Tag Archives: Birmingham spoken word

Grizzly Pear @ The Bristol Pear

Grizzly Pear came into 2013 with a bang. This was the second instalment of the rebranded Writers’ Bloc open-mic night, and the demand for spoken word and storytelling was as high as ever. The theme for the evening was ‘eavesdrop’, which technically applied only to those performing in the second half, but the other writers were also very welcome to take part in the theme.


Ben Norris and Joe Sale kicked off the night with a feature that is quickly becoming the most anticipated performance of the evening: the parody rap. This time it was ‘The Fresh Prince of the Pear’, a hilarious take on a classic, which saw Joe play guitar and Ben play keyboard while rapping about the Aldi vs. Tesco debate – something that every student in Selly Oak understands. It was very clear that this Grizzly was going to be as bawdy as the last.

IMG_3895The first half saw fourteen writers take to the stage to show off their poems and prose pieces. Jess Hanson, the society’s Social Secretary, proved a brilliant opener. She read a ‘prequel’ to the piece she shared at the last Grizzly Pear, which was funny as always (especially in her imitation of her grandmother’s voice) and very well written. Some writers chose to stick to ‘eavesdrop’ theme, with amusing results: Meg Tapp read a series of limericks entitled ‘The Bitches: A Quartet’, which included women she overheard talking on a train, and Lorna Meehan performed a poem that was ‘Ophelia’s suicide note to Hamlet’ – a beautiful, haunting poem that was completely different to anything else performed during the night.

Celebrities also seemed to be a popular target of the readings. Joe Whitehead read ‘I Need Someone Better to Love Me’, a poem about being in love with Kim Kardashian. Joe clearly had the audience in the palm of his hand: he played between being endearing and absolutely entertaining, leading to very loud cheers from the crowd. Ed Corless, whose readings are always popular, read three short pieces of dialogue between Nicki Minaj and a stranger, entitled: ‘Superbass by Nicki Minaj’, ‘Nicki Minaj in Most Social Situations’ and ‘Nicki Minaj ruins everything’. The pieces played hilariously on Minaj’s most famous songs. With the ability to write such fantastic dialogue, it is easy to see why Ed is doing a Prose MA. IMG_3897

Grizzly Pear also drew in many new faces and performers. As with most open-mic nights, the performers provided a mixed-bag of work, but their performances were generally confident and showed potential. The best newcomer of the night, however, was Sid. After being forced into reading by another performer, he showed that he definitely has the potential to become a great performance poet.

The second half of the evening saw six Writers’ Bloc members take to the stage to perform their ‘eavesdrop’ poems. Standout performances came from Lily Blacksell, whose poem about Bobby Womack (who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) showed off her writing ability and acting prowess. Joe Sale returned to the stage with ‘Anti-poet’; this poem was a controversial choice, as Joe admitted that he had written it after hearing lots of terrible rhyming couplets from poets, many of whom, he said, were in the room. However, all was forgiven. The poem was well written, well performed and quite frankly, electric. James Dolton concluded the Writers’ Bloc slots with a rap, complete with its own backing track. The Writers’ Bloc members should be commended for bringing such a diverse selection of writing and performing to the evening; they are a testament to the society.


The final and main attraction of the evening was Slam Champion Vanessa Kisuule. She wowed the audience with a beautiful poem called ‘Strawberries’, in which she charted the tumultuous decline of a relationship in a completely relatable fashion. Another standout poem was ‘The Incidental Sister’, in which she wisely communicated her feelings of jealousy and love, which anyone with a sibling or two could definitely relate to. Vanessa also treated the audience to a poem that she had never performed before, ‘The F-bomb’, which discusses feminism. However, the poem was not simply a man-bashing tirade; Vanessa dealt with the subject in a personal way, so that her poem was relatable, enjoyable and did not alienate any member of the audience. Vanessa proved that she is a great writer and performer; she is able to fill a room with laughter, and achieve a sense of poignancy that many writers struggle to.


