, some of the poetry was lacklustre in comparison to her bouncy personality. Although she has a great onstage presence this act was let down by some directionless content.

A mixed night then, but what’s your general opinion of Jawdance?

Jawdance is one of the best open mic nights around, professionally run and highly accessible. Although this night was not particularly successful it is credit to Apples and Snakes that they take risks with who they book, you never quite know what you’re going to get…

If you like the sound of the night then the next Jawdance  is coming up on Wednesday 24 July.

Review: Forget what you heard (about spoken word)

In Performance Poetry on May 22, 2013 at 9:30 am

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

forget

9th May Ryan’s Bar, Stoke Newington

Poetry in London is a bit like flat-pack …

One of the most inspiring things about performance poetry in London is that it is very DIY. New events are constantly springing up in every borough because groups of poets, in love with the scene and the diversity of talent on offer, decide they want a slice of the action.

Of course the inevitable downside of this is that there is a fair amount of competition between event organisers to attract audiences. With so many performers trying to get their name heard you often need to have some sort of unique selling point to draw a crowd. A lot of the most popular long standing events seem to have an edge, for example: Bang Said the Gun is quirky and raucous, whereas Chill Pill is, well, chilled;  poetry served up to a mellow sound track and laid back hosting style.

And Forget What You Heard‘s edge is …

Started in January 2013 by Stephanie Dogfoot and Matt Cummins monthly Forget What you Heard (about spoken word)’s USP is its friendliness. Whilst hosting, Matt grins ear to ear and hugs each performer warmly on their leaving the stage! Unless you live in the area, then making the trek to Stoke Newington’s Ryans Bar for this event could seem like too much effort for a midweek poetry night, but the welcoming atmosphere more than makes up for any stress encountered on the journey.

While, like the vast majority of open mic evenings, it inevitably started late, once the event got going it stood out for its warmth and a consistently high quality of poetry. Stephanie and Matt’s openness soon infected the audience who laughed easily and fell silent in all the right places. This meant that the first few poets to take to the open mic were greeted with enthusiasm and this enabled them to relax into their performances.

A broad spectrum of high quality poetry, starting with Rik Livermore …

Stephanie and Matt showed they understand the art of a good line up with three feature poets whose work was contrasting but complementary.  Rik LivermoreTalia Randall and Lucy Gellman are all from very different poetic backgrounds but brought together their diverse performance styles made for a varied evening, consistent and compelling.

Rik was first up with an impassioned set of largely new poems written whilst he’s been living in Switzerland for the last six months. His poetry was thought provoking and drawn from some painful experiences.  His best poem of the night was probably also the hardest to listen to, as it was an achingly honest, but ultimately positive, account of overcoming panic attacks. Some more poems with a lighter subject matter could have benefited this intense set, but with his deeply personal poetry Rik made a heartfelt connection to the audience.

Moving on to an enthusiastic and bright-eyed open mic …

The open mic was interspersed throughout the evening and dominated by a table of student regulars about to leave London for home in the States. They were a bright eyed group all with different levels of energy and confidence; sharing a buoyant enthusiasm for all the performances they made the open mic experience for everyone much less intimidating. One open mic poet who was particularly exciting to watch was Jason, a regular on the London circuit. His performance style is somewhat alarming, he shouts and leaps around, wielding the microphone like a weapon, but he’s completely unforgettable. His poetry mixes unsettling imagery with euphoric rhetoric delivered at break neck speed, he is a very unique performer.

Talia Randall: natural and evocative storyteller …

Rubix Collective member Talia Randall’s feature was the highlight of the evening. She performed several pieces from her recent EP 3 mile radius which explore themes of childhood memories, lost innocence and growing up. Talia is a natural storyteller who commands the stage with an understated delivery style, her poetry is colourful and evocative of events drawn from her own life.

