Apples and Snakes and its monthly event, Hit the Ode, has returned to the Victoria for one last poetic outburst before retiring for the summer, and it shall be sorely missed. Over the past year, its fan base has continued to grow within its intimate upstairs venue whilst it in part showcases “one act from the West Midlands, one from elsewhere in the UK, and, uniquely, one international guest” alongside an Open Mic for amateurs hoping to take the stage.
Open Mic is often a risky undertaking with sometimes questionably “talented” individuals, but this evening’s segments presented genuinely talented people. James Poulton, the Worcestershire Festival Slam winner, gave a tender rendition to (we assume) a girl whom he tactfully would not reveal the identity of. This was an atypical love poem however, where he lamented the plight of a boy who ‘wrote you another poem’ and could not be like ‘normal guys’. Reading from his laptop, Poulton triggered something of a technological motif for the rest of the night. Bohdan Piasecki, the events’ organiser, joked ‘What’s the strangest thing people have seen poetry read from?’ as Poulton held his laptop up to the microphone. We would later hear how another amateur poet had begun writing poetry not in some cherished moleskin notebook, or even on the back of a shopping receipt, but in a blog where he wrote in rhyme for the sake of it. His electronic roots could be heard in his speaking in a frantic torrent of almost incomprehensible words like ‘Rabis rabis/How many babies?’ Even shortMAN, the event’s first guest, would read from his phone despite protesting ‘I feel like I’m cheating’. Perhaps this implicit debate about technology’s role in poetry fuelled the less performative and more contemplative aspect of the night, where discussions and disagreements might lead to one poet writing a poem in his head.
Hit the Ode perfectly embodies Birmingham as a multicultural centre, its Polish host joking ‘I’m here to steal the English poets’ jobs’; its emphasis upon cultural variety was hardly lost when shortMAN took to the stage. By combining an energetic rhythm with ambiguous sounds and repetitive rhyme, he managed to create a lyrical sound more like Hip Hop than spoken word that arguably harks back to the black history that is a prevalent topic in his poetry. At times his poetry was hard to follow, but as Hit the Ode’s final guest, Mike Garry, would later state ‘I don’t fucking care what T.S. Eliot says, it just sounds good. It is more about sounds.’ This is certainly the case with spoken word where, sadly, a poet monotonously reciting his work can put the bore back into poetry. shortMAN’s conscious effort to manipulate his own voice presented the necessity of performance in the spoken word genre.
The much anticipated street/guerillia/’good’ Garry, once described by the Happy Monday’s Shaun Ryder as ‘the best street poet ever’, later showed that cultural identity is not just racial or national; it could become much more local as he celebrated his own ‘Manc-and-proud’ persona in his broad North-Western accent, turning the music industry hero Tony Wilson into ‘Saint Anthony’ the deity ‘Of Joy Division, of Judaism’ by clever slips of the tongue. He even managed to transform the stereotypically wet, industrial North into a Holy Creation in his story of how God created rain that fuelled Manchester’s mills (and economy). So much was Garry’s esteem for his home town that he was forced to conclude in his final poem that ‘God is a Manc’ and that he too would enjoy a hearty steak, chips and gravy for ‘tea’.
Yet by Garry’s maneuvering, Birmingham’s (and Manchester’s) heterogeneous identities were merged to create one urban culture that was perhaps synonymous with the entire evening; whilst poems may differ, divergent poets and audience alike were united in the same room and invited to mingle at the end. A community is visible amongst the Hit the Ode fans and performers, which provides a fantastic platform for poets hoping to network and poetry lovers left with a few questions at the end of the night. This thought provoking, creatively rich night will certainly return in September to devotees ready and waiting.
Words by Becca Inglis.