First half reviewed by John Humphreys:
Slightly disappointing audience numbers were more than made up for by the quality of the poetry on display. Opening with Lytisha who announced she had no politics and miserable poems the first called Anxiety and full of “what ifs”. Last Biscuit had a perfect economy telling of brothers being naughty but always missed. Of the other poems, one set in a library with a ‘chid in a big chair on her own private island’ was sprinkled with magic, a great set, proving misery can also be beauty.
Andrew our host gave us a bad joke so moving on to Kevin wearing a striking mohair protest jumper (sometimes you have to mention the clothes) he graced us with striking imagery in his anti-war poems. Life’s a Memory had its ‘sun starved colour’ while others ‘froze in charcoal’ and White Stretched in Stone had its ‘ceremony of tears’ whilst in Back to it ‘young faces march out to die again’. It is not the necessarily the familiar events that move us but these striking images that linger as new paintings in the mind.
Martin Dean gave a fresh take on Guy Fawkes, appropriately describing him as “the only honest person to enter parliament”. Great images and lines abound again with ‘I’m going to write a fire’ and where ‘November breath hangs like wool in the air’. This was followed by a medical text poem set “within the golden chamber” with the ‘journey of a golden tear’ and ‘tattered skeleton orphan song’, very stirring stuff that highlights Martin’s winning streak with words.
Next up is Gwen A relatively new and very welcome new female voice to DIY who writes of gardening and cutting off stem heads as metaphor for the rituals and intimacies of human relations, then ‘Blowhole’ and the stuck life of her mother in Herne Bay where “you know you’ve been beached”. Then to return to the garden for what Andrew rightly described as a “mesmeric account” of more ritual, revisiting the same characters of her first poem. Hurrah for these refreshing new perspectives from an obviously talented poet.
Then for something completely different with Martin Grey and friend AKA From The Word Go where its all in the hat and a clever, funny checkout riff where the machine has its own voice ‘disapproval needed’ – you had to be there I think I’d need to say at this point. If I say the set had a tale of a kitchen vigilante and another with a washing machine, including the line ‘tumble when its dryer’, you get the sense of the madcap comic antics at play. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
Last but never least in the first half was Claire starting with a favourite of mine in ‘Peace-nick’ with its ‘blossoming anger’, then moving into dreams and nightmares held in the forests of childhood with Terror. Bob Dylan’s misogyny was the flip side to his Noble Prize for Literature for the man with wives and mistresse in ‘the harem of the God’ – ouch! A new one ‘He drove in Silence’ unleashed the difficulty of father / daughter relationships to devastating effect and then more of this with ‘Sisters in Recovery’ hoping and wanting for a sister. As always it’s her slow detailed observance of everyday life that packs such a big punch.
An excellent first half full of quality in all its varied guises and alternative voices from such distinctive and distinguished poets.
Second half reviewed by Kevin Jackson:
John Humphreys started the second half with a bang, confronting the theme of citizen v the state in a heartfelt poem called “Not waving but drowning”. This poem cast a painfully sharp light on the battle for benefits on behalf of his brother summed up in the line “stripped naked in the headlights of the world”.
John followed this with an intensely personal poem called “Invisible”. Built of 3 sections featuring legendary monsters, hawks and rocks the poem conveyed not so much an individual feeling invisible as an entire world slipping out of sight, “almost extinct”, vanishing under “silted layers of time”.
To buy John’s outstanding poetry collection The Day I Swallowed the World, please contact him via DIY Poets.
The next poet was John Merchant. John’s first poem “Mind Existence” begins with the oft-quoted “we are what we eat”, teases out the implications of this idea and ends with the characteristically witty “which sort of turns the mind of its head”.
John concluded with the poem “Health Wealth” which uses the theme of money to focus on our values: “Where your heart is, that’s where you spend”. The poem ends with a direct appeal to individuals and politicians: “Consider us, make it fit”.
