Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre
On a lovely balmy evening the Mumble opened its account at the annual litathon that is the Edinburgh International Book Festival, held amidst the swishy-swanky surrounds of Charlotte Square. Our first slice of the literary pie came from two female authors tied by a common theme. In their latest books, Mary Costello’s The Academy & Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, the female lead is a most complex creature – tied both to the natural world & to the philoscapes of human existence in which their women lived in both a fiery inner world & a placid outer. Chaired by the bubbly Peggy Hughes, chairwoman of the Dundee Literary Festival, we were treated to readings from both books & were afforded excellent opportunities to probe both of our author’s creative psyches.
Han Kang is Korean, the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. Her book is a further exploration of a theme she took up in an earlier short story entitled ‘The Fruit of my Womb’ – that of the woman who turns into a plant. The Vegetarian is in 3 parts, each narrated by a different family member; her husband, her sister’s husband & finally her sister. They describe how her chief (but silent) character first gives up meat, then becomes a total vegan, before settling upon drinking only water in her effort to become a plant. Han Kang herself admitted that this particular setting gave her an excellent chance to explore what it was like to be human, its basic & fundamental qualities, & to ultimately turn her back on that humanity.
Mary Costello’s book is a sprawling epic, whose heroine leaves her life in the west of Ireland to live in the big, bright new world of the USA. Arriving in 1962, Costello read out a sample of her book, in which her writing could be measured out in the most peaceful of poetical parts, jumping from scene-to-scene & thought-to-thought, like when the heroine sees her sister Clare who had, ‘a small child at her feet & one inside her.‘ Like Han Kang’s central character, the starlet of the Academy takes us on both a great inner & outer journey in which the all our raison d’etres are gently explored.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Inchyra Arts Club, Perth
9th June 2015
I’ll get round to John Cooper Clarke – the only poet who can chew gum in strict trochees – in a minute. First I have to mention the support act. I caught Mancunian poet Mike Garry at the interval, and mentioned that I was reviewing the gig.
“Make me sound fucking fantastic!” he said.
“You make yourself sound fantastic,” said a woman, standing in the queue to have a book autographed.
Sometimes a support act is a support act, and sometimes it’s a special guest. Mike Garry could headline in his own right. As it was, tonight he complemented Johnny Clarke, and did so with brilliance, wit, sunglasses, and a pair of House-of-Bruar strides. There are enough similarities between these two poets – Manchester accents, shades, no shyness about casual obscenity and not-so-casual obscenity, eidetic memory, the capacity for delivering at rapid pace, wit. Mike says he is “obsessed with language and words”, which is just right for a librarian, and that poetry is “not about what it means, it’s about how it sounds.” In pursuit of this how-it-sounds Mike can deliver a full-on attack at the microphone, or he can whisper, or gradually move off-mic to effect a fade, or sing in a surprisingly tintinnabular falsetto for a few seconds.
“I like to share my new stuff with my mates,” he says, meaning us. “… you don’t clap there.”
His poetry is sometimes sad, but in a way that grabs your attention. It may be about the stuff he doesn’t want to think about but can’t help thinking about, about human-traffic, about ‘kids who never learned to smile’, about a girl sending a ‘xelfie’ to her boyfriend only to find he has shared it and it has gone viral. It may be celebratory, about story time in junior school with the teacher who gave him his love of language, or a eulogy to his mum composed while he swam lengths in the local baths. I loved his poem to the late Tony Wilson, framed as a prayer to St Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost things, phrased is short breaths. here’s a snatch:
Talk to me
Talk to me
Of Gretton, God, Granada
Hooky and Hannett
And how the fighting just got harder
Hamlet, Ibsen, the IRA
Jesus, Mary and Keith Joseph
The importance of the moment
All things which may not in themselves be lost, but which have lost a perspective for Mike since Tony Wilson died and was unable to continue to give his. Look, what you get when you get Mike Garry supporting John Cooper Clarke, as he has done for the past five years of joining-at-the-hip, is two gigs for the price of one.
