Tag Archives: apples and snakes

Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac

LitFuse-full

“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

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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

Hit the Ode (part 2)

Hit the Ode, a monthly spoken word event organised by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, returned last Thursday to prove that this is an event going from strength to strength. This month’s collection of open mic and featured poets consistently bowled the audience over with their humour, lyricism and raw emotion. The Victoria provided a resplendent setting; the intimate nature and dimly-lit room providing an evocative background for words that were even more powerful.

For those who are now regulars, Bohdan Piasecki is as much a celebrity as the poets he introduces. As a compere and poet himself, his obvious passion for the spoken word excites even the most cynical of audience members. The room was the most filled it’s been yet – an apt reflection of the growing popularity of Birmingham’s spoken word scene.

Advertised as ‘an eclectic mix of styles, voices and languages’, the night fulfilled just that. As the name suggests, open mics in any setting are a gamble. Apart from one crude and mediocre poet overcome by misogynism, however, the poets that performed were as worthy of the stage as those paid to be there. ‘Carys Matic’, an English teacher based in South Korea, humorously recited a poem about British stereotypes she’s often been expected to play up to on her travels. Ben Norris, a Birmingham-based student, excellently explored the connections one experiences with lovers and Grandparents alike, providing a humbling contrast to the more raucous poetry of the evening.

The first featured poet was Paul Murphy. An established resident of Birmingham, he is most-recognised as lead singer and punk poet of the band The Destroyers. Sharing his good and bad experiences of life with rhythmic rhyme, his words flowed instinctively. As was often the case throughout the evening, the audience were continually lulled in with humorous anecdotes and then left reeling at the sagacious and sombre moments.

Vanessa Kisuule, a multiple slam winning poet from Bristol, was the next featured poet. Speaking to her after the event she said that shy writers should not be deterred from the spoken word scene, as poets often use performance to hide the fact they aren’t prolific writers. From her recital, however, it was clear that Kisuule does not fall into this category. Her beautifully crafted metaphors were brought alive by her performance. With poems such as Little Red Bow, her honest and humbling account of a vulnerable friend, and Sandwich, a comic tale of OCD and relationships, the audience were moved from laughter to tears and back again.

The final highlight of the evening was the performance of New York City poetry circuit veterans, Jon Sands and Ken Arkind. Reciting their work alternately, the poets covered topics from a brother’s marriage to his male partner, to the ramblings of a woman on a New York subway platform. They captivated with beat, music, and poetry that obviously was anything but superficial. Possibly the best Hit the Ode yet, the bar has definitely been raised. There is no doubt that as talent continues to emerge, Birmingham has not seen the last of nights like this.

The next Hit the Ode is on Thursday 29th March at 7.30pm.

Words by Elisha Owen

Related links:
Hit the Ode @ the Victoria (part 1)
Tell Me on a Sunday (part 1)
The Poets’ Place

The Poets’ Place

As a creative writing student and writer of poetry, The Poet’s Place is an event I have been meaning to go to since it was first set up early this year. It happens twice a month on a Saturday between 2pm and4pm and is located on the lower-ground floor of Birmingham Central Library. It is hosted by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, who also run the successful monthly spoken word event Hit the Ode and various other workshops and open-mic events around the city. You can sign up to the mailing list for more information by looking them up online.

Firstly, I will definitely be going back. The event is held in what feels like a mixture between the library’s basement and a conference room. The space is also shut off from the main library so you can get fully involved in the poetry and poets around you without feeling self-conscious. Most importantly there is plenty of tea and a fantastic selection of biscuits, which in itself is a good incentive.

There was wide a variety of people ranging from the poet laureate of Birmingham, Jan Watts, who this week was conducting interviews about people’s involvement within the Birmingham arts scene for the local radio. There was also a stand-up comedian who told the group that she had started writing poetry because her character wrote poetry. I also got chatting to the poet in residence of St. Martin’s Church (the church by the Bullring and markets) who told me about her workshops and the free art exhibitions the church regularly holds. However, most of the people there were aspiring poets and artists wishing to share work, talk about poetry and publishing routes or use the focused environment to sit quietly and write for an hour.

