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REVIEW – ‘The Curious Dance Between Life and Death’ by Martin Dean

REVIEW – ‘The Curious Dance Between Life and Death’ by Martin Dean

[Reviewed by Leanne Moden]

Martin Dean is a poet with an incredible talent for lush descriptive imagery and the poems in his first collection, ‘The Curious Dance between Life and Death’, tackle the theme of mortality.

It’s an incredibly ambitious subject, and Martin explores it by focusing on individual moments, captured through his evocative words. The collection takes readers on a journey across differing time periods and geographical locations, but the underlying message is the same – life is strange, wonderful and precious, and death is an important part of that cycle.

While poems focusing on life and death could tend towards the maudlin, Martin’s work is engaging and uplifting, and many of the poems are inspired by real historical events and characters, which adds another layer of depth to the writing. We meet steeplejacks and soldiers, doctors and artists, fruit and planets, and it’s this juxtaposition of the large and the small that really brings the human condition into perspective.

Martin is an observant writer, always looking outwards into the world for inspiration. He is also an adept storyteller, and his writing is well-researched, with a historian’s eye for detail. There are also some intensely personal poems in this collection, and ‘Mother and Son’ is a particularly beautiful example, obviously pulled directly from the author’s own experience.

The theme of mortality is handled in a way that allows the poems to each look at the human condition from slightly different standpoints, and readers will finish the collection feeling uplifted, energized and inspired. ‘The Curious Dance Between Life and Death’ is a great addition to any poetry bookcase!

Find Martin’s facebook page at

REVIEW – ‘Haiku of the Dead’ by Alistair Lane

REVIEW – ‘Haiku of the Dead’ by Alistair Lane

[Reviewed by Leanne Moden]

Imagine if George A. Romero had written Dawn of the Dead as a series of delightfully witty, irreverent and gruesome poems, or if Capcom had made Resident Evil with an even more lyrical sensibility. Imagine if Sam Raimi had told the story of Evil Dead as a surreal public service announcement, and Ash spent the entire film kicking butt and talking in haiku. If that all sounds like good fun to you, then you will absolutely love this new poetry collection by Nottingham-based author and DIY Poet Alistair Lane.

REVIEW – ‘Haiku of the Dead’ by Alistair Lane

‘Haiku of the Dead’ is a tongue-in-cheek A to Z survival guide for the impending zombie apocalypse. It’s a fast-paced, funny book that shows readers what to do should they find themselves trapped in a town filled to the brim with the reanimated corpses of the undead.

Part self-help guide, part dystopian hell-scape, ‘Haiku of the Dead’ pokes fun at the stereotypes surrounding everyone’s favourite brain-eating monsters, and explores what it takes to survive in a hostile, unforgiving environment where everyone wants to eat you!

As you can probably guess, this is something of a comic parody of the zombie genre and while there are jokes aplenty, Alistair also manages to slip in some really interesting commentary about the nature of modern society. When the zombie apocalypse hits, problems like traffic jams, tax returns, bad dates and reality TV will no longer exist – so, it seems there’s always a bright side to the end of the world!

In fact, for a book about an Armageddon, ‘Haiku of the Dead’ is actually strangely uplifting, and Alistair is keen to emphasise that team-work, ingenuity and a little bit of cheeky love-making are all that we need to keep the zombies from the door.

It’s a great metaphor for life and, at its heart, ‘Haiku of the Dead’ is a book about our shared humanity. It’s a thoroughly good read too.

You can pick up your copy of ‘Haiku of the Dead: An A to Z of Survival’ by Alistair Lane, in for kindle or in paperback, from Amazon here:




States of Mind

States of Mind

States of mind

In his latest blog, DIY poet Martin Grey reflects on life changes, procrastination, exhaustion and stepping outside your comfort zone. For anyone trying to fit writing around nine-to-five working this is a real breath of fresh air.

Please do take a look.

REVIEW – ‘Rude Awakenings’ by Sue Allen

REVIEW – ‘Rude Awakenings’ by Sue Allen

[Review by Leanne Moden]

Sue Allen is a witty wordsmith with a talent for finding the Funny in every situation. ‘Rude Awakenings’ is her first collection of poetry, and it’s just as saucy as the title suggests.