On comes John Cooper Clarke then, to the theme from ‘Dragnet’ – ‘derrrn ta dun-tun’ – and the evening doesn’t so much shift up a gear as phase shift, de-mode and re-mode itself. This isn’t the same John Cooper Clarke I saw in nineteen-frozen-stiff, when it was de rigeur to deliver short, sharp showers of invective, in strict punk style, the poetic equivalent of the three-chord-trick. This isn’t same get on, get down, get off act of the 1970s. It’s not even the same John Cooper Clarke in the next period, when his delivery was so rapid the words seemed to lose meaning. This is a bloke with an honorary doctorate and a history of inclusion on the GCSE syllabus. BUT… but… but it’s a bloke who can combine being a rambling raconteur with being a kind of existentialist stand-up comic delivering one-liners.
“If Jesus was Jewish, how come the Spanish name?”
“Refried beans – can’t the Mexicans get anything right first time?”
It’s also a bloke who can croon ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ in a surprisingly true and pleasant voice, interspersing it with observations about the up-side of dementia, or rattle off a verse from Sir Henry John Newbolt’s ‘Vitaï Lampada’
The sand of the desert is sodden red, –
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; –
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
And instantly you can see where he gets it all from; ‘Hire Car’ makes sense, ‘Beasley Street’ makes sense, the gentrified follow-up ‘Beasley Boulevard’ makes sense, ‘Bed-blocker Blues’ makes perfect sense, the whole rollicking corpus of John Cooper Clarke, stanzas shutting with a repetitive bang, all makes total sense. He is completely conscious of the devices and tropes that make his style instantly recognisable, as was obvious when he introduced a recent poem of his as ‘The Title Appears at the End of Each Subsequent Verse with Monotonous Regularity’. Tonight he gave us his short poems too: his limericks, marked with bathetic final lines which were just bloody funny anyway; his two-liner about necrophilia; his collection of haiku including
to catch the moment
in seventeen syllables
is very diffic
At least that’s today’s version of it, but – hey! – it shows a marked improvement in the principle ‘mono no aware’. Look, you all know him, you all know what he does, so next time he is within striking distance of where you are, cancel your emergency dental appointment, anniversary dinner, aunt’s funeral, and go get some.
Now the interview. I was supposed to interview Dr John after the performance, but it didn’t quite turn out like that. We started off with an impromptu but deliberate double act.
Me: “May I use my Dictaphone?”
John: “No, use your finger like everyone else.”
Boy, that was satisfying! Then I derailed the whole interview before it started by mentioning that we both had the Twisted Wheel, Manchester’s legendary Soul club, in our cultural background. It turned out we had both been at the same Ben E King gig in 1968, and this dominated our conversation for a long time – “You’ve made a personal contact there,” said John, “I was there on that night.” He was surfing a wave of adrenalin. I had a list of nine questions, plus probable supplementaries, and we actually only got to tackle two of them, or maybe one-and-a-half, because the first one sent him off on an account of his life history, his school days, his poetry teacher John Malone who loved the 19c Romantic Poets and inspired a whole class of kids at an inner-city Secondary Modern school, the band he was in, how he affected an Ivy League suit and short hair in the 70s in order to project himself as the poetic version of Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce, and how he got into the punk scene. That when I asked him if he could remember deciding to be a poet, and what was it that triggered that decision. His immediate answer was “Well I fancied this beatnik chick… I was already interested in poetry, it was really the only thing I had any flair for…” So the actual trigger for poetry-making was a carnal interest in the opposite sex. Fair enough. “And if she didn’t understand it, so much the better… she’d say blimey that must be good coz I don’t understand it, that’s a kind of beatnik code…”
About his teenage band, called The Mafia: “We’d all been to see this film called ‘Pay or Die’, starring Ernest Borgnine, and we’d all gone – oh, the fucking mafia, that’s the way to fucking live! – we were all obsessed with the mafia… and fifty years later [came the inclusion of ‘Evidently Chicken Town’ in ‘The Sporanos’]… circular, circular!… For me that was massive.”