Jenna Clake


Grizzly Pear @ The Bristol Pear

Writers’ Bloc, University of Birmingham’s Creative Writing Society, has managed to make a name for itself off campus. The society’s previously low-key open-mic night has been transformed into a dynamic and varied night called Grizzly Pear, set in the upstairs room of the Bristol Pear in Selly Oak. The night is the brainchild of Ben Norris, the society’s Literary Events Officer, who knows a thing or two about the open-mic scene in Birmingham – having started his foray into spoken word at this very kind of night. To complement Grizzly Pear’s new identity, the night has been given an entirely new format. There are now ten open-mic slots available to anyone; these are free of theme. The open-mic performers are then followed by five Writers’ Bloc members, who have to perform or read a piece that has been influenced by a subject. Finally, the night is concluded by one top-class headliner.

The theme of the night was ‘Loot’, which was introduced by Ben, who was also the evening’s compere. In a form true to his energetic style, Ben performed a middle-class parody of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ (with Joe Sale on guitar) to a delighted crowd, who responded with roars of laughter.

Grizzly Pear showed that it has the potential to become something much bigger than just a University-based open-mic night, as several poets from the Birmingham spoken word scene attended and performed. There were performances from Lorna Meehan, Jaden Larker and Carl Sealeaf, all of whom have performed at other well known spoken word nights. Lorna stuck to the theme by giving a brilliant performance of a poem based on lyrics from Florence + The Machine, Jaden performed a humorous poem about greetings cards, and Carl Sealeaf left the audience in awe with a beautifully honest poem. There were also several other highlights from the open-mic section. Joe Sale returned to the stage to perform ‘Ulysses Returns’, a powerful poem based on his father’s return from a life-threatening illness, in which Joe’s evident admiration was touching. Ben Jackson, who has previously performed at Hit The Ode, performed an inventive poem in which he experimented with sound and voice leaving the audience wanting more.

However, Grizzly Pear doesn’t simply cater to typical spoken word. Jess Hanson read a hilarious poem about surviving awkward family parties in a witty and confident style. She was followed by two special guests. Founder of the society and former Writers’ Bloc President, Sean Colletti, returned to impress once more. He read a touching poem about a good friend, in which he effortlessly captured the banter of friendship. He took the audience on an emotional journey which left the room devastated, and some audience members in tears. The final open-mic slot went to Luke Kennard, who is a lecturer of Creative Writing at the university and a renowned poet. His hilarious introduction to his sentimental poem, which will be appearing in his forthcoming collection, summed up the dynamic sense of the night perfectly.

The focus of the night then shifted onto Writers’ Bloc members. The standard of performances and readings was consistently high, showcasing the talent that the society has to offer. Among many highlights was Elisha Owen’s reading of ‘Radio Voices’. Elisha shifted her focus from spoken word (in which she has had many successes, including representing the university in a poetry slam against University of Edinburgh) to a more literary poem, which contained some strikingly beautiful images. She was followed by James Dolton, who first delivered a poem in rap-battle style, flawlessly integrating references to literature in every line. His second poem, ‘To’, was extremely honest and very well written, showing that his style has continued to mature. The final Writers’ Bloc member to perform was current President Alana Tomlin, who shared some of the poems she has written for her dissertation. Taking a witty yet simultaneously thought-provoking look at the failure of communities, Alana successfully looted parts of political speeches and was encouraged to continue by a riveted audience.

What is most original about Grizzly Pear is that it welcomes all disciplines of writing with open arms; page poets, spoken word performers and prose writers are all equally encouraged to share their work, providing the audience with a varied and thoroughly entertaining evening.

Grizzly Pear’s major success, however, was headliner Clayton Blizzard, who performed at Shambala Festival this summer. The highly talented folk singer and rapper travelled from Bristol to share a set for the first time in Birmingham. He initially captured the audience by singing a capella and wandering through the crowd, whispering in unsuspecting people’s ears. With witty rhymes, a strong vocal performance and some excellent guitar-playing, Clayton played a set which was full of black comedy. Highlights included ‘Sleep Tight’, in which a relaxing guitar piece was juxtaposed with sharp satire, and the infectious ‘Don’t Send Me Flowers When I’m Dead(I’ll Never Be on Top of the Pops Now)’. His varied set was a perfect end to the evening.

Thanks to its creator, Ben Norris, Grizzly Pear has firmly placed itself in line with some of the other open-mic nights that Birmingham has to offer, far exceeding previous events the society has held. Undoubtedly, everyone cannot wait until January when Grizzly Pear will return.

Follow @uobwritersbloc for more information on future events.

Words by Jenna Clake    @jennaclake

Pictures by Anita Baumgärtner