Category Archives: Spoken Word

Grizzly Pear Presents: Dizraeli @ The Bristol Pear

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Poetry and Hip-Hop have seen increasing interaction as of late. Very recent examples on the UK scene include Ed Scissortongue’s newest release The Theremin EP, an example of his trademark ‘beat-driven poetry’, as well as Chester P of Task Force fame foraying into performing at spoken word events and writing children’s rhymes. In the words of the latter, ‘words are words, if you put them in a rhyming format…then its poetry’. Dizraeli, or at times MC Dizraeli, seems to have pioneered this meshing of cultures from his very first album – with some folk-feel thrown in the mix for good measure.

Although he is no stranger to performing to small student crowds, and despite his humility, MC Dizraeli was given the welcome deserving of a celebrity, and therefore the biggest noise I have ever heard for an act at the Bristol Pear (not to discredit any others that I have seen there).

His set began in a somewhat detached way, initially not relying on any crowd participation. This air of mystery had us all intrigued to say the least, and our anticipation for what the night had in store was heightened by the first sounds he made: a scat-come-tribal-chant that would’ve earned a nod from Bobby McFerrin. This acted as a refrain for a quintessentially Dizraelian tale of a tense relationship that was darkly comedic in its candidness.

Following this, his warm stage presence began to shine through, moreso due to an unfortunate technical hiccup that led to his acoustic guitar being distorted beyond recognition. He strummed one chord, recoiled and said, ‘oh my days’ before eventually reverting to both and singing and playing with no amplification. However, this forced acoustic format proved to be the silver lining of the situation , and one in-keeping with the typical format of Writer’s Bloc’s open mic nights. His strong hold on us soon become evident when he asked if we could come closer to make up for the lower volume – we came a lot closer.

With the gig resembling a musical guest performing to a crowd of eager school children, he then played ‘To The Garden’, a track from his début album Engurland (City Shanties). It proved to be a crowd-pleaser, and his playful expressions that followed every quickly-rapped punchline undeniably closed the gap created by his mysterious opening piece. He described the song as a ‘sort of a love letter to Chris Moyles’ before calling the man a word I won’t repeat in print. Needless to say, given the nature of the evening as a whole, he was preaching to the right choir. Hearing this song acoustically for the first time proved a real treat, as instead of the standard boom-bap rhythm of the album version, Dizraeli’s quirky flow was carried by the folksy upstrokes of his guitar, and the viola solo was replaced with vocals that spanned from eery to comical.

Aside from ‘Bomb Tesco’, and newer material such as ‘Any Day Now’ the setlist was mostly comprised of hits from ‘Moving in the Dark'; a stylistically innovative effort from Dizraeli and the unique troupe of musicians that is The Small Gods. This was a wise choice from the Bristolian singer-songwriter, as it was these songs and/or poems that proved the most powerful – fittingly performed as spoken word pieces. Stripping his lyrics down to their rawest form evoked an intense feeling of intimacy from them. Pacing back and forth on the stage, his recitation of ‘Little Things’ in between swigs of Newcastle Brown Ale was tinged with a sense of anguish, the authenticity of which was incredibly moving. ‘White Rum’ and ‘There Was a Rapper’ were read with similar feeling, and the latter song also demonstrated his talents as a singer, which I would argue are often overlooked.

However, Dizraeli balanced his overall performance well, by inserting funnier pieces to lighten the mood. One of which was as short as it was effective. The overall premise was seemingly nothing more than a string of hipster confessions (including ‘I don’t know what he did but Che Guevara’s kind of wicked’) separated by a tribal stomping and vocal rhythm: the result was nothing short of hilarious.

When it came to his last song, I was genuinely gutted that his set couldn’t be longer, and I doubt I was alone. But the gig still ended on a high, another new song from the emcee that arguably became arguably the best-received the song of the night, with the whole audience singing and stamping along to the vocal hook as if in a trance.

The night was a tremendous experience, one which I’m sure many left pondering how it didn’t cost more than a fiver. The performance as a whole was a series of broken boundaries, one that blurred the lines separating music from poetry and the remorseful from the risible. All in all, it was, to quote the man himself, ‘double-D wicked’.

By Oliver Clifford

Grizzly Pear: A Retrospect

DISCLAIMER
This will be the last review I write for Grizzly Pear; it might also be the last review I write for Blogfest, so expect emotions, sentimentality and a good dose of self-deprecation. It’s like a review cocktail – snappy title to be confirmed.

 HISTORY (Part One)
Roughly two years ago Ben Norris had an idea: transform Writers’ Bloc much-loved but irregularly attended and unnamed open mic night into the poetry night to go to in Birmingham. Names were thrown around –Loudhailer was a rumoured favourite – Grizzly Pear was born and so were a series of questionable posters. Some of the biggest names in poetry have headlined: Tim Clare, Vanessa Kissule, Bohdan Piasecki, Katie Bonna. Ben Norris’s ego hasn’t inflated to the size of the top room of the Bristol Pear; in fact, he’s still a very humble but incredibly hardworking man.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part One)
It’s 00.16. I just attended my last Grizzly Pear.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One)
Three years ago I joined Writers’ Bloc. In the ArtSoc room of the Guild I met most of my current housemates and many of the friends I still have now. I met a whole host of students who seemed incredibly knowledgeable and full of ideas. I met people who could write. I met people who could write fantastically. I met people who were interested in what I was writing. I met people who wanted to help me become a better writer.