About his McCain’s chips TV advert: “I love doing adverts… that’s really the sweetest plum, and also easy, so easy… they write the words, this is the great thing, what they do is… they get somebody to write it in my style.” That was the point at which we were all turfed out into the darkness of rural Perthshire, blinking, five hours after I had come through the doors of the excellent Inchyra Arts Club. Could have chatted for hours. Evidently a great night.
Review by Paul Thompson
Eden Court, Inverness
28th May 2015
Niall McCann is a TV Presenter (Biggest & Baddest), Explorer, Adventurer and Biologist. In Adventure: Red in Tooth & Claw, Niall recounts his adventures in a compelling audio/visual supported talk which enthralls adventurers and laypeople alike. His talk is divided into two separate parts; the first detailing his extraordinary adventures while in the second half he talks about his ecological and conservation work, linking both together by his passion for exploring and appreciation of the wilderness.
As an explorer he has travelled the planet, turning his hand to a variety of expeditions and methods of undertaking them; two biking trips in the Himalayas (climbing the highest road in the world), big wall (cliff) climbing in Yosemite park-USA, skiing across Greenland, rowing the Atlantic, mountaineering in the Alps, ski-mountaineering, ice climbing and speed flying (a sort of crazy paragliding) in the Caledonian Alps-Greenland.
During his tales he is very depreciative about his own level of skill. He claims he is not a great climber- with a fear of heights, not the best rower, skier or cyclist but then in his next breath he goes and describes some amazing achievements he has made in all of these skills. It is not false modesty (although he is obviously very talented) so much as to point out that it is the determination not to give up that helps him the most in achieving his goal. Niall is very talented in bringing across each story and easily drew the audience into the tale to the point where they were at the edge of their seats. There are triumphs and failures, great dangers and moments of pure hilarity.
Niall has spent several years on conservationist expeditions in some of the most remote parts of the globe. His interest in biological sciences is very much driven by his whole family; in fact all of his family has been involved in zoological or conservation research. During his research trips he has help discover new species, directly help the protection of rare animals and had dozens of brushes with death at the jaws and claws of the world’s most charismatic dangerous animals. Niall’s talk about the events that led him to lobby the Honduras government to protect a very special National Park in particular was inspiring.
He is a very compelling speaker and makes even complex ideas easy for anyone to understand. A truly interesting personality and well worth seeing when he next tours the country.
Reviewer : Lucy Tonkin
Rio Cafe, Glasgow
On Monday night I went to Rio and I went without a passport. Now before the Scottish or UK Governments get involved in or indeed try to create a diplomatic incident I should say that the Rio concerned isn’t the carnival capital of Brazil but the poetry capital of the West End of Glasgow.
You see there is an event in this particular venue to which the cultured citizens of this dear green place make way on the last Monday of each month. This event is entitled last Monday at Rio and Robin Cairns is our genial hosts for this evening of erudite entertainment.
This Monday saw me make my long awaited and long overdue return to a night which I always enjoy attending but hadn’t been able to make due to a bizarre combination of circumstances for the last three years and believe me it felt good to be back.
Though I missed Robin opening the show and maybe one or two of the open mic slots I was fortunate enough to enjoy the vast majority of acts on what was a brilliant night of top quality spoken word. Whilst many of the performers were known to me such as Audrey Marshall, Kevin Gilday, Jim Ewing, Kirsten McAlease, Stephen Watt and recent discovery Ms Woodburn, there were also a number of fresh new voices. It is fair to say these poets were new to me, but such was the level of their talent they made me want to hear more of their work. It is with honesty I can say that as I listened to the voices of Adam V Cheshire, Aiden Rivett, Callum Rodger, and others I felt my cultural life had been enriched by hearing their words.
I particularly enjoyed Aiden’s poem about the old man on Duke Street. This was I thought a very poignant moment in a night which illustrated all that is good about the craft.
The topics covered included everything from altzheimers to televised revolutions from abortion to refugees. There was even room for spiders, seagulls, and boy bands, on a night when anything could be said and nothing was taboo. There were even poems on geography and ghosts and a brilliant if unique take on the next step for feminism from another voice new to my ears the pint sized pocket rocket Ailsa Williamson.
