Studio Theatre, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.
5th March 2015
Looking around at StAnza you would be forgiven for assuming that there was a way poetry buffs ought to look – the men, for example, with silver beards and skipper caps. Slam poets, by contrast, are young and dress in black. They are situated in a black room with black drapes, black floor, and black armchairs; and we, middle-aged and balancing a Peroni and a macaroni pie, clap, punch the air, and go “Whoop!” whenever they say anything risqué, just to show we’re down with the kids.
That takes care of us. What about the poets? Agnes Török is Swedish, resident in the UK, and bilingual. She arrived in the UK just as the coalition government was getting into its stride, and she declares that as a young, unemployed, gay, European immigrant she is their worst nightmare. Her manifesto is that poets write poetry ‘to deal with stuff’ both personal and political. She has no time for ‘art for art’s sake’, a lot of time for people in hospital (both carers and cared-for), and can compose a whole poem about the questions that people ask her about her sexuality. The latter, when it is so phrased that every instance of the word ‘gay’ is given as ‘straight’, is an incredibly witty way of showing how daft the questions she had to field were. I liked her instantly: I liked her style, I liked her voice (which seemed mid-Atlantic rather than either Swedish or British), I liked her delivery, I liked her words. I especially liked her rising to Toby Campion’s challenge to write a bad poem about three items of foodstuffs – it wasn’t bad at all.
Neither was Toby’s in reply, written to an ex, getting an “ooh!” from the audience for saying that ex was like white wine – ‘a little tart’. He’s a StAnza debutant but no stranger to a slam. Like Agnes, he composes poems that are positive and relevant, he ‘deals with stuff’ with a wit as sharp as a bat’leth, and a compellingly rhythmic delivery. I found that his poems tended to stick in the mind, whether they were about ‘the false victory of change’ when something is renamed to be more acceptable, problems with the government expressed as marital difficulties, or the inherent drama of train announcements apologizing for delays.
Well picked, StAnza – five stars – I hope you have Agnes and Toby back again before too long. Readers, keep your eyes on your local ‘What’s On?’ and if you spot that either of these poets has a gig coming up, go and see them. I’ll be there for a fresh batch of lunchtime poets tomorrow, and this time I’m going to have a steak pie…
Review by Paul Thompson