At the end of my first year of university, I finally plucked up the courage to read a poem on the stage of the Bristol Pear. I basically read to about twenty people I called friends and it was the most terrifying yet comforting environment. Now they can’t get me off the stage. Okay, they can. Luckily for most I’m a get-on-stage-read-your-poem-and-go kind of girl. (Is that lucky? I’ve never reviewed my own poems.)

DISCLAIMER TWO
Yes, all the times I’ve reviewed Grizzly Pear I’ve read a poem too. Shocking, I know. I mean, writing poetry and writing a review? I didn’t get enough attention as a child.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One and a Half)
Basically, without Writers’ Bloc and its open mic nights I wouldn’t have got over my fear of public speaking and I definitely wouldn’t be writing poetry, let alone going to do a Master’s in poetry. I’m naming my first child after all former and current committee members.

DISCLAIMER THREE
If I do actually name my first child after you all, you all have to buy it a present.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two) 
What’s great about Grizzly Pear is that it’s diverse: poems can be funny, poignant, satirical, political, emotional, reflective (and sometimes all these things at once), and Grizzly Pear’s open mic section always offers at least one of each.

Funny poem: Meg Tapp’s ‘I Look At Other Men’
A sort of love poem to her boyfriend that also gave us an insight into what it’s like to fancy anything with a pulse (or just waiters and celebrities). It was hilarious, but also contained some really well-wrought images.

Poignant poem: by Lorna Meehan
Poems about ‘big societal issues’ often come across as boring: yes, we agree that certain things are wrong with the world, but writing about it doesn’t necessarily make a good poem. Luckily, Lorna is an excellent poet and tackles such issues with a personal edge. Using an image of a woman weighing lettuce leaves, Lorna took the audience on a journey through the difficulties of eating disorders. It was a wonderfully performed and beautifully written poem.

Satirical poem: by Jack Crowe
I class Jack Crowe’s poem as the ‘satirical one’ because ‘Neil Cornwell has stated that “satire, humour and incongruity are always potential ingredients of the absurd”.’ (And that, dear readers, is also the first line of my undergraduate dissertation. Riveting, I know.) Jack Crowe does absurdism brilliantly. Basically, his poems contain the Russell Edson and Luke Kennard tone that I have spent nine months trying to perfect and haven’t. Jack Crowe’s speaker was planning a mental breakdown and the perfected factual manner complimented the black humour perfectly.

DISCLAIMER THREE:
Jack Crowe, I’ll buy your first collection when it comes out.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and a Quarter)
Political poem: by James Grady

James Grady used to attend the University of Birmingham and having performed at some festivals last summer, I’ve heard rumours that he might be doing something similar again. If he’s not, he should. I call James Grady’s poem ‘political’ in the best sense possible: it isn’t one of those ‘stand on my soapbox and rant to you about stuff’ kind of poems; James Grady is able to weave topical issues into a well-rhymed, lively performance that is full to the brim with laughs. Think Luke Wright with less hair.

Emotional poem: Lily Blacksell’s break up poem.
She said that she writes poems that aren’t just about being in love or break ups, but they’re good, so she can carry on doing so if she’d like. Actually, Lily, you can just write the former, because I’m not endorsing heartbreak. Lily does beautiful images and a dry sense of humour like no one else. Another one for the festival circuit, I think. (By the way, she’s also the new President of Writers’ Bloc, so she’s basically the queen.)

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Two)

This one time, in Writers’ Bloc, there was this really cool inter-university poetry slam, and Lily was on the University of Birmingham team. She was nicknamed ‘the duchess’, so her queen status isn’t really an exaggeration at all. She just climbed the social ladder. It’s like she’s Cady Heron but the Burn Book is just a book of really good poems.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Half)

Reflective poem(s): James Dolton, Miles Bradley and Ben Norris

I think this would be an ultimate dream-team poetry combo, but alas, all three performed separately. Their work had similar themes though, so I shall group them all together. The poets considered what the last three years have meant to them in very different ways: James Dolton’s was a darker look at what one might have experienced at university, but what will be lost as a result of leaving it; resident Grizzly Pear DJ Miles Bradley made us consider that Ben Norris might have forced us to read poetry for the past two years.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Three)
Miles doesn’t get enough credit. Every Grizzly Pear he makes me want to dance. Thank you, Miles.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Three-quarters)
And Ben Norris read a poem about how everyone thinks we haven’t been living in the ‘real world’ for last three years.

DISCLAIMER FOUR
I do not agree with Ben Norris’s claim that post graduate study is a way to avoid the ‘real world’. I just don’t want a ‘proper’ job yet (nor do I want one until I finish my PhD).