If you are thinking about starting to write poetry, read a lot of poetry or already write poetry this is a wonderful opportunity. Not only will you gain practical advice about writing from fellow poets, it is a place where any poetry related events around the West Midlands are advertised; I walked away with a list of four events which I would never have heard of otherwise. Birmingham has a thriving poetry scene, but it often remains unknown to people who are not a part of it already. Yet, meetings such as this contribute to the development and spreading of the genuine inspiration produced by everyone involved.

The next Poets’ Place will be held on Saturday 10th March.

Words by Alana Tomlin

Hit the Ode @ the Victoria (part 1)

Hit the Ode is a monthly spoken word poetry night at the Victoria, a pub tucked away just around the corner from New Street station. Consistently, this event presented by Apples and Snakes  proves to be moving, funny and an all round wonderful night. The performance poetry showcased at Hit the Ode really demands that people drop any school-yard preconceptions of poetry being dry or portentous. The evening’s fast paced series of open mic poets and featured acts is truly electrifying, with hilarious moments followed by startling pathos, contrasting flippantness and sentiment. All this combines to create a genuinely communal atmosphere in the room, as everyone experiences the emotional highs and lows of the poets’ words.

The upstairs bar at the Victoria is a dimly lit, intimate affair. There were perhaps 50 people crammed into the room, some standing or sitting around the walls due to a lack of chairs, whilst others listened in from the hallway. Bohdan Piasecki, a performance poet in his own right, was the compare for the evening, relaxing everybody with his wry humour and Polish accent. There was a great moment when he asked the audience to audibly convey ‘lust,’ and was met by three seconds of absolute silence…then laughter.

The open mic poets mostly read just one or two poems, moving the evening along at a brisk pace. One would expect the constant shifts in tone to be jarring, but the eclectic styles were actually welcome because the subject matter of some poems was particularly weighty – without some light relief the night could have been particularly intense and draining. For example, featured poet and Birmingham’s Poet Laureate Jan Watts read her new holocaust memorial poem Mirrors, a meditation on a passage from Anne Frank’s diary. It was beautiful and poignant, exploring how the mirror ‘holds a memory’ and questioning whether people have learned from history; ‘When did we last look in the mirror?’ Next, it was exciting to have a complete shift in gear to the young open mic poet Jess Green. She crystallised exactly what can be so thrilling about performance poetry with her breakup rant being alternately funny, cynical and sad. It was perhaps more akin to watching an actor’s piece or a soliloquy in a play.

The open mic poets were consistently impressive. Matt Windle, a young boxer, performed a snappy, rhythmic and incisive verse. Qasim Shah had a beautiful lilting delivery which disguised his dark sinister imagery (‘a field of lacerated veils,’) and Chris Hope was hilarious with his countless accents and satirical sonnets on the X-factor, McDonald’s and Argos. Featured poet Sue Brown had a graceful stage presence and her poems If You Were a Word and From Beorma to Birmingham used repetition to hypnotically beautiful effect.
It was another featured poet, Dani Orviz from Spain who closed the first half with an uplifting and visually stunning performance, with most of his poetry written in his native Spanish. In the hands of a lesser performer the language could have alienated most of the room, but Orviz ran animations and subtitles through a projector so the Spanish language became less of a barrier and seemed to be just yet another ingredient drawing us into his eccentric world. Spanish lends itself well to spoken poetry, its rhythmic polysyllables and magnetic rhymes make it a joy to listen to, especially alongside his beautiful animations of flickering cave paintings.

Final featured poet Luke Wright closed the evening with charm and panache. Initially, he had appeared to be a bouncer for the Victoria as he was stood by the door in his three piece suit, looking like Plan B. However, once on stage he had an easy going charisma and some brilliantly funny, affecting performance poetry up his sleeve. The Paunch!, an ode to the pot belly, was typical of his style, wittily irreverent throughout then closing in sharp, angry fashion ‘we line their pockets with our self-disgust.’

What makes Hit the Ode so vital is the genuinely sincere sense of goodwill towards the poets and communal atmosphere amongst the audience, something surprisingly rare to find even at music or comedy gigs. The subtle difference between politeness and empathy amongst strangers is outdone by the pure visceral emotional weight of the excellent poetry, making each of these nights unmissable.

The next Hit the Ode is on the 23rd of February.

Words by James Grady