Venue: City Arts [Reviewers Clare Stewart 1st half and Martin Dean 2nd half]
Sue was our bossy but cheerful 1st half compere, who kept us all in order magnificently.
Neil Sue said that Neil is usually political, understands social issues of the day – but then he had to admit that he’s not living up to that on this occasion. He read two untitled poems, the first about a boxing match, powerful, rhythmic and rhyming, describing visceral aggression and crowd reactions, using the vocabulary of battle, with a refrain about taking the blows ‘again and again and again.’ It’s a match between a young man and an older man that the older man feels he needs to endure in order to feel alive, that the older man, Old Jack, eventually wins, but only after the greatest effort and at what cost?
The second untitled poem was slower and shorter, a vision of Death sadly walking through a battlefield, sad, slow, dancing naked, crucified like Jesus.
Eleni read her poems from memory, (am in awe of anyone who can do that), she has a great delivery style, using lots of gestures and vocal expression and props. She often occupies a numinous space, appealing to angels, birds, butterflies, spirits, the sky.
Her first poem, Ravenspirit, a rhyming poem addressing the spirit of the raven, and several other birds too.
Then, a soppy one for Valentine’s To My Twin Flame Whoever You May Be, a love poem, a fantasy butterfly dream, a yearning for a true communion with a lover.
Lustrous Butterfly, this poem is about the way we hide aspects of ourselves, and encouraging us to reveal our colours, delicate but strong. Eleni used a large butterfly as a prop which was covered up at the beginning of the poem, and then she revealed the beauty beneath. I think Eleni would like us all to have the courage to show our beauty.
Martin D – I’m Not from London, saying that he’s not various London characters, or was not in various London places, with the refrain ‘It wasn’t me who…’ or ‘It was me who…’
Two Days Later, Martin said that this poem was Sue’s fault, it arose from a conversation he had with her about how things seem two days later. This is a great poem, intriguing and interesting, visual, strange.
On the Shore, Martin went to Leith in August, and said it pissed down like a monsoon, so he hurried toward a café and ordered Cullen skink, a gorgeous Scottish soup. The poem was a description of the soup, lush and rich yumyum… oh no, wait, I’m vegetarian – anyway, it sounded wonderful….
Laura Grevel, all the way from Texas, says her poems from memory – I don’t know how, they are quite long and have many twists and turns to them, surreal, descriptive, bizarre.
How to Make Purple Jello Tofu with Mushroom and Wild Seed Sauce gave us the cooking method for that very thing. An anti-gun poem about the loss of a country as she knew it, she expresses her dismay at the development of gun mania, and says ‘I am from a country that died’.
Kevin, Sue said that Kevin is soulful and deep and that she wants to marry him. Kevin did not accept, but he didn’t not accept either… Kevin’s just released a new book, (Sue said that Kevin’s book makes her cry) and he told us about his book launch at City Arts on 12th March. He reminded us that, in doing our poetry evening, we are doing what humans have been doing for millennia, gathering together and telling tales.
His first poem was Beyond the Wall about an ostracised man in a café, and the narrator’s feelings of sadness and guilt about how people are mean to people who seem a bit different. The narrator sits a little nearer the strange man, and wonders what he’s looking at and thinking about.
Raincall starts with the lovely line ‘Chatty the rain tonight’, losing yourself whilst listening to rain, and ends with a line about eating dates in the dark.
And thirdly, a poem as an antidote to Valentine’s. This poem is a vow to continue to grow. It’s like a prayer, a philosophical appeal to people to love, reminds us of how love gets rid of fear, and not to go down the rigid channels of straight monogamy but to love more freely.
Jan is new to performing, we welcomed her warmly. It’s very good to see her on stage and doing her thing. Wonderful!
Her first poem with the riff Still I Sit reminiscent of, and a wonderful twist on, Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’, about feeling confined to a sickbed, and yearning to be free of the restrictions of illness and/or old age.