DISCLAIMER FIVE
I realise that these views may not have been Ben Norris’s.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Three)
Some poems fit into these categories and some don’t. The open mic section of the evening was of a particularly high standard.

DISCLAIMER SIX
This review is already ridiculously long and if I write about every single performer I will never go to bed and will therefore feed my already horrific insomnia and black coffee addiction. If I don’t write about your poem, it’s not because I didn’t like it.

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Four)
Tom Crossland, your poem about your dog was beautiful. I like anthropomorphised animals. I also have a dog, and now I miss him terribly.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Four)

 It’s 01.14. I’ll wrap this up.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five)
Writers’ Bloc has been one of the greatest influences in my life, however hyperbolic that sounds. Former and present committee members should be proud of everything that this once small and badly named society has achieved.

HISTORY (Part Two)
Said former bad name was not actually the fault of any past or present Writers’ Bloc committee members. A Creative Writing society existed before Writers’ Bloc’s founding father Sean Colletti took control and thankfully revamped it.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five and a Half)
I wish the new Writers’ Bloc committee all the luck for the future. I also threaten you with the promise of my return should you mess things up. You’ve got it good here, and I bet you can make it even better.

DISCLAIMER SEVEN
Seriously, that threat is real. My parents don’t live far from Birmingham.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Five)
I will end this review with an overall, over-generalised review of all poetry nights:

REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS

1)      You don’t like poetry.
(Seriously, what are you even doing here? Why are you reading this review if you don’t like poetry? You must like it a little bit. Read the next list.)

REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One)

1) You’ll get in touch with your emotions. Bohdan Piasecki does a wonderful crowd warm-up at the beginning of Hit The Ode in which you exercise your emotions. This is basically what every poetry open mic night does. Sometimes you leave thinking that you might actually have a soul.

 2) You’ll see some incredibly talented people perform. Sometimes you talk to them afterwards and realise that they’re interesting and lovely as well.

 3) Poetry isn’t elitist.

 4) Sometimes they go on for hours so you get to drink more than usual (and on a school night!).

 5) Occasionally, they’ll be a really great headliner and you’ll think, ‘Wow! I would have paid £590453894 to see them at a festival, and that only cost me £5!’

 DISCLAIMER EIGHT

Not all festival tickets cost £590453894.

 DISCLAIMER NINE

 Not all poetry nights cost £5.

 REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One and a Half)

 6) You might just see the next big thing in poetry in the early stages of their career.

 7) Poetry/ rhyme/ rap/ isn’t (and you aren’t) dead.

 8) Sometimes you’re allowed to review these things; you get free entry and to write two-thousand words that people might actually read.

 9) People actually listen to you at these things.

 10) You love poetry.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Six)

It’s 01.41. Time for one last

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Six)

I have loved Grizzly Pear, and I have loved Writers’ Bloc. To everyone who has listened to my poems and read my reviews: thank you. To all who have made me laugh, cry and feel human: you are wonderful people. This Grizzly Pear was the perfect way to end three years, and I am certain I will feel its absence once I have graduated.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Seven)

It’s 01.44. I’ll hand you over to Oli Clifford, who will be providing you with a review of Dizraeli’s headline set. I’m sure his review will be considerably less ridiculous. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac

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“I want a man who pulls kindness out of his back pocket.” This was the beautiful and intriguing opening line of spoken-word artist, Nafeesa Hamid, during her performance on Friday night.

Nafeesa spent last week working alongside three other brilliant artists, Amerah Saleh, Carl Sealeaf and Sipho Eric Dube, making up the quartet of poets that brought Lit Fuse, a spoken-word collaboration, to the Birmingham mac on the 7th March 2014. This event, developed jointly by mac Birmingham and Apples and Snakes poetry collective, is a series of events showcasing brand new work devised by UK poets in collaboration with top directors and producers, encouraging poets to write and perform outside of their comfort zone. This set of poets were working with the help of Birmingham-based writer and director, Caroline Horton.

The four poems were part of the current season of work at the mac, ‘Exit Strategy’, a theme exploring death and its effects.
The event combined poetry and theatre, using lights, sound effects and short films to create atmosphere and background for the spoken word pieces. The performance began with all four poets speaking at once, moving from various areas of the intimate space of the Hexagon Theatre, before gathering together on stage. The effect of the clashing of lines and styles, and interrupting of each other made for a disconcerting and slightly wild beginning, and I struggled to make out what each individual was saying, let alone find any kind of meaning in the cacophony of noise and sound effects. Indeed, as each poet left the stage and then returned one by one, performing an individual 10-20 minute monologue, the level of intensity remained high, due to the heavy and sometimes controversial content, and the fact that the overall performance was only just over an hour in length.

Although four very different poets, all creating various interpretations of the topic of death, the pieces were beautifully crafted to fit perfectly together, moving seamlessly from one to another. The themes ranged from a heartbreaking monologue by Carl Sealeaf on the breakup of previous relationships and the death of a loved one, to a touching and intimate insight into a story of childhood, heritage and loss from Sipho, and an uncomfortable but beautifully important piece on rape in marriage from Amerah Saleh.