There’s plenty of sex and rock & roll sprinkled throughout the book, and Sue does a great job balancing the surrealist pieces with the more serious poems. Whether she’s longing to be Johnny Depp’s string vest, lamenting the puckish nature of her own monkey mind, or thinking about a world where poets do all the town planning (Spoiler alert: it’s a wonderful place but not particularly practical!) this collection of poems has something for everyone.

And, when she’s not comparing men with bras or talking about very risqué alarm clocks, Sue’s poetry also has plenty of bite. Many of the more serious poems in the collection come from a place of female frustration, and her frequent references to fairy tales and witches show a writer interested in reality versus perception, as well as the shifting roles of women in society. Sue’s writing talks a lot about the power relationships between men and women, and her poems always have something to say about how we relate to one another.

My favourite poem in the collection, ‘Upsetting the Apple Cart’, is a rebellious call to arms for anyone who has ever been excluded, oppressed or forgotten, and the final poem in the book, ‘Margery’s Revenge’ is a fantastic ‘up yours’ to anyone who has ever abused their position of power.

There are plenty of laughs in ‘Rude Awakenings’ but there’s also plenty to get your teeth into, too.

Regular Poetry Events In Nottingham

Regular Poetry Events In Nottingham

Compiled by Martin Grey

I’ve been making a list of all the regular spoken word events in Nottingham. There’s 14 I know about. I might have some details wrong and might be missing some nights or have some that aren’t running, but it’d be good to fix any errors and have a full list for everyone 🙂

 Between The Shadow and the Soul – Pay what you can – City Arts – First Wednesday of every month – 7.30pm to 10.30pm – – is this an open mic?

 Blackdrop Open Mic– Free – Nottingham Writers Studio – First Thursday of every other month, February, April, June, August, October, December – 8pm to 10pm –  – is it currently on?


Chapter and Verse Open Mic – Free – Jam Cafe – First Saturday of each month – 4.30pm to 7.00pm –

 Crosswords Open Mic – £2 – The Malt Cross Caves – Second Wednesday of each month – 7pm to 10.30pm –

 DIY Poets Present incl Open Mic – £3 – The Maze – Second Thursday of every 3 months February, May, August and November – 7pm to 10.30pm – and

 DIY Poets Meeting – free – Broadway – 1st Wednesday of each month – 8pm-10pm – and

 Poems In The Pub Open Mic – Free – Bulwell Wetherspoons – First Thursday of every month – 7:30pm to 10:00pm –


Poetry Is Dead Good Open Mic – £3 – The Angel Microbrewery – Third Tuesday of each month – 7pm to 10pm – – currently taking a summer break

 Pottle Poetry Open Mic – Free – Pottle of Blues, Beeston – First Sunday of every month – 4pm to 6pm – – regular event?

 Nottingham – Psst Open Mic – Free – Jamcafe – First Monday of every month – 7pm to 11pm –

 Nottingham – Speech Therapy Open Mic – Pay What You Feeel – The Chameleon – Fourth Thursday of every month – 7.30pm to 11.00pm –


Nottingham – Totally Wired Open Mic – Free – Wired Cafe Bar – Not sure of recurrence – 6pm to 8pm – – is it currently on?

 Notttingham – World Jam Monthly Social Open Mic – Free – Nottingham Writers Studio – Last Sunday of each month – 4pm to 6pm –

 Nottingham – Writing Workshop – Write The Poem – £3 – Ugly Bread Bakery (near Cornerhouse) – Second Wednesday of each month – 5pm to 7pm – and

The Curious Dance Between Life and Death

The Curious Dance Between Life and Death

I am pleased to announce the release of my first collection of poems – ‘The Curious Dance Between Life And Death’.

Download a preview

The theme is inspired by a quote from Lao Tzu – “Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”

The opening piece of the book sets the scene as Jack progresses towards his last breath. From this poignant beginning ‘The Curious Dance Between Life And Death’ explores human experience as one thread viewed from different sides.

We progress through the exploits of an eighteenth century ‘ropeslider’ to the dangerous optimism of ‘Shimmering Pebbles’, an iconic photograph to the life of a severed head, and from an artist at play to a boyhood encounter with  public execution. We perceive too life through the eyes of a pear, and put ourselves in the shoes of the first human on Mars. 

“Spell-binding imagery and thought-provoking themes. Martin Dean is a talented writer and this book is a must-read!”

