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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.






  • Frank McMahon’s latest book launch, “I Wish I Could Play Guitar Like Rory Gallagher” @ Nottingham Writers’ Studio – Friday, April 22nd, 7:30 start, £1

  • DIY POETS Quarterly gig @ The Maze, May 19th, featuring the mighty Hazel Warren, music from Paul Carbuncle, 7:45 start, £3 entry, a bargain!

  • Southwell folk festival welcomes a Diy poets showcase on June 11th, 1:00, followed by representation in the poetry slam the following day at 2:30

  • DIY POETS @ Rough Trade Nottingham, Thursday, June 30th, 7:30 start, with music from Stacey McMullen, £3

  • DIY POETS @ Buxton Fringe Festival, July 21st, details and times to be confirmed, 8 DIYers plus Keith Ford and Miggy Angel

  • DIY POETS @ The Lofthouse – Cancer Awareness Event July 22nd, 2:00 onwards – Details TBC

  • DIY POETS @ Lenton Festival – Saturday July 30th – Details to follow

DIY Poets at The Maze 12.11.15

DIY Poets at The Maze 12.11.15

Reviewed by Martin Grey and Lytisha


John Humphreys, acting as our MC, introduced the evening reminding us all that the fabulous DIY poets group has been around for in excess of 10 years now. He also reminded the audience of our tag line: We are nice and we don’t always rhyme before introducing Leanne.

Leanne Moden has not been in Nottingham long, but is certainly making her mark on the poetry scene. She began with a poem taking us back with her through teenage memories of a gig in Brixton where she’ll never forget the burst capillaries on the bass players face which is as up-close and personal as a fan gets. Not quite as close as the close call the questioner that was on the receiving end of Leanne’s well thought out arguments about Lady Gardens almost had! Ever questioning social attitudes, Leanne’s poems encourage you to think whilst you laugh along.

Martin Dean was up next. He took us on a trip through Rome, where he encountered foul smelling strangers and noted that chaos was a word the Italians invented. Possibly not Martin’s dream holiday? It wasn’t all negative, there was a pppositively pppleasant pppoem with plenty of alliteration to push people along. A good set that took us around Europe.

Next up Isis made her debut on the diy stage with a great set including her own tribute to Lear in the form of a nonsense poem as well as a couple of others leaving us all enraptured by (her) charm. We look forward to hearing a lot more from our new star.

Following our newest performer was one of our more seasoned stars, Clare Stewart who put out an urgent call for the mister or missus scientister out there to come up with a cure for her blister which was curtailing her kissing. She also got us wondering what those pristine swimmers that don’t wet their hair get up to while some of us piss about with poems and paintings. As ever an entertaining set.

Andy Szpuk was next. After unwinding the mic, a little trick he is working on, he raged against the injustices around, including the spiking of the capital to stop homeless people sleeping in conspicuous places. In a tongue in cheek change of tack Andy then performed a poem for Daily Mail readers entitled Benefit Scroungers. Then to the delight of the audience Andy treated us to a sneak preview of his Musical in progress by singing We’re good at making guns to the accompaniment of detonators being ‘clicked’ by the audience members’ fingers. Plenty of food for thought.

Martin Grey changed the tone completely and we all loved his lovely poem about love and how lovely love is. He then went on to disclose his precocious childhood through his piece about counting on his hands at school. Although I have to say I agree with Martin and not the teacher… but maybe that says more of my attitude to authority figures that are not getting it right… Martin concluded his set, which he delivers with an almost snake like mesmerising charm, with a moving piece about missing people.

Leading us into the first break was Trevor Wright. He told us of the dim glow under the door indicating the presence of his offspring, whereas in very recent times it had been seeing the area beneath the tree a Teddy haven or a fairy ring, or kicking every last leaf in the world depending on how the imagination was moving. They do grow up so fast! Trevor concluded his set with Yella! one of the poems included in the with local anthology produced by Five Leaves Press about the refugee crisis. Does anyone tune into the stars?

After a ten minute break for more crowd loosening beverages, Orla Shortall, or Sparklechops as she claimed she’d been called, got the second half underway. A warm delivery of charm over strong messages is quite a forte of hers and tonight was no different, her journey from John Donne’s The Flea to the sometimes awkward mornings after sex, via the DH Lawerence Heritage Centre definitely kicking off the second half with a bang.