The influence of theatre was reflected differently in each piece, some of the poets choosing to use props. At the beginning of Amerah’s piece (written largely using stories collected from girls with real experience of rape in marriage), all the props, including a desk lamp (left over from Carl’s piece moments before), a mop bucket and a mug were turned on their side, and set right way up as the poem progressed. Using everyday objects reinforced the setting of a domestic home, and the act of setting them right reflected the healing process that took place throughout the poem.

The performance ended in the same way it had begun- all four poets speaking at once, and moving together to gather on the stage under dim lighting. This time however, the words and phrases they were saying had a poignant clarity – now I recognised them as lines from each of their poems. The idea that all these pieces shared the same subject matter, yet had wildly different interpretations of it was reinforced by the clashing and uncomfortable jarring of these lines, yet combined, at the end, a subtle and carefully crafted shared understanding and acceptance.

 by Alice Cudmore

Grizzly Pear Ft. Bohdan Piasecki @ Bristol Pear

grizzly pear

I think I might have attended every Writers’ Bloc open mic night since starting university; I’ve probably reviewed about eighty-five percent of them too. When you go a long time without something, it’s quite easy to forget what you’re missing: that old saying: ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ usually isn’t wrong. I feel a little like that about Grizzly Pear: each time the next one rolls around, I’ve usually forgotten that it exists, and I attend, not with reluctance, but with a sense that it all might just be the same again.

Of course, I am generally wrong. Yes, there are a few who unfairly use the stage in the Bristol Pear as a soapbox for their opinions and promptly leave after their turn is over, but, overall, the people who attend and perform at Grizzly Pear reignite my love for poetry. Last night I met people who had never attended before, and saw poems and prose pieces performed by complete strangers, old friends and familiar faces. Grizzly Pear succeeds in creating a sense of community in just a few hours.

It is also easy to forget what a feat Grizzly Pear actually is to pull off. The Writers’ Bloc committee, full-time university students, have to fund, organise and promote the night, and somehow secure a top-class headliner. I have seen Grizzly Pear move from strength-to-strength and through a few rough patches, but if last night was my first night, I would have been utterly impressed. In fact, I still was.

One of the best and simultaneously worst things about compere Ben Norris is that he can’t say ‘no’; if you go to Grizzly Pear, you’re in it for the long haul. As a result, I won’t be providing a play-by-play of the open mic; I’ve had quite enough of 4000 word essays for this month.

Georgia Tindale kicked off the first half with three poems. My favourite was undoubtedly ‘The Medic’s Wife’, a poem about an unsatisfactory marriage, explored through images of a post-mortem. It was disturbing and performed brilliantly. Death seemed to be a popular topic with the performers in the first half: two readers who had travelled from outside the realms of Birmingham shared pieces about attempted suicides. Brenda Read-Brown’s poem about a New York City bus driver and a woman was touching and well-crafted, while Andrew Owens read a piece inspired by a conversation with his friend. His piece was compelling and well-written.

There were several poets who performed for the first time at Grizzly Pear: Louisa Robbin’s poem, intended to be accompanied by music, held its own with a narrative about an unsuccessful relationship wrought in excellent images. Daisy Edwards’s prose piece, ‘My Mother’, was a sentimental look at being the ‘brown cow’ in a family of ‘white mice’; the piece was confidently performed and lovely to hear.

There were also spoken word/ poetry regulars in attendance: Seasick Fist returned to the stage to show that he has been working hard on his craft. The refrain: ‘I want to live in a world where,’ was used to set up a series of internal rhymes, witty puns and a constantly shifting rhythm; it was a hit with the audience.

 Of course, it wouldn’t be Grizzly Pear if things didn’t get a little bizarre. Writers’ Bloc President Charlie Dart read a hilarious poem about his hat becoming more famous than himself. Leaving the hat on the mic stand, Charlie moved to sit on the edge of stage to perform his satire of fame and poetry. Jack Crowe read a poem about a possibly apocalyptic world in which everyone is a fish; his surreal images and deadpan delivery were reminiscent of Rob Auton’s style, and made an entertaining contribution to the evening. The audience was also treated to (and roped into, on some occasions) a play by Ben Jackson and Ali Moore, with narration from Joe Whitehead. There were strippers, literary in-jokes and Writers’ Bloc in-jokes; the duo certainly knows their audience.

Grizzly Pear attendees were also treated unexpectedly to a performance from UK National Story-telling Laureate Katrice Horsley. She gave a captivating, exuberant performance of two poems from a sequence of her work. Seeing her work was privilege.

Finally, attention must be moved onto the evening’s headliner, Bohdan Piasecki. It is unusual to see Bohdan perform in Birmingham; as organiser of the fantastic Hit the Ode and as the West Midlands co-ordinator for Apples and Snakes, Bohdan is usually on the administrative side of things. His performance at Grizzly Pear, then, was not one to miss.

Growing up in Poland informs a lot of Bohdan’s poetry, which is wrought with emotion and beauty consistently. His work is quietly devastating: from poems about his sister, to rap music, to the difficulty of growing up under a decaying Communist rule, Bohdan is able to make his audience laugh and cry within a few minutes.