Leanne Moden – Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature

Buy your copy from me at any of my performances. Support live poetry.

Added by Martin Dean

DIY Poets Take Gate To Southwell Festival By Storm

DIY Poets Take Gate To Southwell Festival By Storm

DIY Poets have become a bit of a fixture at the Gate to Southwell Festival these days, so it was a pleasure to head back there for a Saturday showcase and a Sunday slam, where the winner would be crowned 2018 Bard of Southwell.

Review by Martin Gray

Under the red and white stripes of the Steeples Tent, with the stage being the grass in front of the ebbing and flowing crowd, our Andy Szpuk introduced six DIY Poets and three guests for long and diverse sets.

Clare Stewart told some beautiful poems about family and caring for others, while Al Lane, who didn’t bring his mankini, sensitively told us about his relationship with his Grandad and hilariously told us how to survive bring a modern Dad. Kevin Jackson unashamedly filled the tent with so much soul and texture that it nearly burst, while Martin Dean’s vivid images of a Russian classical music concert in Palmyra, Andy Szpuk’s tales of a Ukrainian Spiderman and Trevor Wright’s ride from the old Raleigh bike factory to Donald Trump’s prayer breakfast made it a very entertaining afternoon. I also performed, but it’s a bit weird to review yourself, so let’s move on.

Our three guests were in fine form too. Rob Dunford, a true salt of the earth Salford voice, gave us a great take down of Laura Kuenssberg and the southern domination of the Northern Powerhouse. Kezzabelle Ambler then inspired us with a rallying cry for diversity for National Hate Crime Week and how we can never be buried if we’re a seed. Finally, a last minute request saw a debut performance from Rachel Kenny, who read a 50 word story about revolution that was 51 words long. Wonderful stuff.

Afterwards, one of the audience told us that they weren’t expecting much but really enjoyed it, which was nice.

We moved to the Frontier Tent for the Sunday Slam, which was a bit like the Steeples Tent, except it was orange and red and had a full stage. Fourteen poets took to the mic for their three minute set, with each poet scored between 1 and 10 by three random audience members. The standard was very high and the poems came thick and fast, covering everything from weapon sales to solidarity with the Chechen LGBT community, via the politics of gender identity and a poem that name-dropped rivers from all over the UK.

Featuring first timers to old hands, DIY Poets to locals and an audience demand that Al Lane do his mankini poem as an encore, it was a fun afternoon. Hazel Warren and Sean Moore, the outgoing Bards of Southwell, weren’t there to defend their crown, with the new Bard of Southwell being me, actually. I was very surprised and happy that people liked my poem about grandparents and fish and chips as much as they did!

We all had a fabulous time at the Gate to Southwell festival and are already looking forward to next year. Hope to see you there!


The Bard Of Southwell 2018

The Bard Of Southwell 2018

Congratulations to DIY poet Martin Grey who fought off stiff competition to win the accolade ‘Bard of Southwell’ at the Gate To Southwell Festival 2018. His winning poem was a tender look back at his Grandfather, fish and chips and cigarettes.

Just Another DIY Night At The Maze

Just Another DIY Night At The Maze

Review of DIY Poets Showcase At The Maze May 10th 2018

by Jake Wildeman and Martin Grey

‘Just another DIY night at the Maze’… there’s two things wrong with that phrase. The first being ‘just’. This venue is a deeply special place, one of the most intimate you might find in Nottingham. Whether you’re here for music or poetry, you’ll find that there’s no barrier between performer and audience… it’s a wonderful feeling. The second problem is ‘another DIY night’. That makes it sound terribly unassuming. In fact, this was our thirtieth quarterly gig at the Maze, and rather a standout in my humble opinion. Opened warmly by the lovely first time compere Gwen Smith, it was underway.

Martin Grey

Martin Grey was the first poet called on and, much in the spirit of celebration, he revealed that five years ago to the day was his very first open mic performance, at this very event no less. He happily brought the audience into his initial piece, ‘The Night Beelzebub Went to the Pub’, asking for our participation before launching the poem itself. To surmise, it was traditional Martin… this is a man who I am not afraid to call punny as hell, but it was also a deliciously relatable and humanising look at the devil you know. Following up from that came an improvised poem titled ‘A History of Love’, which was without a doubt both skillfully crafted and shockingly affecting as much as it was entertaining, and a fine argument for more improvisation in poetry.