Frank McMahon, DIY Poet’s inspiring founder, was the next poet up. Frank took us through a pacy set of short poems, linked through their use of fantastical imagery. “Alcohol”, “Behind the curtain” (using a Wizard of Oz image to explore real friendship), “Spiderman versus Superman” and “The Hulk” (a look at masculinity gone wrong). In “Jack and the Beanstalk” the poet surveys childhood disappointments, concluding wryly: “The beanstalk was all talk”. Transience/aging was the theme of “Elastic Bangle”, (? not sure of title….), told through a collection of once-prized bangles drying out, breaking.
In “Dr Who Childhood” Frank shows a child’s view of parental arguments, including the chilling line: “She may as well have been screaming exterminate, exterminate”
The set ended with “House of Sweets”, a thoughtful look at addiction using the Hansel & Gretel story: “In no time at all there was no road to follow”.
The next poet Trevor Wright began with a topical poem “Ode to Donald”. Using the theme of brick-laying (“tamp it and tamp it until it’s flat”), Trevor revealed the hidden cost of building walls between us: “Bastard wall, encasing our hearts”.
Trevor followed this by reading a powerful poem by Brian Bilston called “America is a Gun”.
The next poem, gloriously titled “Today’s rain becomes tomorrow’s spirit” wove a number of themes including storms and story-writing to encourage communitarian values: “Together we can weather these storms”… (but) “first we have to write ourselves a greater story”.
Stephen Thomas, stalwart of the Leicester poetry scene and co-host of Nottingham’s Poetry’s Dead Good, fired into a wonderfully energetic set with “You’re Awesome”.
A real life-affirming, high-energy poem, “You’re Awesome” reminds us “You were born a champion” and no matter what they throw at us “you’re the best version of you that says thank God I’m alive”.
In “Muddled Man” Stephen takes a sharp look at men who can’t take care of themselves: “You could charge 5p for those bags under your eyes”.
“Alphabet Spaghetti” is a book in progress comprising crisp, highly alliterative poems on each letter of the alphabet. V “Vote Vlad” imagines a vampire seeking our support. T’s “Twitter Troll called Tony” turns out to be 12. Watch this space for news of the book launch!
“For the record” celebrates all things vinyl (a passion of this reviewer), the romance of the record. It does so brilliantly by turning the tables, being written from the turntable’s viewpoint: “Entire cultures of people I’m moving”, ending “For the record, I’m for the record”.
For more of Leicester’s spoken word scene check out House of Verse http://houseofverse.co.uk/
Andrew Martin of DIY Poets was Featured Poet for this night. Opening his set, Andrew shared that “standing on stage you bare your soul” and told us that he wrote his first poem 10 years ago about a soldier killed in Iraq.
“Trump et cetera” launched the set using a children’s song to bring Trump down to size. “Time” developed chain-like to explore the personal and social aspects of time, moving from seasonal change via time travel to industrialisation requiring a standard definition of time. “Food Fight” wittily charts the decline of supermarkets like Tesco “Marmite jars are missing”. “Rhapsody of Realities” looks at those faiths which “mission” by giving out booklets, picturing these as a version of junkmail and warning “There’s no such thing as a free last supper”.
Andrew continued with “Badger Culling Trial” a sober poem viewing the countryside as a courtroom in which the badger is on trial. The poem probes the subject, posing many questions “Is it a black and white situation?” In “Two by two” the poet ranges over many situations where people operate in pairs including police on the beat (perfectly pointed by Andrew sporting what appeared to be a old-style police helmet that actually said Not Polite”). The poem ends darkly looking at prisoners: “Silent sentences throughout each long hour”.
“BHS British Hopes Stalled” takes Philip “Greed” to task with more of Andrew’s trade-mark rhetorical questions: “When did greed become fashionable?” “Mohammed Ali” explores Ali’s long and complex history as a fighter for social justice and the link between fighting and poetry.
“I Daniel Blake” takes its inspiration from the Ken Loach film to remind us of what it should mean to be a citizen.
Andrew rounded off a magnificent headline set with “Poet’s Day”, a survey of workers and working pondering the significance of Friday as the start of a weekend’s rest.
Andrew’s poems are vigorous, democratic not preachy, making statements, asking questions, highlighting patterns to which the listener can react.