I must admit that I was a fan of his poetry before Grizzly Pear; I have taken a wander around his little-publicised website and found the ‘George poems’, a series of increasingly surreal poems about a character taken from the tapes Bohdan used to learn English. I was therefore delighted to be able to hear more from this body of work.

Working as a compere has evidently influenced Bohdan’s ability to interact with his audience, as he asked the crowd to chant the Polish word for ‘yes’ (‘tak’), while he performed completely in his mother tongue. This poem highlighted Bohdan’s talent: not only does he write and perform largely in his second language, the poetry is exquisite.

Bohdan ended his set with a personal favourite, ‘Almost Certainly’. I believe strongly in the heresy of the paraphrase, and this intelligently crafted and emotionally devastating poem needs to be heard or read to be truly explained.

Grizzly Pear did it again: it won me over. With a complete committee overhaul in the near future, I hope that this poetry event’s legacy will be continued. Until then, there’s two more for this academic year, with appearances from Katie Bonna and Dizraeli. While I’m sure I’ll be blown away by them, I think they’re going to have to work extremely hard to knock this Grizzly Pear from the top of my list.

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

UniSlam! Final: Edinburgh vs MMU @Elgar Concert Hall

judgesSpoken word has had a massive influence on my life in the past three years, and Writers’ Bloc has a very special place in my heart, so to see the Elgar Concert Hall filled with poetry lovers and supporters was truly something I appreciated. It was also a pleasure to see that people came for the poetry, not simply to support the University of Birmingham’s team: the final was certainly the most popular of the rounds.

From Tony Campion’s first poem, it was evident that the Edinburgh team was coming out fighting. Toby’s poem about his name (or lack thereof forty-one days into his life) was incredibly funny and witty. With the timing of a professional comedian, he created a piece that was hilarious. However, he ensured that the poetic elements were maintained: using a poignant image of a glass bottle, Toby completely won the audience over. This performance was by far my favourite of the final.

Edinburgh’s other star was Agnes Torok, a poet who admitted that English wasHannah Wilson her second language. Her first poem, in which she subverted questions and stereotypes attached to homosexual or bisexual people was incredibly clever, funny and delivered an important message without preaching. Her second, a poem about heritage, was a little more difficult to follow, but her ability to explore complex emotions indicated her range.

When Edinburgh’s Freddie Alexander took to the stage, I was initially a little disappointed. Freddie was versed in the American style of slam. Lots of American spoken word often employs a very similar rhythm and syntax, so it can be quite easy to feel like you’ve heard a poem somewhere before. The sentiment behind Freddie’s poem for his father was touching, but the regularly employed images of stars and fires were a little predictable. However, the audience generally loved his performance: Freddie was met with clicks (a way of applauding in the middle of a performance) and a massive round of applause. His second poem – possibly one of my favourites in the final – in which he turned a relationship into a comic book strip (complete with puns based on superhero names), was original, funny and incredibly entertaining. Likewise, Rachel Rankin’s poems about mental health and the uncertainty of her future were crafted from extended imagery and provided a good variety, completing the team.

freddieMMU’s Calum Dwyer recovered from his mishap in the semi-final to perform a poem about fetishes and the awkward situations that arise from them. It goes without saying that this was met with roars of laughter from the audience, but it is a credit to Dwyer that his refrain: ‘How did I end up here?’ was deployed with impeccable comedic timing. His second poem, in which we learned the significance of his name, had more emotional impact but was unfortunately less well-written. The framing device was a little confusing, and it was often very difficult to pinpoint Dwyer’s meaning.

Hannah Wilson was a crowd favourite with her poems about unrequited love and the social stigmas attached to writing poetry. She gave confident performances, but I felt that the subject matter she covered was quite typical for spoken word, and her writing sometimes lacked the originality such popular topics need.

Ciaran Hodgers tackled social issues with poems about the impact of technology and improper maternity care in Ireland, while Olivia Hicks introduced a completely different style of poetry to the slam. She adopted the persona of a bat to give a boisterous, loud performance. Whether or not this was poetry, I cannot actually be sure, but it was most certainly a crowd-pleaser. There also seemed to be a lack of communication between the team, as Hicks also performed a poem about the impact of technology. As both these poems appeared in the same round and from the same team, it was a little too much, and the message seemed tired.

After some great performances from the Round House Collective, who had acted as sacrificial poets in the preliminary heats and kindly entertained the audience while we waited for the scores, Edinburgh were announced as the winners.

I believe that the judges chose the right winners, but I must admit that I waswinners a little surprised at the choice of teams for the final. I personally prefer poetry that is personal, or that makes a move towards the personal. I am not saying that biographical, confessional poetry is the best – my poetry rarely falls into either of these categories – but poetry that takes a personal stance (whether that be of the poet or of a persona) is far more interesting, in my opinion. I personally did not enjoy the poems that tackled social issues without a personal or original slant: saying that poverty is bad, for example, is something that most people would find it impossible to argue with. Having such subject matter does not instantly make a good poem.

