Tag Archives: Elgar Concert Hall

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

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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

Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders @ Book to the Future

tony robinson

Sir Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team and beloved Baldrick from Blackadder, came to the University of Birmingham on Friday 25th October to give a talk on some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ events that occurred in the past and which have inspired his series of children’s books.

Elgar Concert Hall filled up with a combination of teachers, university students, enthusiasts and primary school students all eager to see the acclaimed television personality-turned-author, and he did not disappoint. From the moment he ran onstage with his dazzling sparkly shoes, his charismatic and energetic performance engaged with children and adults alike.

From his hilarious, though not very PC, impression of Adolf Hitler crying like a baby, to his ‘mummification’ of a school teacher (accompanied with gory actions and sound effects), Sir Tony took us on a journey through time, pinpointing prominent events that could be perceived as dull to an audience of 7-10 year olds, and turning them into something fantastically interesting. He spoke about a range of prominent events in history, spanning from the Roman Empire and World War Two, to the slightly less well-known and wackier ‘invention of the Boat Cloak’, which all made for an unpredictable and constantly amusing performance.

Although slightly akin to a pantomime, the audience interactions provided laughs and really brought to life the events that he described. One unlucky pupil had to act out the first Olympics by running around the audience over and over, adding in actions whenever Sir Tony would call them out, “Javelin!”, “Shot put!”, after which Sir Tony informed him that the original Olympics would have been done in the nude(!) which had the boy’s fellow pupils in stitches.

In the Q+A session after his talk, an audience member asked what inspired Sir Tony to first start writing children’s books. Sir Tony explained how he had been approached by a publishing company and asked if he would consider it; and with the help of a friend he got to grips with writing. He told the audience that he realised that he could write on his own once he had decided on the most interesting, weird and wonderful historical events to write about. He then went on to highlight to the audience the importance of writing about something you are truly passionate about, which really resonated with me as a final year student with deadlines already beginning to loom.

The talk was concluded with the advice that everyone ought to write about the weird and wonderful elements of history as they would become rich, get to drive fast cars and be knighted!

Sir Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders series aims to teach children about history in a way that excites and interests them, taking away the elements of dullness and boredom; and his talk inspired many audience members (me included) to buy a book from his series. In this manner we can see how he accomplished what Baldrick would call a very cunning plan!

by Hayley Yates

UoB Book to the Future and Writers’ Bloc present: UniSlam!

1243952_10151629833181638_1322662633_oAs part of Book To The Future, the University of Birmingham’s first ever literature festival, Writers’ Bloc are proud to present UniSlam!, the UK’s first ever national inter-university poetry slam championships.

Watch the best student poets, including a team from UoB, battle it out over 3 rounds, culminating with a grand final in the 420-seat Elgar Concert Hall, for the coveted title of UniSlam! Champions.

The teams will be judged by professional poets Luke Kennard, Helen Monks, Martin Glynn and Matt Windle, and hosted by Bohdan Piasecki.

Come and join us for this FREE poetry extravaganza. All are welcome – bring your friends, family and pets for what is certain to be a day/night to remember!

SUNDAY 27th OCTOBER 2013

TIME: Heats 2–3.30 pm. Semi-Final 4.30pm-6pm.
Final 7pm-9:30pm

LOCATION: Heats in Lecture Rooms 1, 2 and 3, Arts Building
Semi-final and final in Elgar Concert Hall, Bramall Music Building

Bramall-homepage-v2For more information on the whole festival, visit – http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/university/colleges/artslaw/events/bttf/index.aspx