Her next poem had a similar theme, of a soul that’s tired and yearns for tranquillity, longs to fly away. She wants to reconnect with herself, find her missing parts, become whole once again. Poignant and beautifully expressed.
Vron – Sue said that Vron can turn her hand poetically to funny, love, sex, jammy dodgers and files. Vron read two new poems, the first, Ghosts, about Bilborough, describing how it was before it was built up, and the ghosts that are still there, how geography and patterns change.
Next, the showstopper Bus Ride to Heanor. Hilarious, exulting in the wonder and joy of small things – a number 28 bus ride to Heanor after a long period of being housebound, and then being able to get on a bus. ‘I could feel my style uncramp’. So good humoured, so gentle, so genial.
John Merchant, a DIY legend indeed. John’s style is quite different from anybody else’s. He began his set by singing three songs, some people joined in, Home in Pasadena, a Cliff Richard song, followed by April Love – for Valentine’s, of course.
John then gave us two poems of his own. Frist, Have a Choice, thinking about all the choices we have in life, John’s concern and care for others shining through with his gentle advice that we must also rest.
Then, Variety of Spice – a wonderful evocation of a world full of variety, a paean to multiculturalism and diversity of all kinds. John, always philosophical, reminds us there is so much to learn and to enjoy.
Sonja, our resident mathematical poet, read A Trigonometric Invasion or 10 sine (x/4) – (no, I don’t know what it means either). It’s a vision of school – I think Sonja teaches maths in school – where the kids are learning maths, a long poem, witty, punny and very funny, very touching and endearing, a fantasy battle the teachers have to get kids to understand maths.
Trevor W, the Man from Derby – though he says he’s from Bulwell – gave us love poems. The first, Exit Wound, a rhyming poem expressing the sadness of the end of a relationship and the resulting damage – the hole in the heart that doesn’t heal.
Beached is a shaggy dog story, asked to picture the first thing that came to mind, a dog on a beach in Donegal sprang to Trevor’s head. And why wouldn’t it? Loved this poem, the scampiness of the dog on the beach, playing with the waves. A touching picture, a sad ending, Sometimes it’s better to leave the hounds of loss to their scurries.
Today, a poem about bigotry – a recurrent theme of Trevor’s, sad and angry about the backward step we seem to be taking, back into right wing intolerance (apologies to Tory voters, that’s how it seems to me, and obvs, to Trevor as well). He says ‘We can, and have, been better than this’ expresses perfectly so much that we have lost.
Stuart knows Peru well. He went recently, and this latest time, went to the zoo. Trip to the Zoo describes different animals in captivity in the zoo, how a mono (monkey) and a man mirror each other’s behaviour, how a crocodrilo (crocodile) would like to get nearer children, mischievous portrayals of the animals.
She was Right, You Know is a rhyming poem about Stuart’s mum’s maxims, and how she was right, you know. She was right about it’s not what you know but who you know that will lead to success, that in sending kids to posh schools, people buy privilege for their children. Even so, she said – and she was right – we all piss in the same pot,
My Wife, She Dreams of Jürgen Klopp, a funny account of Stuart’s wife dreaming of Jürgen Klopp, except that Stuart was JK, and she says she wants to go back and dream some more. Stuart helpfully goes back to the washing up – I think it was maybe a hint and you should have joined her, Stuart!!!
Market Square, after the humour, a little bit of depression. A microscopic view of a vicar crossing Market Square, and a butcher’s, and the church bells ringing, writing with the kind of minuscule focus that happens when you are low. Sensitive, sensual, great.
Stuart didn’t want to leave us on a low note though, so Tent, a short four line poem about love in a tent made the audience go into the interval laughing.
‘Let’s tip-toe through the chocolate box of wonder,’ said our second half host John Humphreys, and boy was he spot on! It was Valentine’s eve a fact that many of the performers reflected in their output.