There are several criteria which make a good poem (which I believe were reflected on the judges’ scoring sheets). However, I often found myself disagreeing with decisions made or the audience’s delight at ‘social issue’ poems. My favourite poem of the whole day was (and call me biased if you want) UoB’s Ben Jackson’s ‘Cocaine’. It was original, used a persona to create a personal and simultaneously universal message, and was incredibly well-written. It is interesting and frustrating to watch a judged slam; I suppose it is a credit to the poets that I become so impassioned.

But the final, most important point I should make is this: as compere Bohdan Piasecki said, it is not the scores or the ranking that matter; what matters is that poetry is being given a platform, and that people can be united in a love for it, and share the result of their passion. The Writers’ Bloc committee should be applauded for the organisation of this fantastic event; I am certain that they have created a legacy.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Apples & Snakes: Public Address II @ mac

apples and snakes

The Hexagon Room of the mac provided the setting for a fine evening of poetry by Apples and Snakes, the last night of their ‘Public Address II’ tour.

Local poet Bohdan Piasecki was compere for the evening and was charming and self-effacing throughout. After warming the crowd up he introduced the first poet of the evening, Brighton-based Tom Sissons. It would be fair to say he was the most conventional of the night, with poems that touched on politics, revolution and God. But he delivered a performance that had as much raw honesty as it did clarity and he offered a distinctive take on the issues he touched upon. It was a great start to the night, one that set a marker down for the other performers.

Selina Nwulu was the London representative and followed with just the one poem, a story that juxtaposed her mother’s tale of living in a chaotic civil war-torn Nigeria with that of her comparatively dull Yorkshire upbringing. From the initial description of a hectic scene in Lagos, she went on to combine a heavy political backdrop with her own personal story with intensity, as her mother’s fight for life also became hers.

Representing the North-East was Christopher Stewart, who cut an unusual figure on stage in his overcoat and mutton chops.  He involved one unfortunate audience member in his discussion of his relationship with women and had an odd obsession with the moon, about which he’d apparently written fifty poems. When you felt like you were following his train of thought, he threw you off with surreal lines and obscure tangents that made the ideas you could totally grasp all the more worthwhile. Awkward, off-beat and probably the funniest performance of the night, he is clearly an enigma wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a full English.

After a short break came local poet Lorna Meehan, who got a suitably enthusiastic welcome from the home crowd. She performed poems inspired by and dedicated to Florence and The Machine and Michael Buble respectively. The latter didn’t quite convince me as to his charms, but was funny nonetheless. Her best however were ‘Rebel Heart’, a poem that combined the story of her and a friend, one who found love and the other turned to heroin, and ‘Waves’, a story of adolescent love on a holiday to Newquay.

The final poet, and probably the best of the night, was Jack Dean. His piece ‘Rain’ felt the most complete of the night, and was also probably the most varied. It centred on the flooding in the South-West and included a rap, a visit to his psychiatrist, and a list of anti-depressants he admitted he’d found on Wikipedia. He also had the audience singing ‘Three Little Birds’ before twisting it into something darker. However, the piece was ultimately about acceptance, and provided an excellent conclusion to the evening. The night was an entertaining, diverse and perfectly paced evening showcasing five very distinctive poets from across the country that not only affirm the Midlands’ but the nation’s spoken-word credentials.

by Daniel Moroney

@DanielMoroney

Richard House: The Kills @ Book to the Future

richard houseThe University of Birmingham’s own Richard House gave a lecture as part of UoB ‘Book to the Future’ literature and spoken word festival last week.

The event was a look into the creative process that culminated in this ‘new age’ sort of novel that was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The Kills is just over a thousand pages in length, broken up into four shorter sub-stories: ‘Sutler’, ‘The Massive’, ‘The Kill’, ‘The Hit’. The interesting and new aspect of this novel is the multimedia aspect the book has, with added extras in the form of short film clips and animations. And although House made quite clear the book can be read alone the multimedia extras help to set and change the mood of the extracts.

The event not only gave us an insight into the novel but the man behind it. House spoke about how he was a visual artist before he became a writer, and highlighted the difference between the two, saying his vision and creativity has always had a practical element that comes from working in the visual arts.

All the short films included in The Kills House shot and edited himself on his ipad whilst travelling. He spoke about how the interest of a new medium (the ipad) allowed him to explore new aspects of creating. “When I wasn’t writing I was filming, when I wasn’t filming I was writing”, and the process of an extra layer of video within the book allowed House to think more like the characters he was creating. When he was filming he said he would be thinking “what would Mizuki be thinking, what would she be looking at?” As a creative writer myself I found this fascinating; it’s almost as if via his ipad House was able to explore the world via the sight of his created characters. The videos as well as adding to the novel also acted as a creative exercise furthering the character and plot in his own mind.

The incredible thing about The Kills is all the extra information that goes around it and all the extra work and effort put in to create a world with people and voices. For example ‘The Kill’, the third sub-book within the novel, is referenced by Sutler in the first as a ‘terrible book’ and then again later as a film based upon the original book.  This added extra really gives a personal connection to the audience as they feel immersed into House’s world. This is furthered by the concept of flipping a coin to determine how you read ‘The Kill’. House advises readers to flip a coin and depending on its outcome read the book in chronological order or character by character, making the experience of reading rather more personal.