Next to the stage was the incredible Alistair Lane, who stepped straight into his opening poem. Here, Al was at his most romantic, weaving beautiful lines expressing almost painful longing, “My spark that jumps the synapse wants to jump to yours”, and ending on the affirmation that “love means making that connection with one, poetry with the many”. Naturally, it was then time for something completely different. ‘How Rude’ was a delightful piece with plenty of warm humour and just enough edge to appeal to everyone, serving as the middle ground between Al’s heart and his wonderfully comedic mind. He closed with the single greatest animal-focused title/refrain that you will ever encounter: ‘My Cat’s a Sexy Motherfucker’. Just try to argue with that.

After Al came a first time performer at the Maze and a recently inducted member of DIY, Jesse Freeman. This amazing young woman’s set was punctuated by her beliefs as an outspoken anarchist, and all the more powerful for it. First came ‘To Vote or Not to Vote…’, then ‘JC or Tory?’, both staggeringly even looks at modern politics and how the strings are being pulled on our “Pinnochio parliament”. Her third piece, though, was perhaps the longest and most impactful of the night. Titled ‘The Fucking Rant’, and initially started as a joke, this piece carried into a legitimate tirade against all the injustices of the world. It was proof that something seemingly meaningless can become all-encompassing, and that wisdom need not be eloquent… especially not with all those f-bombs!

Clare Stewart

Following Jesse was the delightful Clare Stewart, who began with what she described as ‘a very depressing poem’. It was indeed bleak, containing the absolutely agonising refrain “he drove in silence”. Doubling down on misery with her second piece, she went on to present a crushing portrait of a man whose dreams of writing simply cannot become real. To close, however, she chose ‘Oil Rig Woman’… a new-ish piece, with a delightful narrative and some wonderful imagery, focused on pool swimming conventions and respect for an immovable object. Having heard it a few times, I can safely say that it stays just as amusing.

To finish our first of three halves was Andrew Martin who, unusually, chose to do a non-political set but, as is his natural law, was wearing a waistcoat. The piece he chose, and indeed it was just the one, was titled ‘Nuclear Family’, and remained in his well-honed stream-of-consciousness style yet covered issues I’ve never heard from him before. Playing like a poetical autobiography, it was truly a beautiful shift from my expectations and was deeply touching to behold.

The warm atmosphere continued to thaw out the cup cakes that “might still be frozen” according to the aforementioned Clare Stewart, whose daughter Miranda had kindly baked them for us. Thirty cakes for the thirtieth gig at The Maze were now going fast.

Frank McMahon

There was only one person to kick off the second half, the only one of us who’d been to all thirty shows, Frank McMahon, who was in a good mood after seeing Wolves promoted back to the Premier League. “Jesus Saves”, inspired by a placard he saw in their celebration parade, told of how Jesus can save for a house deposit but for most of us it’s like turning water into wine. Using cycling, hot air balloons and Jude the Obscure, his poems meandered through gender inequality, the fear of performing from memory, real friendship and an episode of The Detectorists where they found a Status Quo badge.  A back of the net performance.