The first of the open micers was Chloe, a first timer. What a joy to see newcomers with such skill and eloquence. Her first of two poems talked about remembrance with the line ‘remember the 4th February’, an instantly memorable line in itself. Her poignant second piece talked of Paris and loss.
Next up was Guy who gave us three beautifully lyrical poems with lines such as ‘shimmering aspen leaves.’ Most memorable of all was his final piece about the disputed ownership of a pair of shoes, where we learned that it was a metaphor of being a stranger to himself.
Rose was next to the mic treating us to, appropriately a love poem. In this case it was dedicated to her son in Australia, a reflection of teenage turbulence and beyond.
Peter, always understated and never less than brilliant gave us a love poem in the style of his favourite writer, Rumi. This was followed by a piece he wrote before getting the bus this very evening. He talked about separate lives and addresses, ending with the realisation that in the end we can only truly be ourselves.
Theresa (another first timer) cautioned us beforehand that English was not her first language and we might not grasp all the meaning. In the eventuality she delivered a beautiful and eloquent piece in the style of George Orwell. Host John Humphreys, the man with a one-liner for every occasion commented ‘poetry is your language.’
Next to the stage was the exotically and wonderfully styled Vegan Jesus, another first timer. His first poem was a love letter to the crime thriller film ‘Drive’ which he has seen 14 times, followed by a series of 4 liners.
Pam kicked her set off with (what else) a valentine’s poem with beautiful imagery such as ‘tumbleweed, sidewinders and prickly pears.’ She followed this with the elegantly title ‘Days of annual leave spent writing poetry at home.’ Doesn’t this describe us all?
Richard is a poet who can be relied on to make an astute political point, illustrated in the title of his first piece ‘what’s wrong with this bloody country!’ What more do I need to say? His second piece, introduced as ‘a bit more of a piss take,’ took a poke at beaurocratic nonsense. ‘Dandy management bollocks job’ referenced jargon, transitioning and the uselessness of resistance in these matters. And finally, ‘heading home’ was a warm trip through memories of an old guitar and his record collection. A true homecoming.
Andrea gave us three poems. ‘Snow’ shared the transformation that takes place at a funeral with the intriguing imagery of ‘a cemetery deep in snow’. Her words implied that both poignancy and humour had a place in mourning.
And then to Lolly Dean our featured poet for the evening. She prefaced her performance with a trigger warning about loss, suicide and mental health issues.
Featured Poet Lolly
She started with ‘unknown soul’ which introduced us to her twin sister who she lost when young. ‘You’re with us wherever you are,’ she shared.
‘Hate’ was about bullying at school followed by ‘the parents’ which she introduced by explaining that ‘I wasn’t blessed in the parents department’.
My favourite line of the whole evening was from ‘James’s jabbering’ about her little brother – ‘it’s because of you I learnt how to hypnotise chickens’.
Next, we were introduced to her nan (a very important figure in her life) who had a saying for every occasion – ‘never have sex and no-one gets hurt’ and ‘women are strong, be proud to be one’. Reflecting on her not being around, her second Nan poem lamented ‘without you at the end of the phone what do I do now?’
She continued with the suicide of a friend (‘on that day’), austerity, her love affair with alcohol (dangerous liaisons) and a very good friend who lost her husband shortly after getting married.
For me one of Lolly’s most soul baring moments came with ‘the traumatic wake-up call’ which dealt with the horrors of finding blood on the floor. ‘This is what happens when the bottle’s your crutch,’ she said.
On a lighter note she ended her set with a confession to true love, none other than cookie dough ice cream. ‘Soppy bollocks’ as John Humphreys would say.
Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed that Lolly’s set was powerful and heartfelt. Her words spoke of a life truly lived. A real tour de force.
The evening was rounded off by a musical set from Will Jeffery, one part of Nottingham band 94 Gunships. Performing stripped down versions of some of the band’s songs, my favourite told of watching a man dig a hole and then filling it in again.
Altogether a fab evening. Definitely a chocolate box of wonder.