This was a fantastic night of top quality culture and with former MSP Rosie Kane as the headline act. I knew I had to be there. You see for my sins which have been many and varied over the years I have campaigned with her on a number of years for many different causes. These range from anti trident marches through to Scottish Independence and women’s equality issues. So you see this was a no-brainer, I not only had to be there I had to make sure I was wearing my women for independence badge and my badge in support of Maryhill foodbank. It was if you like a cultural three line whip
On taking the stage Rosie recalled her days as part of The Pollok Free State and how this quiet reserved Glasgow woman got involved in the protest against the M74 extension. In doing so she told us of how she was accused invading the chamber of commerce and according to the TV news holding journalists hostage.
As Rosie held court she had the audience spellbound with her tales of protest and campaigning which acted as a springboard to get her in to politics. This was a very personal set laced with fire, passion, and humour. It was an excellent performance from someone I have known for a long time in a different but parallel life. Well, if I’m being honest there are many similarities between spoken word performers and politicians. Both need good oratory skills and both speak from the heart and Scotland’s very own citizen Kane is blessed with an abundance of both these skills.
Entertaining as she was however, I have to say my favourite set of the night came not from our headliner but Lewis lass Kirsty Nicholson. In her poem Being From Lewis Is, Kirsty, who like Rosie I know from the political world explored the stereotypes which are all too often associated with the island life and delivered her own satirical rebuke to those with more shall we say metropolitan or international geographies.
In the second of her two poems Kirsty brought back memories of a Scottish Cup semi final defeat in which Celtic lost 4-2 to Motherwell as she told the story of the ghost of a former Celtic player who is apparently haunting her flat. Despite being a Celtic fan I can’t figure out who is guarding her flat but Kirsty has found his trophies and medals in her attic. Whether our poet knows the name of the player I’m not sure but if she does, it may be wise to keep his identity secret.
Now before anyone tells Kirsty there is no such thing as ghosts remember she is an Island girl and islanders, are like the Irish brought up on tales of myths and legends. Trust me I have both Western Isles and Irish blood and learned a lot of stories at my granny’s knee. I also learned traditional songs of my communities. I don’t know why but some people may call them rebel songs well I suppose I am a rebellious Scot but unlike some people I will never be crushed.
I say this because I am a poet and a poet will always have something to say and this was the certainly the case on what a was great way to spend a Monday. This was a night when I went on a flight of fancy just because I could to prove that geography matters and you don’t need a passport to find a world within a city.
Reviewer : Gayle Smith
“I formed a Band”, Eddie Argos,
Broadcast Café, Glasgow
24th May 2015
Eddie Argos is a singer who doesn’t sing, he admits this straight away. It should come as no surprise to audiences, then, that he isn’t a spoken word artist either.
This reviewer wasn’t sure what to expect from a spoken word night by the likes of Argos, though I was mildly aware of his eccentricity. Argos made it big(ish) with his band Art Brut by resting on the laurels of his talented bandmates, and his own strange brand of eccentricity and charisma. His style of singing (talking) lent a unique and off-kilter sound which has attracted a cult following, as well as glowing decade-old reviews by the likes of NME. Now, he’s launching a crowd-funded autobiography, and embarking upon a mini tour of the UK putting on a one-man 45 minute “Spoken Word” show.
Luckily, Argos is funny. He also oozes charisma, and he has great comic timing. Not to mention he’s likeable. He has a cult following. And he’s never pretended to be clever, just weird. For those expecting classic Eddie, the show is a great chance to see a famous(ish) musician up close and personal, with the chance to ask questions, and bask in the intimacy of a half-empty room. I think Argos made eye contact with just about everyone, all fifteen of us.