Daron Carey gets better every time you see him. With his shoulders spread wide and a voice that would project all the way to Finland, Daron confidently strode through two great poems. His fixed faced members of a travelling circus, the “Circus Symposium”, were a metaphor overload of struggle, harmony and living off gratitude, from the first fish to walk to Constantinople to Santiago the Serbian chef. For his second poem we spent time with two men, one his destiny, the other who he wants to be, and a childhood soaked in parallax. Daron’s words grabbed you and didn’t let go, we hope he comes back soon!
Jake Wildeman was next, our self proclaimed “poetry goblin” and a young guy with words well ahead of his years. His first poem took us into the minds of humans who don’t try to be human, where emotions are prohibited and imperfect urges threaten their rationality. Men with scythes and cheques who ride different coloured horses filled his second piece, “Horsemen”, a vivid allegory of our continual destruction of the world. Jake performed with a real humanity that contrasted with the lack of humanity depicted in his poems, delivering a set with real emotional depth.
John Merchant always improves your mood and tonight was no different. His poems often come in pairs, a secular version and a Christian version, tonight’s pair exploring the essence of our moral compass and faith. “For If” gave advice on how to find your peace of mind and then help others find theirs, while “Face It” told us how getting over problems will lead to better things and that most fears will never come to pass. John’s staccato lines and frequent rhymes were a real pleasure to listen to, leading to a fine performance all round.
Our final feature act of this half was Fay Deller, a strong female voice, which we like very much here at DIY Poets. In a very personal and powerful set, “Empire Windrush” told of her Windrush generation partner being coldly informed of their deportation in a citizens review, how after being integral to the rebuilding of the country they’re now told their welcome has been exceeded. Using direct references to the “No Irish, no dogs” days of yesteryear, she left you with a strong sense of injustice in your mouth. Her second poem, “Chances”, beautifully captured what can go through your mind when you have suicidal thoughts. Fay’s words made you really glad you were there to hear them, it was a great performance.
We also like an open mic at DIY Poets and were pleased to see a mix of nine new and regular performers ready to take to the stage. Laura kicked off with “Baby to Be”, a lovely little poem about two friends who will soon be first time mothers. Lolly Dean followed with a heartfelt tale of how kids don’t always bounce back as well as it’s claimed they do, with vivid images of getting bullied for receiving a free dinner and taking the longest way home from school expertly laced through the poem. She finished with “Parents”, about parents who wanted to have their kids taken away. A very touching, personal and relatable set. Then it was Ros, with a stage entry and mic freeing in one seamless motion, whose high energy hit you like a whirlwind and whose poem about recording bipolar disorder on a scale blew right into your social conscience. “I’m a six today, it must be the Prozac”.
Joy Rice brought the Nottingham dialect to the stage in “Bath Time in Basford”, when bath time was watching TV in a tin bath in the living room before drying out on an old Evening Post (now Nottingham Post). She then told us how her husband didn’t want to go on a cruise, so they compromised and went to Southwold instead. It were reet funneh midducks and nobody had a cob on afterwards.
Gwen Smith
Gwen Smith then celebrated how maths books look to complex universal questions in “Higher Maths”, then read a lovely little poem about how we change as birthdays pass, from our skin and teeth to our perspectives. “No more misery, please!” then shouted John Humphreys, referencing his recent forays into very dark poems. Instead, he offered us “entertaining misery” in his best Southern American drawl, about a fading devil riding hell’s lost highway and sinking the whiskey of the lonesome. Marvellous stuff.

Light and dark was Hazel Warren’s theme, first pondering how the darkness makes you feel and how to hide yourself within it, then pondering what happens to the fridge light when the door closes and how its glow makes you feel in “Midnight Snack”. Alex, aka Motormouf, said it was great that DIY Poets were still doing their thing after so long, then preached peace over guns with some excellent rhymes. It felt like he was only on stage for a moment, but his energy, support and positivity were very welcomed. Tish Tunbridge closed our open mic with two tiny poems, firstly about an old camper van that used to be her freedom, then a playful take on how we gather. “We gather our treasures near us, we gather we can make a difference.” Short and sweet poetry that hit the spot.

Every open micer was great and we hope to see them all again soon! We then came to our featured poet of the night, the incredible Sue Allen. What can I say about Sue Allen? Well, she is quite simply one of the most wonderful human beings I have encountered… so full of life, so terrifically and, I dare say, terrifyingly vital… she lives, exists and puts everything she has into existence. That is my summation of this amazing woman, and I’ve nothing but admiration towards her for that. She covered Sting, walking us across the face of the moon with a singing voice that wasn’t perfect but was undeniably real, human and made the words all the more genuine for it. She then moved into a mix of new and old works that could only be pinned together by the fact that they were very much ‘Sue’. ‘Monkey Mind’, with it’s fittingly foul language, ‘Meg’s Arse’, a hilarious show of storytelling that was short but honestly needed to be no longer, ‘About Growing Old’, which had a terrific flow and genuinely fearsome threat that she’ll “turn you into a slimy toad”!  Her newer poems, or at least those I hadn’t heard before, tended towards a more surreal bent. ‘Interruptions to a Quiet Night In’ was a stellar display of imagery, both unusual and disturbing, while ‘Inspired by My Garden’ painted a vibrant picture of an unholy shrubbery and a demonic rabbit. Seemed rather Pythonesque to me. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention ‘The Nine-Fingered Knife Jugglers of Derby’… let’s be honest, you only need hear the title to be intrigued. Her final few pieces were very much classics, including what I consider a trilogy: ‘Inflatable Man’ with it’s singalong segment, ‘Plastic Man’ with it’s loving contrast to the former, and the closing ‘Mankini Man’ filled with cringe-inducing pictures you can’t help but laugh at. All in all, Sue Allen was Sue Allen… the finest poet to’ve ever emerged from the depths of Mansfield, and perhaps even the only.