And ending on a high note …

With almost three and a half hours of performances this night was slightly too long for an audience to sustain high levels of concentration  and by the start of the final third it had dwindled to a handful of stalwarts. In her late night set therefore Lucy Gellman’s had to keep the audience engaged. She was very funny and her poetry, rich in descriptive detail, with sensitive and surprising imagery did the work for her. Errol McGlashan was notable as one of the last open mic’ers of the evening, his delivery of the brilliant When Love Beckons by Kahil Gibran was affecting and he is very skilful at getting an audience to listen attentively, but it is always slightly disappointing when a poet doesn’t perform their own work.

Overall … an incredibly friendly and wide-ranging night, with consistently high quality, if a bit too long.

As Stephanie is off to travel the world on a shoe string the future of Forget What You Heard (about spoken word) is as yet undecided, but watch this space!

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 http://inkyfingersedinburgh.wordpress.com/!

HG

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).

RM

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.

HG

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.

HG

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!

HG

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.

RM

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.

RM

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.

TSR

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.

HG

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.

RF

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

RM

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!

RM

Review: Glasshouse by Kate Tempest 28/02/13

In Interactive Literature, Performance Poetry on March 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

– reviewed by Karl Niklas

glasshouse

Glasshouse, written by Kate Tempest, is a piece of forum theatre produced by Cardboard Citizens. It is currently touring hostels and various other venues and their next public showcase is at Rich Mix this coming Saturday 16th of March.

The worlds of performance poetry and forum theatre seldom meet, which is, to me at the very least, a little surprising. Both styles and art forms look to ask the questions that one often dares not ask, empowering both the audience and a performer with truths in the most unique of ways, and both certainly seek to challenge.

Those unfamiliar with Forum should know that once the main action of the play has finished, the designated ‘Joker’ or facilitator encourages the audience to make comments on the action, find moments where the action could be altered by characters making a different choice, and then bringing that audience member out to replace the actor and improvise the scene in this different direction.

This permission to voice truthful concerns plays neatly into the company’s choice to employ a performance poet as a playwright. Kate Tempest, the current ‘what’s hot’ in acceptable urban street culture, perhaps best known for her viral poem ‘My Shakespeare’, has penned a script that neatly combines and reconciles these art forms. Her style and voice come through most clearly during the impromptu monologues, though it must be said that on occasions her authorial voice cuts in too clearly, leaving the audience well aware that they are quite literally hearing someone else’s words in the characters’ mouths. The pointed ‘two fingers rap gesture’ even made a mild appearance.

The poems on their own paint a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets with nowhere to turn. Her style is classic performance poetry, dropped word endings, half rhymes and off beat rhythms, very much in the style of the New York scene, but bringing her English twists and idioms to the fold.

These aside, the actors handle Tempest’s script with aplomb, shifting roles with ease, making a whirlwind of the characters (please excuse) tempestuous lives. The play runs at a breakneck pace, perhaps a little conscious of the time limit needed for the full forum experience, and the need to fit in the three viewpoints that ultimately inform the scene that descends our heroine into homelessness.

Though the styles are neatly combined on the whole, whether the story itself is open enough for Forum is a different matter entirely. While there are obvious and fairly succinct moments that should be altered to make Jess’ life better, Tempest’s plot line is so neatly wrapped up that it feels like there is little room to move for those willing participants that come up from the audience.

This said, it is indeed an interesting experience to have the audience so involved in affecting the action. Ultimately the show works towards providing those audience members from the hostel with an experience that may have elements that reflect their own story, and the chance to help inform the characters will reinforce the knowledge of the real world services that work with the homeless.

Cardboard Citizens have created a wonderful show, filled with engrossing, chameleonic performances, most notably the fragile mother portrayed with a sublime and subtle frailty by Jo Allitt. In spite of the brilliant and charismatic Joker Terry O’Leary making her facilitating presence well known, the play itself falls short of the mark as a life changing piece of forum, but succeeds as a tightly knit drama that is performed with skill. It just never felt like we as the audience could change enough to make a real difference.

a picture of nights unwanted, disorientated figures struggling the streets