‘The Kill’ started out as a murder mystery set in Naples, but not wanting to write “just another crime novel in Naples,” House decided to take the advice given to all writers: write what you know. So he wrote a crime novel from the perspective of the outsiders, the people on the periphery. This changed the piece from just another crime in the stereotypically violent and corrupt Naples, to an insight into the people caught up in something they don’t really understand.

The event for me was incredibly interesting and enjoyable in spite of a few technical errors. It gave me an insight into the world of visual arts, and how in this day and age a novel can be so much more than simply words on a page.

By Noemi Barranca.

@NoemiBarranca

Creative Minds at Birmingham: Jamie McKendrick @ Book to the Future

Last Thursday saw the launch of ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ when award-winning poet Jamie McKendrick took to the stage of the Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building to share with us literature enthusiasts his poetical works.

There was quite a turn out as students from different subject areas, lecturers and enthusiasts outside of University attended the event. It is always great to listen and speak to a modern day author about his or her works. The event was opened with an introduction to Jamie McKendrick, highlighting especially his work on Out There (2012), his latest collection of poetry. This followed readings from the collection and other poetry collections by Jamie McKendrick himself.

One of the poems which really stood out to me in Jamie McKendrick’s reading was ‘Singing Lessons’ to which he explained to us his motives and inspiration for writing about – quite literally – singing lessons. He wrote this after the death of his brother-in-law as a way of expressing the lament people often feel when a loved one has died. Whether it be for words that were never said, or things that we regret doing or saying while they were still alive, here Jamie transforms it into a singing lesson which his brother-in-law took and which he teased him about. It is often some of the most small or seemingly irrelevant things that come to mind in our memories in the passing of a loved one which was clearly expressed through ‘Singing Lessons’.

sunflowersJamie McKendrick also read us a poem from an older collection Ink Stone (2003) called ‘Chrome Yellow’ on one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. He doesn’t call this an ekphrastic poem but his take on it certainly shows elements of this. He focuses particularly on the power of yellow in relation to one of the most powerful parts of this poem, his direct reference to Van Gogh as a “mad Dutchman”:

“That mad Dutchman who crammed his mouth with the chrome yellow he used by the tubeful to paint them made toxic lead his edible gold” (From Ink Stone, 2003).

In passing, Jamie McKendrick would mention his experiences on being a contemporary poet. He particularly described his commissioned works being one of the most difficult in working on, in virtue of the very fact that they commissioned; it would lead to lengthy arguments about the final product of certain pieces.

The question and answer at the end allowed us to further get to know the life of a modern day writer and it was also a way of getting advice for budding writers. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions asked was how to distinguish the difference between a poem and a lyric, to which Jamie answered simply that the lyric is wholly reliant on music while poetry isn’t. One of the most interesting questions that relate to the modern day was how far to go when translating the work of other writers. Jamie replied that it essentially relies on what you feel is alright: “if it looks alright leave it as it is”.  He further went on to give advice about the distinction in translating works that have been done before and works of your contemporaries.

Listening to Jamie McKendrick read out his poetry allows us to engage, with not only any biographical aspects of his work, but we also get to see the poems in exactly the way intended, this includes every moment of pause or emphasis on particular words or sections, something that other readers might not have the advantage of.

The event ended with a book signing giving everyone a chance to meet Jamie McKendrick in person. This is just the start of the ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ series, future events include other writers like Michael Longley, Alice Oswald and Kathleen Jamie.

by Malia Choudhury

Jamie McKendrick Interview @ Book to the Future

Jamie McKendrick
Award-winning poet Jamie McKendrick was kind enough to join me for a chat prior to his speech in the Elgar Concert Hall launching the ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ series.

Over a cigarette and a cup of tea he discussed the prospect of reading his poems, and I wondered whether he prefers hearing his poetry aloud or whether it is written to be read; indeed, whether he sees poetry as a visual or auditory art form. Jamie suggested that:

“The acoustic element is crucial for poems. There doesn’t seem to be a point in writing poems if you’re not thinking about the sound, the lineation, the rhythm – all of those elements are at the fore of the poem.”

“I mean, you don’t read it with your eye. It’s quite possible someone could read it a lot better than me,” he says whilst laughing. “I don’t care who reads it but it should be read aloud, and even if it’s read with the eye it should be sounded inside. The layout on the page is visual, yes, so it does have a presence on the page, but the layout is often indicative of auditory patterns.”

We moved on to the topic of translations; he recently won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize and the John Florio Italian Translation Prize for translating the poetry of Valerio Magrelli. When asked what attracted him to this task in particular, he explained that whilst in Italy he read The Embrace, the poem which the collection takes its name from, and that it “struck me immediately as going into English.” Although the process took around fifteen to twenty years to complete, Jamie described it as an “exciting challenge”.

Alongside Italian poets, he lists Seamus Heaney and Elizabeth Bishop as personal favourites. He recalled reading Bishop in his twenties, stating she “means a lot to me”, before declaring Heaney a “wonderfully exemplary figure… when I started writing he made it look possible to be beautiful and relevant.”