After that last assault on my status as a member of the male sex, we welcomed our musical guest… the poet Frank McMahon! Frank played us some beautiful instrumental pieces on his acoustic guitar, engaging with the audience between each to speak on his influences and provide context for the works he covered. It was the perfect way to close the DIY celebration, with a DIY musician.


Review Of SPEAK UP! April 25th 2018

Review Of SPEAK UP! April 25th 2018


 Reviewed by Andy Szpuk

Gaining entrance to a poetry event with a tin of sardines felt a bit surreal, like stepping out of a Salvador Dali painting, but of course this was a We Shall Overcome (WSO) event, so people were asked to bring food bank donations instead of paying admission. But, if it felt slightly bizarre, it echoed the extraordinary and outlandish evening of entertainment that was to follow.

WSO is a movement that began in 2015 after the UK general election, in the knowledge that the nation was about to be subjected to turbo-charged austerity. It had humble beginnings, initiated by a washing machine engineer in Scarborough called Joe Solo, who also sings and plays guitar. Halfway through the evening, Pete Yen, local WSO stalwart and supreme gig/event organiser stepped up to the mic to tell us that the movement is growing in strength and raising funds for good causes continues nationwide. He also thanked Stewart Halforty of People’s Assembly for his considerable contributions to the cause. Pete read a poem written by Joe Solo, ‘Why Are You So Angry?’ It was a great rendition, and captured the tone of the evening where political views poured forth, in between fractured lines of the idiosyncratic and wonderful.

The room filled quickly, and my eye line was punctuated by hats of various descriptions, Frank McMahon of DIY Poets sporting a Jeremy Corbyn type effort, Martin and Julian of From The Word Go wearing summery straw hats, and a few flat caps dotted around.

Martin and Julian opened with a taster for their headline act, with a quickfire poetry duet, with rapid exchanges and dainty wordplay, examining the relationship between land and money: ‘Is This Really The World That Money Bought?’

Next up we had 7 open mic poets. First up was Jake Wildman who treated us to ‘An Age of Heroes and Godkings’, which drew on literary images, and ‘Intoxicant’, about losing the self, which observed that losing the self can dull the senses. Then, Andrew Martin arrived at the mic, reading selections from his book ‘Echoes of my Mind’. He read a poem about Grenfell, then a Facebook poem, which examined data privacy and ended with a stellar line: ‘the tip of the Zuckerberg’, and completed his slot with ‘Men are from Bars’, examining gender stereotypes, men drinking, women knitting.

Martin was a great host and compere, but a feature of the evening was his need to readjust the height of the mic for each performer. He skilfully manipulated the audience into thinking he’d forgotten each time, and then coming to his own rescue, squeezing every drop of drama from the situation.

Jess Freeman jumped on stage next declaring a mission to deliver poetry that is personal rather than political, but she made every word count, on all levels, with ‘I’ll Still Be Here’, a cry of solidarity for those with damaged souls.

Manjet Sahota got on the mic straight after and served up a poem about the cheese riots in Nottingham in 1766, called ‘Dairyphobia’, it was a fine slice of rhyme, and he then read ‘Iron Queen’ about homelessness in Manchester.

Emma was up next with a ‘Love Letter to the NHS’, celebrating the heroics of health staff, a compelling picture that rang true completely.

Eleni jumped on to pour forth with an ode about water, all about a strong urge to be near the wet stuff, a strong tribute to H2O.

The open mic concluded with Jay Plus 4, a brief showcase of 2 projects: DH Lawrence and how he developed poetry, and Freedom. Jay recited ‘Manifestation’, observing that human connection can beat racism. Kenzi then took the mic to deliver a concise lyrical cry for freedom. Jay then flipped through his mobile to locate a DH Lawrence tribute poem.

