South Devon kicks ass when it comes to performance poetry!

For a while now I’ve had this thought that the South Devon poetry scene is one of the richest and most vibrant in the county, when you take into consideration the scarcity of the population in most of it, what with all them fields and things.

Torquay is a resort which has, admittedly, seen better days, but even here there are two vibrant performance poetry nights a month. Poetry Island is long established, first under Chris Brooks, and lately under Ian Beech, both of whom have done amazing things to bring big names down to the bay, and now there is a night at the Artizan Gallery, too. Exeter isn’t that far away and there are three regular monthly nights as well as an amazing array of one off events thanks to venues like the Phoenix and the Bike Shed. Plymouth has two regular nights, and even Totnes has events at the Kingsbridge Inn.

But it is the sheer variety of styles and performers which makes the scene so vibrant. It is impossible to come up with a definitive South Devon style, because there are so many different interpretations of what makes spoken word and performance poetry so engaging. Daniel Haynes is droll, funny, serious, human, everything which a Bard should be. Which is good, because he is the currently Bard of Exeter. Tim King is experimental, political, also very human. The most human of all humans is James Turner, who exiles literary excellence and a fantastic understanding of the importance of performance and voice, as did the late and very much missed Rodney Bowsher. Joanna Hatfull is impossible to categorise, fusing theatre and monologue, humor and reality into her poems which never stray too far into surrealism. And then there’s Ian Beech, whose poetry is heartfelt, honest, occasionally ranting, often fierce, always well meaning.

Add to this people like Jackie Juno, Ziggy Abd El Malak, Chris Brooks, Gavin McGrory, Morwenna Griffiths, Solomon Doornails . . .

So what flavor is there to this excellent scene? Are there any common traits? Most of the performers have developed parallel and each event serves to drive each participant on to find deeper modes of poetic expression and audience engagement. Yet there seems to be a willingness to perfect this individualism in a way that may not be the case somewhere like Bristol or London, where a similar style dominates. The rhythms are different from one poet to the next. You might get the excellent Marc Woodward with his fast paced calm delivery, followed by the enthusiasm of Chris Brooks, and then the calm, slow, assured delivery of Dan Haynes.

There’s a great thing going on down here in South Devon at the moment and it makes me glad to be a part of it. And now some of us are starting to get recognition from further afield, strange parts of the country who can only be intrigued by the creativity and art which seems so normal. When I first started performing at Poetry Island, Chris Brooks would end each evening with an appeal for performers. Yet now there are so many that there is a strict rota and waiting list! And that has got to be a very good thing.

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a couple of new poems.

Poem

You said you’d do a magic trick.
Is this your card?, you asked.
Or is this your card?
Or this?
And then you reached into my pocket
And you announced,
This, this is your card!
And then you looked at it and saw
That it was my one day megarider bus ticket
And a tiny tear formed
In the corner of your eye.
In any case,
I hadn’t even picked a card.

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It’s ok to be funny at a poetry night, usually.

There’s so much variety in performance poetry and spoken word. Some times it seems that the emphasis is on poetry which gives a message or aims for a certain effect, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Some of my best friends in poetry are superb creators of serious, ethereal poetry which grabs the heart and takes your breath away with beauty. I love this kind if work, and I’m deeply jealous that I’ve never excelled at it.

And then there’s that Bristol style, of well intentioned poetry with a conscience, a hint of hyperbole, and three rhymes per line. Again, this is a fantastic form. Most slam winners I’ve seen over the years practice this method, and why not? The effects are beautiful, if a little wearying if everyone’s at it.

And then we come to the funny poets. I suppose this is my area. Often it feels like the poets who make people laugh are not regarded as highly, especially at nights where the emphasis is on page poetry. Such works are seen as light, throwaway, perhaps not even memorable. Again, this is not the case at every poetry night.

On Thursday night I went to Bang Said the Gun in London. It’s my favourite night of poetry, mostly because of the excellent atmosphere. Humorous poets are welcomed and cheered and the audience is genuinely appreciative. Some if my favourite poets are regulars here, such as the brilliant Rob Auton, and the often hilarious Martin Galton. Indeed, both performed new poems which were a mix of funny and heartfelt, and often with a serious twist, such as Rob Auton’s poem about eating meat in heaven, or Martin’s poem about giving a conker to his mum.

