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