Frank McMahon then took the stage, Jeremy Corbyn type hat still on head. Frank has now produced 10 books of poetry, and publishes 3 a year these days, probably the most prolific poet on the planet. Frank oozes nonchalant serenity, but also shows a thoughtful side, with cutting observations about the state of the world, and about his own life, with curled efforts of well-placed humour finding the top corner of the goal every time. He opened with ‘Guns of America’, then ‘Facebook Lies’, ‘Repayment’, and then ‘Jesus Saves’, which observed that Jesus may have been frugal, ‘turning mortar into wine’. Or maybe Jesus was the best shot stopper of his day.

Frank’s words threw out challenges to the routines and rituals of modern life, asking questions, expressing a gentle exasperation with the world. Frank asked if there were any Thomas Hardy fans in the audience. Not a single hand was raised, but Frank ploughed on regardless, explaining that Hardy’s work was pioneering in identifying inequality, with ‘Hardy’s Due’.

It was a typical Frank McMahon set, blasting quickfire through a landscape, around Britain and the rest of the world, and Frank concluded with ‘From Green to Black’, about his family’s journey from Ireland to the industrial smoke of Wolverhampton. Another fine set of poems from the man in the Corbyn hat.

Martin announced a short intermission, the first act completed, in the Understudy.

Open Mic Part 2 commenced with Toby playing guitar and singing his ‘bitter pirate music’. His theme was the bonds that families have, focussing on the aspirations of young men and reflecting on past family life. It was heartfelt and soulful.

John Humphreys took the mic next, informing us he’d come out of his zombie period, after a series of family tragedies, and was now an angry zombie. He read ‘Shouting at the TV’, all about the avalanche of commercials we are subjected to daily, and a tribute to singer Phil Oakes who took his own life, ‘While I’m Here’.

With any further pauses, Sophie Sparham, the second headliner, took the stage, wearing the chunkiest bobble hat I’ve seen for years. She proceeded to deliver a fine and diverse set of poems, reading from a scruffy pile of A4 sheets. She began with ‘O Come All Ye Faithless’, which was a hymn of solidarity for every loser in life. ‘Laura’ was then introduced, and a bundle of themes appeared, wage slavery, the banality of weather reports, victims of modern life, where another lonely girl dies in another lonely town, how freedom can be hard to find. Sophie took us back in time to Wilfred Owen and the first world war, and read an update of his famous poem, ‘Dulce and Decorum Est’, she gave us, ‘21st Century Dulce’, with a world war taking place in a pub. The bobble hat came off. Sophie reminded us that we are celebrating 100 years of women gaining the vote in the UK and we travelled through time, through the eyes of a suffragette. A stellar line imprinted itself in my head: ‘we are our own riot act’. Sophie pondered what might be achieved in another 100 years.

It was an intense and wonderful set, which threw light on some of the world’s problems but held on to more than a fistful of positivity. ‘Hold My Hand’ towards the end of her set was a touching and poignant piece about being different and struggling to find acceptance in a small community, trying to find the courage to be who you are.

From The Word Go took the stage, wearing mismatched straw summer hats, Julian playing the didgeridoo while banging a drum, while Martin talked to the rain, having a conversation with precipitation.

Julian passed a box around the crowd and asked everyone in the audience to write a word on it. This was to be returned to the stage later for processing.

Martin and Julian proceeded to have a conversation with each other, with one talking Italian, the other French, in an argument over who owned the brolly. It was Pinteresque stuff, and they completed a transaction for the brolly by haggling over which currency should be used. It felt symbolic of the state of Europe, with the cloud of Brexit hovering above.

We were treated to Julian’s juggling while Martin recited verse about how time seems to stand still and we jump through the same hoops. We got ‘Evad Should Be More Like Dave’, with rapid fire exchanges between Julian and Martin.

The box with words written on it was returned to the stage and Martin selected some of the words and constructed a poem from them, delivering a strong message of hope and connection.

The most poignant moment was the sketch about homelessness, which ended with Julian wandering through the first 2 rows of the audience asking for help. No one responded and that echoed how things are these days. It was a powerful moment.

It doesn’t get much more original than FROM THE WORD GO. Martin and Julian created a panoramic vista of entertainment that amused, entertained, but which also left questions hanging in the air.

It was a remarkable evening and undoubtedly one of the highlights of Nottingham Poetry Festival.

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