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Grizzly Pear: A Retrospect

DISCLAIMER
This will be the last review I write for Grizzly Pear; it might also be the last review I write for Blogfest, so expect emotions, sentimentality and a good dose of self-deprecation. It’s like a review cocktail – snappy title to be confirmed.

 HISTORY (Part One)
Roughly two years ago Ben Norris had an idea: transform Writers’ Bloc much-loved but irregularly attended and unnamed open mic night into the poetry night to go to in Birmingham. Names were thrown around –Loudhailer was a rumoured favourite – Grizzly Pear was born and so were a series of questionable posters. Some of the biggest names in poetry have headlined: Tim Clare, Vanessa Kissule, Bohdan Piasecki, Katie Bonna. Ben Norris’s ego hasn’t inflated to the size of the top room of the Bristol Pear; in fact, he’s still a very humble but incredibly hardworking man.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part One)
It’s 00.16. I just attended my last Grizzly Pear.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One)
Three years ago I joined Writers’ Bloc. In the ArtSoc room of the Guild I met most of my current housemates and many of the friends I still have now. I met a whole host of students who seemed incredibly knowledgeable and full of ideas. I met people who could write. I met people who could write fantastically. I met people who were interested in what I was writing. I met people who wanted to help me become a better writer.

At the end of my first year of university, I finally plucked up the courage to read a poem on the stage of the Bristol Pear. I basically read to about twenty people I called friends and it was the most terrifying yet comforting environment. Now they can’t get me off the stage. Okay, they can. Luckily for most I’m a get-on-stage-read-your-poem-and-go kind of girl. (Is that lucky? I’ve never reviewed my own poems.)

DISCLAIMER TWO
Yes, all the times I’ve reviewed Grizzly Pear I’ve read a poem too. Shocking, I know. I mean, writing poetry and writing a review? I didn’t get enough attention as a child.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One and a Half)
Basically, without Writers’ Bloc and its open mic nights I wouldn’t have got over my fear of public speaking and I definitely wouldn’t be writing poetry, let alone going to do a Master’s in poetry. I’m naming my first child after all former and current committee members.

DISCLAIMER THREE
If I do actually name my first child after you all, you all have to buy it a present.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two) 
What’s great about Grizzly Pear is that it’s diverse: poems can be funny, poignant, satirical, political, emotional, reflective (and sometimes all these things at once), and Grizzly Pear’s open mic section always offers at least one of each.

Funny poem: Meg Tapp’s ‘I Look At Other Men’
A sort of love poem to her boyfriend that also gave us an insight into what it’s like to fancy anything with a pulse (or just waiters and celebrities). It was hilarious, but also contained some really well-wrought images.

Poignant poem: by Lorna Meehan
Poems about ‘big societal issues’ often come across as boring: yes, we agree that certain things are wrong with the world, but writing about it doesn’t necessarily make a good poem. Luckily, Lorna is an excellent poet and tackles such issues with a personal edge. Using an image of a woman weighing lettuce leaves, Lorna took the audience on a journey through the difficulties of eating disorders. It was a wonderfully performed and beautifully written poem.

Satirical poem: by Jack Crowe
I class Jack Crowe’s poem as the ‘satirical one’ because ‘Neil Cornwell has stated that “satire, humour and incongruity are always potential ingredients of the absurd”.’ (And that, dear readers, is also the first line of my undergraduate dissertation. Riveting, I know.) Jack Crowe does absurdism brilliantly. Basically, his poems contain the Russell Edson and Luke Kennard tone that I have spent nine months trying to perfect and haven’t. Jack Crowe’s speaker was planning a mental breakdown and the perfected factual manner complimented the black humour perfectly.

DISCLAIMER THREE:
Jack Crowe, I’ll buy your first collection when it comes out.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and a Quarter)
Political poem: by James Grady

James Grady used to attend the University of Birmingham and having performed at some festivals last summer, I’ve heard rumours that he might be doing something similar again. If he’s not, he should. I call James Grady’s poem ‘political’ in the best sense possible: it isn’t one of those ‘stand on my soapbox and rant to you about stuff’ kind of poems; James Grady is able to weave topical issues into a well-rhymed, lively performance that is full to the brim with laughs. Think Luke Wright with less hair.

Emotional poem: Lily Blacksell’s break up poem.
She said that she writes poems that aren’t just about being in love or break ups, but they’re good, so she can carry on doing so if she’d like. Actually, Lily, you can just write the former, because I’m not endorsing heartbreak. Lily does beautiful images and a dry sense of humour like no one else. Another one for the festival circuit, I think. (By the way, she’s also the new President of Writers’ Bloc, so she’s basically the queen.)

