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 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!
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.
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.
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.