The party took place in the Old Library – one of the many buildings which make up the eclectic mix of venues in the Custard Factory. Built in 1866, its Victorian gothic features prove its status as a precious piece of Birmingham’s history. The venue was also particularly appropriate having been one of Birmingham’s first free libraries. Although it has now been emptied of books, the evening brought back a literary atmosphere.
The two featured poets were, strangely, both called Liz. The first Liz was Liz Berry, a Black Country ‘lass’ who now lives in London. Her poetry was terrifically influenced by the West Midlands. One piece called ‘Birmingham Roller’ was written in a Black Country dialect and it felt like a perfect piece to emphasize an important purpose of the book festival, which is to celebrate and raise awareness for local talent. She also read a great piece called ‘The Fishwife’, which was inspired by the old tradition of inviting a fishwife to a wedding. She was a great performer, and definitely a poet to look out for.
The second Liz was Liz Lockhead, a renowned Scottish poet and playwright. She was appointed as a Makar (national poet of Scotland) in 2011 . When Liz took centre stage she commanded her environment. As several people walked in late, she ushered them to their seats asking them to sit down and enjoy the poetry. She read a selection of poems, including some from her latest collection A Choosing: The Selected Poetry of Liz Lochhead.
Later, Liz was joined by the very talented LiTTLe MACHiNe – a three man group who specialise in setting famous poetry to music. They collaborated by taking her poem ‘Trouble is not my middle name’ and putting to music. They had only prepared the piece a few hours prior to the performance, so it felt fresh and spontaneous.
LiTTLe MACHiNe then took the audience on a historical tour through British poetry. They interspersed personal and contextual tales amongst the music and poetry, giving the concert an intimate and cosy atmosphere. Their set included a vast range of poetry from Shakespeare to Carol Ann Duffy. Their renditions of ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron’s ‘We’ll Go No More a Roving’ were highlights of the set.
They certainly added a new dimension to well-known poetry. If the crowd had been slightly bigger, and a few more people had been willing to get on their feet and sing along, then the Old Library would have truly come alive on the final night of the book festival.