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Two)

This one time, in Writers’ Bloc, there was this really cool inter-university poetry slam, and Lily was on the University of Birmingham team. She was nicknamed ‘the duchess’, so her queen status isn’t really an exaggeration at all. She just climbed the social ladder. It’s like she’s Cady Heron but the Burn Book is just a book of really good poems.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Half)

Reflective poem(s): James Dolton, Miles Bradley and Ben Norris

I think this would be an ultimate dream-team poetry combo, but alas, all three performed separately. Their work had similar themes though, so I shall group them all together. The poets considered what the last three years have meant to them in very different ways: James Dolton’s was a darker look at what one might have experienced at university, but what will be lost as a result of leaving it; resident Grizzly Pear DJ Miles Bradley made us consider that Ben Norris might have forced us to read poetry for the past two years.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Three)
Miles doesn’t get enough credit. Every Grizzly Pear he makes me want to dance. Thank you, Miles.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Three-quarters)
And Ben Norris read a poem about how everyone thinks we haven’t been living in the ‘real world’ for last three years.

DISCLAIMER FOUR
I do not agree with Ben Norris’s claim that post graduate study is a way to avoid the ‘real world’. I just don’t want a ‘proper’ job yet (nor do I want one until I finish my PhD).

DISCLAIMER FIVE
I realise that these views may not have been Ben Norris’s.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Three)
Some poems fit into these categories and some don’t. The open mic section of the evening was of a particularly high standard.

DISCLAIMER SIX
This review is already ridiculously long and if I write about every single performer I will never go to bed and will therefore feed my already horrific insomnia and black coffee addiction. If I don’t write about your poem, it’s not because I didn’t like it.

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Four)
Tom Crossland, your poem about your dog was beautiful. I like anthropomorphised animals. I also have a dog, and now I miss him terribly.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Four)

 It’s 01.14. I’ll wrap this up.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five)
Writers’ Bloc has been one of the greatest influences in my life, however hyperbolic that sounds. Former and present committee members should be proud of everything that this once small and badly named society has achieved.

HISTORY (Part Two)
Said former bad name was not actually the fault of any past or present Writers’ Bloc committee members. A Creative Writing society existed before Writers’ Bloc’s founding father Sean Colletti took control and thankfully revamped it.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five and a Half)
I wish the new Writers’ Bloc committee all the luck for the future. I also threaten you with the promise of my return should you mess things up. You’ve got it good here, and I bet you can make it even better.

DISCLAIMER SEVEN
Seriously, that threat is real. My parents don’t live far from Birmingham.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Five)
I will end this review with an overall, over-generalised review of all poetry nights:

REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS

1)      You don’t like poetry.
(Seriously, what are you even doing here? Why are you reading this review if you don’t like poetry? You must like it a little bit. Read the next list.)

REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One)

1) You’ll get in touch with your emotions. Bohdan Piasecki does a wonderful crowd warm-up at the beginning of Hit The Ode in which you exercise your emotions. This is basically what every poetry open mic night does. Sometimes you leave thinking that you might actually have a soul.

 2) You’ll see some incredibly talented people perform. Sometimes you talk to them afterwards and realise that they’re interesting and lovely as well.

 3) Poetry isn’t elitist.

 4) Sometimes they go on for hours so you get to drink more than usual (and on a school night!).

 5) Occasionally, they’ll be a really great headliner and you’ll think, ‘Wow! I would have paid £590453894 to see them at a festival, and that only cost me £5!’

 DISCLAIMER EIGHT

Not all festival tickets cost £590453894.

 DISCLAIMER NINE

 Not all poetry nights cost £5.

 REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One and a Half)

 6) You might just see the next big thing in poetry in the early stages of their career.

 7) Poetry/ rhyme/ rap/ isn’t (and you aren’t) dead.

 8) Sometimes you’re allowed to review these things; you get free entry and to write two-thousand words that people might actually read.

 9) People actually listen to you at these things.