Since McKendrick’s careers spans more than forty years, my final question was the one I was most eager to ask: ‘what inspires you to write?’ In modest fashion, Jamie admitted that it’s “just a bad habit really … a compulsion … you feel bereft when you’re not writing,” before memorably concluding that, rather than his experiences inspiring his writing, his writing is what enables him to bring his experiences “into harmony”.

by Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

Writers’ Bloc Presents: Inter-University Poetry Slam

Writers’ Bloc hosted a multi-team inter-university poetry slam against Pembroke College, Cambridge, and an array of poets from Birmingham (non-university affiliated), who were charmingly dubbed ‘COW’ (Coalition Of Wordsmiths) by Chazz Redhead, the compere for the evening. COW saved the day after Cardiff University pulled out of the competition.

slam review
For those who are not familiar with slam etiquette, the format of the evening was as follows: we began with the ‘Sacrificial Poet’ round, in which a poet from each team performed, in order to display how the voting system would work (audience members held up a red ‘C’ for COW, a blue ‘P’ for Pembroke or a yellow ‘B’ for Birmingham, depending on who they thought performed the best poem). The votes from the Sacrificial Poet round did not contribute to the final scores. This round was then followed by four rounds in which a poet from each team would perform one poem, with a strict time limit of three minutes; this process would be repeated in the second half. The audience voted after every round; the poet with the most votes would win a point for their team.

By pulling slips of paper from his shoe, Chazz announced the running order of the first half: COW, Pembroke, Birmingham.

892515_10152662468525092_2108589660_oCOW’s Sacrificial Poet was Bohdan Piasecki, who is a renowned Birmingham-based poet from Poland, and also runs popular poetry night Hit the Ode. Bohdan quipped that he was going to perform something that was ‘really about the performance, rather than the meaning’ and launched into a fast-paced poem written entirely in Polish. While most of the audience had no idea what Bohdan was saying, his poem showed that slam poets need to concentrate on their performance, as well as their writing.

He was followed by Phoebe Power (for Pembroke), winner of a 2012 Eric Gregory Award and the 2009 Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She gave a very confident delivery of a poem in the voice of Dido (not the singer, the one from the Aeneid). The last Sacrificial Poet was Ben Jackson, who read a beautiful poem called Write Me in Your Diary. He took his performance to another level by interacting with the audience, which was evidently popular, as he was named winner of the round.

Now that the audience was clued in on how to vote, it was time for the main two rounds. James Walpole was up first for COW. It was quite evident that James was not used to slam poetry, as he read from the page (typically, slam poets are meant to have memorised their work) and also ran out of time. At times it was difficult to hear James, but considering the short notice he was given to be involved in the slam, he did well and the poem was very funny. A poet called Tristam was up next for Pembroke. He had a charming slam review 4stage presence, and had the audience in stitches with his poem about not being able to ride a bike until the age of nineteen. Writers’ Bloc’s Lily Blacksell concluded (and won) the round with a poem about unrequited love. It’s a topic that is frequently written about, but Lily brought something new and personal to it. Her performance was also first-class, as she used her experience in acting to make her poem completely relatable and humorous. There were also moments of beautiful poignancy, however, especially created by a line about an ‘undeniably single bed’.

It would be impossible to give you a play-by-play of the evening, so instead I shall focus on the remaining highlights. Tiffany Kang from Pembroke College quite simply stole the show. Her soothing, hypnotic voice was used fantastically in her poems. As an American poet, she brought something completely different to the competition, showing that British and American styles of poetry are completely different, but equally entertaining.

Elisha Owen’s (UoB) poem about her relationship with her father was a personal favourite. It was touching without being too sentimental, and captured the difficulties of how growing up can affect such an important relationship.

Ben Norris (UoB) performed two great poems: Disaster Sex and Dismembered Voices. He had clearly focused on the delivery on his poems, which was infallible and energetic, but his poems were also great in their own right. All of this is even much more impressive when one remembers that Ben was also organising the entire evening, and was actually responsible for the formation of COW.

Lorna Meehan (COW) dealt with comic and serious subjects in her poems, but really shone with her poem about Michael Bublé. She was engaging, entertaining and truly likeable. All the women in the audience could relate to her, but her poetry was so well written that everyone was won over.

Finally, James Grady showed that you don’t need three minutes to impress an audience, you just need a little over one. His poem Crossword was full of hilarious innuendo and was undeniably catchy. It was a short but sweet way to win the support of the audience.

Mention must also be given to the wonderful compere, Chazz. He was funny, irreverent, sarcastic and very self-aware, which helped toslam review 3 move the already entertaining evening to new heights. Some poetry nights can be a little slow-moving, but this slam was filled with boundless energy, and left the audience wanting more.


At the end of the evening, the University of Birmingham was announced as the winner of the slam, with only one point between them
and the runners-up. However, as Chazz reminded us, the night wasn’t about winning; it was a celebration of poetry and talent.

By Jenna Clake

@jennaclake