Being stuck in things you can’t control was the theme of our next poet, Lytitia Tunbridge, who regaled us with stories of how it gets harder to buy bras as you get older, how we never look up from our gadgets and the concern you feel when your bath is at risk of falling through your ceiling. She finished with “Beyond Control”, likening our journey through life to being off balance on a see saw. A set delivered with punch and vigour, full of struggles we can all relate to, except for maybe the bra buying.

Lytitia, Orla and Clare will be headlining our event at The Lofthouse on 24th November, the only event in the Nottingham Poetry Festival to feature female headliners, so power to us!

Next up was Andrew Martin, aka the world’s nicest man, who filled his five minutes with an A to Z of the politics of land use and how our rights to use it are being eroded by the interests of the powerful and the wealthy, set inside Chatsworth and Oxfordshire. A nicely textured, softly delivered set that challenged the politics of class and the notion that the grass is always greener.

Continuing the textured tones, Richard Bower then filled our souls with a trilogy of emotions. “Morning” showed us the hope from touching nature on a brand new day, “Nightfall” showed us the storms in the fragile darkness of endings, while “Skin to Skin” reminded us that it’s ok to articulate the dreams you have. The straight talking beauty of Richard’s words couldn’t fail to take you into your own emotional highs and lows.

Next up was the Breath on Paper, Phil Deakin, who took us back to our childhoods with “The Ghost of Yesterday”, which told of how easy it is to become invisible by using his time in school with the nickname ‘Ghosty’. He then charged his phone for all the time it has stolen, the friendships it stopped him finding and the people it stopped him meeting. The irony of using technology to spread his was not lost on him as we all took heed of his valuable words. Phil is most definitely a man with a lot to say.

The plentifulness of the poets was partly down to our next performer, The Cat in the Hat, our leader, Frank McMahon, who was having a rare night off the compering. Ever a fan of the short poem, Frank wistfully took on the Beatles, strong villains and fragile heroes, from John Lennon not believing he could sing in the shower to Liverpool, not Hemel Hempstead being the home of rock and roll, via the denim and leather days of his youth and the worlds apart between Steve Davis and his “First Hero” Alex Higgins. He finished with “From Green to Black”, about how his Dad swapped the green of Ireland for the black of Wolverhampton. Once again, a century break performance.

Frank led straight into our most excellent compere, John Humphreys, who of course plugged his book launch/50th birthday party, but only because you should all come to his night and buy a copy. John is a musical encyclopedia and his latest piece was about Lee Hazlewood, who very few of us had heard of, but we’re told was a highly influential 1950s American artist whose words and melodies helped define popular music. With deep, slow, warbling tones, John took us through his tribute to the man, not only giving a fine performance but also educating us in the process.

Our final pre headline poet was an impromptu set by Hazel Warren, because, well, we like to include everyone if we can, and she certainly didn’t disappoint with two excellent pieces. “Jumpers for Goal Posts” challenged the gender expectations of boys and girls, while “Brew Love” masterfully cut through the struggle to open your heart after being hurt, with the thoughts that can go through your head when making a cuppa for someone you think you might grow to like. Humble yet warm, it was a teariffic way to end the second half.

After a quick refill, it was time for our headliner, Chris Page, the Dark Lord, who really rose to the occasion. Chris marvellously manifested his misery with a glint in his eye and a smirk in his stanzas, the 20 minutes flying by before you felt they’d barely begun. With a haiku that smiled through your pain, to stories of self destruction caused by untied shoelaces that told you that the bad will always pass, we were sent into the darkest nursery rhymes that we’ve heard for a long time. Certainly, that was a teddy bears picnic I’m glad I missed! Two dark Christmas poems followed, which beat the Christmas lights with the mid November Christmas spirit, before “Twelve Nights” which deconstructed and rewrote the twelve days of Christmas into something much more relevant to the problems we face today. He finished with a letter to the child he doesn’t have yet, telling them, and us, in heartfelt details, about some bad experiences of his own, while inspiring us to want to do as well as we can should we ever get the chance to give the gift of life. Every clap and cheer was more than justified, it was a superb set.

The night ended with acoustic vibes from Stacey McMullen, who has more musical talent in his metatarsal alone than most of us have in our entire bodies. “Lines in the Sand” showed the stark plight of war refugees, while “Woke Up this Morning” reminded us that the blues was alive and well. There was even some acoustic “Killing in the Name of” thrown in for good measure, before finishing up with a fitting singalong to“54-46 (That’s My Number)”. Stacey’s effortless flipping from blues to jazz to funk to reggae certainly finished the night off in style.

So, there we have it, another great night with the DIY Poets. That is indeed what we said now. Once again, we were nice and we didn’t always rhyme. Hope to see you in February!

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