 10) You love poetry.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Six)

It’s 01.41. Time for one last

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Six)

I have loved Grizzly Pear, and I have loved Writers’ Bloc. To everyone who has listened to my poems and read my reviews: thank you. To all who have made me laugh, cry and feel human: you are wonderful people. This Grizzly Pear was the perfect way to end three years, and I am certain I will feel its absence once I have graduated.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Seven)

It’s 01.44. I’ll hand you over to Oli Clifford, who will be providing you with a review of Dizraeli’s headline set. I’m sure his review will be considerably less ridiculous. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

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Grizzly Pear Ft. Bohdan Piasecki @ Bristol Pear

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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
@jennaclake

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

Writers’ Bloc Presents: Inter-University Poetry Slam

Writers’ Bloc hosted a multi-team inter-university poetry slam against Pembroke College, Cambridge, and an array of poets from Birmingham (non-university affiliated), who were charmingly dubbed ‘COW’ (Coalition Of Wordsmiths) by Chazz Redhead, the compere for the evening. COW saved the day after Cardiff University pulled out of the competition.

slam review
For those who are not familiar with slam etiquette, the format of the evening was as follows: we began with the ‘Sacrificial Poet’ round, in which a poet from each team performed, in order to display how the voting system would work (audience members held up a red ‘C’ for COW, a blue ‘P’ for Pembroke or a yellow ‘B’ for Birmingham, depending on who they thought performed the best poem). The votes from the Sacrificial Poet round did not contribute to the final scores. This round was then followed by four rounds in which a poet from each team would perform one poem, with a strict time limit of three minutes; this process would be repeated in the second half. The audience voted after every round; the poet with the most votes would win a point for their team.

By pulling slips of paper from his shoe, Chazz announced the running order of the first half: COW, Pembroke, Birmingham.

892515_10152662468525092_2108589660_oCOW’s Sacrificial Poet was Bohdan Piasecki, who is a renowned Birmingham-based poet from Poland, and also runs popular poetry night Hit the Ode. Bohdan quipped that he was going to perform something that was ‘really about the performance, rather than the meaning’ and launched into a fast-paced poem written entirely in Polish. While most of the audience had no idea what Bohdan was saying, his poem showed that slam poets need to concentrate on their performance, as well as their writing.

He was followed by Phoebe Power (for Pembroke), winner of a 2012 Eric Gregory Award and the 2009 Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She gave a very confident delivery of a poem in the voice of Dido (not the singer, the one from the Aeneid). The last Sacrificial Poet was Ben Jackson, who read a beautiful poem called Write Me in Your Diary. He took his performance to another level by interacting with the audience, which was evidently popular, as he was named winner of the round.

Now that the audience was clued in on how to vote, it was time for the main two rounds. James Walpole was up first for COW. It was quite evident that James was not used to slam poetry, as he read from the page (typically, slam poets are meant to have memorised their work) and also ran out of time. At times it was difficult to hear James, but considering the short notice he was given to be involved in the slam, he did well and the poem was very funny. A poet called Tristam was up next for Pembroke. He had a charming slam review 4stage presence, and had the audience in stitches with his poem about not being able to ride a bike until the age of nineteen. Writers’ Bloc’s Lily Blacksell concluded (and won) the round with a poem about unrequited love. It’s a topic that is frequently written about, but Lily brought something new and personal to it. Her performance was also first-class, as she used her experience in acting to make her poem completely relatable and humorous. There were also moments of beautiful poignancy, however, especially created by a line about an ‘undeniably single bed’.

It would be impossible to give you a play-by-play of the evening, so instead I shall focus on the remaining highlights. Tiffany Kang from Pembroke College quite simply stole the show. Her soothing, hypnotic voice was used fantastically in her poems. As an American poet, she brought something completely different to the competition, showing that British and American styles of poetry are completely different, but equally entertaining.

Elisha Owen’s (UoB) poem about her relationship with her father was a personal favourite. It was touching without being too sentimental, and captured the difficulties of how growing up can affect such an important relationship.

Ben Norris (UoB) performed two great poems: Disaster Sex and Dismembered Voices. He had clearly focused on the delivery on his poems, which was infallible and energetic, but his poems were also great in their own right. All of this is even much more impressive when one remembers that Ben was also organising the entire evening, and was actually responsible for the formation of COW.

Lorna Meehan (COW) dealt with comic and serious subjects in her poems, but really shone with her poem about Michael Bublé. She was engaging, entertaining and truly likeable. All the women in the audience could relate to her, but her poetry was so well written that everyone was won over.

Finally, James Grady showed that you don’t need three minutes to impress an audience, you just need a little over one. His poem Crossword was full of hilarious innuendo and was undeniably catchy. It was a short but sweet way to win the support of the audience.

Mention must also be given to the wonderful compere, Chazz. He was funny, irreverent, sarcastic and very self-aware, which helped toslam review 3 move the already entertaining evening to new heights. Some poetry nights can be a little slow-moving, but this slam was filled with boundless energy, and left the audience wanting more.


At the end of the evening, the University of Birmingham was announced as the winner of the slam, with only one point between them
and the runners-up. However, as Chazz reminded us, the night wasn’t about winning; it was a celebration of poetry and talent.

By Jenna Clake

@jennaclake

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.

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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.

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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.

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Jenna Clake

@jennaclake

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