Maybe this is the key, this hint of the honest which keeps a comic poem memorable. But then, aren’t all poems, no matter how funny, tinged with an honesty and a hint of truth? My poem ‘Fozzie’ is about rejection and dashed hopes. ‘The First Time’ is about debunking the sexual myth. ‘Camp Cat’ is about stereotyping. ‘Moon Simon’ is just silly.

So next time I sit down to write a funny poem I shall be looking for the depth beneath the surface, the honesty which hides behind every faked witticism. Because we are all living our lives and trying to be human.

And here’s a poem about geese.

Poem

Lately I’ve been obsessed with geese.
Geesey geese.
Fleecy geese.
Call the police.
His name is Rhys.
He might come from Greece
He probably comes from Newton Abbot.
He’s obsessed with geese.
It’s me.

Geese in the undergrowth
Geese in the kitchen
Geese in the photocopying room
Geese in the kitchen
Geese in the potting shed
Geese in the kitchen
My aunt just freaked out
Because of all the
Geese in the kitchen.

Geesey geesey goosey goose
I don’t know. Give us proof.
Geesey geesey goosey goose
Gets my emotions on the loose
Geesey geesey goosey goose
Eight hundred of them crammed into a small
Commuter train
Geese on the line
No wonder I was late getting in to Basingstoke.

I met a goose named Graham
I asked Graham the goose what it was like
Being a goose.
He said it was great.

My colleague Tina is an amateur zoologist.
I told her how much I liked geese.
I pushed back a strand of hair from her face,
Tenderly.
She grabbed hold of my wrist and said,
‘Try that again, Jimmy,
And I’m going to human resources’.
My name isn’t Jimmy.

All is quiet in the common goose mountains.
A rustle and a bustle in the gathering foliage.
All is quiet in the common goose mountains
Shifting and a cracking in the dense rhododendrons
All is quiet in the common goose mountains
A crack and a flap and they fly up in the atmosphere
All is quiet in the common goose mountains
v-shape wing-span fly fly goosey geese

Bump ba-dump honk
Bump ba-bump bump
Honk honk bump ba-dump
Is the sound of a goose
Falling down the stairs.

How come the logo for Universal Pictures
Just shows planet Earth?

I watched a documentary last night
About corn flakes.
It’s on again next week.
It’s a cereal.

The switchboard put me through with
Barely a crackle.
Such a smooth operator.

A friend works in hot air balloons.
He’s very concerned about
The rate of inflation.

A lady walked into the newsagent and asked,
‘Have you got my Psychic News?’

Several of us in a room
Asked to offer the name of our favourite geese.
I was too afraid to stick my neck out.

Geese in the gift shop
Geese in the kitchen
Geese in the locker room
Geese in the kitchen
Geese in the Great Hall
Geese in the kitchen
Of Pembroke Castle.

There once was a man from Nice
Who like me had a passion for geese.
Such a feathered delight
To watch them take flight
He filmed them and put them on Youtube
And linked it to Facebook
Where it was liked by his niece.

And my neighbours forever banging on the walls
Banging banging banging on the walls
Because at two in the morning
There’s nothing more daunting
Than the ferocious honk honk honking
Of eight hundred geese in the throes of an
Orgiastic goose mating frenzy
Bang bang bang
Honking honking honking
And one of them’s got hiccups
Each honk followed by a hick
Each hick followed by a honk
Honking and hicking
Hicking and honking
Honk hick honk hick honk hick
Banging on the walls
Bang bang bang
Hick honk hick honk hick honk
And me in the middle shouting
Yes, yes, yes!
This is what life is about
You can keep your soap operas and your alcohol
You can keep your Ant and Dec
For I am a man proud of his bearing
And I have geese!
But that doesn’t stop my neighbour
Banging on the walls.

And then first thing this morning
I got an email from my landlord
Restricting me to just the one goose
Who I chose just now, he’s called John.

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