For those expecting Spoken Word, Argos certainly does not hit the mark. It did not help that his opening acts were two of the most talented spoken word artists in Scotland – Bram E. Gieben (Scottish Slam Champion) and Kevin Gilday. Both personify the best of spoken word in the United Kingdom. Gieben, also a musician, blends his own brand of post-apocalyptic diatribe with hip-hop cadences. His pieces are fiery laments and in some senses, eulogies, for the contemporary state of man. He calls his attitude “Heroic Pessimism”. In other words, he is clever, skilful, and unapologetically avant-garde. He is an artist nearing the top of his game. Those curious about the bar for great spoken word in Scotland would do well to listen to Gieben’s work. I’ve heard an over-abundance of Howl-spawned litanies, but I forgive Bram his. And that’s saying something.
Gilday is even fresher. The man himself is funny, warm, and charismatic. His pieces are hilarious, ironic without a trace of bitterness (mostly), and humming with the present moment. A piece titled “Found in the Mud” (which might equally be titled “Overheard at Glastonbury”) had most of the room in tears. His Middle Class Love Poem was just as hysterical. Where Gieben is dark and brooding, Gilday is sincere and shrewd. His is an expert form of spoken word for everyman, with strong links to the world of storytelling, and comedy. The man himself is authentic, naturally funny, and effortless. Gilday tells me after the show that it’s tempting for poets to muster their deepest, darkest work for a set, but he likes to offer the audience relief. It is exciting to discover a voice which brings such energy and warmth to material elsewhere laced with acrimony, and an excess of C*words. I felt sorry for Argos following such wit, although he too had his moments.
Which brings me to the headliner. Argos was funny, I’ll give him that. The material was well-chosen, his transitions were seamless, and he has a natural talent for drawing audiences in. Audiences were treated to a variety of ramblings covering his attention-grabbing youth, his undying narcissism, his foppish cavorts around London, and his antics playing a hoover instead of a musical instrument. Anyone who’s had a chance to read some of his song lyrics, should know not to expect a word-smith at the top of his game. Argos does however, make a tremendous effort to entertain those dedicated enough to listen to his anecdotes. He tries very, very hard. Fans of the band would do well to attend the next few stops on his tour. Fans of comedy too. However, as Argos himself admitted, the “Spoken Word” title seems like a cop-out, a loose term he himself has hurled out without knowing really what it means. He probably wanted to call himself a comedian, but didn’t have the balls.
Argos as a Spoken Word performer is, well, kind of like Argos. You go in, already unsure as to what exactly you’ll end up getting, or how good it’ll be. But it’s shiny, and cheap-ish and the catalogue makes it sound good. So you splash out, and hope for the best, only realizing as you open that weird misshapen box with that old familiar pang, you should probably have spent your time and money somewhere else.But you’ll never have the balls to ask for a refund.
Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan
A Dandy, a Martyr, and a Prostitute walk into a bar… ”
Cabaret at Stereo Café
It is a truth universally acknowledged that love and money provoke great entertainment and Rally & Broad’s Monthly Cabaret was no exception. Sunday afternoon at Stereo was a decadent affair. Moustaches twitched. Clowns sang about death. Dazzling story-tellers sold tales of the sex industry. A dandy railed against political witlessness. And to top everything off, musician Jonnie Common delighted the crowd with a weird and wonderful electro-folk set about, well, his friend’s grandma (but in a sexy way).
The afternoon was curated by Rally & Broad (Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum) who are luminous forces to be reckoned with on the contemporary Scottish poetry scene. Their monthly Cabarets in Glasgow (and Edinburgh) provide a space for the more artistically adventurous of folk to soak in the (often experimental) sounds of whichever talent fits the month’s theme. Attendees are sure to hear from some of the UK’s hippest poets, writers, and musicians. Thankfully, the cabaret is well-paced and the bodacious MCs bring a liveliness (and great comic timing) to the afternoon (as well as a poem or two). There are no more than two acts to a section, multiple breaks, a raffle, and even a crowd-sourced poem to cap things off. With plenty of audience interaction, a shot at winning booze or chocolate, and a well-stocked (though expensive) bar in arm’s reach, Glaswegians would be hard pressed to find a more delectable offering from 2:30-5:30pm on a Sunday afternoon.
The linguistic star of the set (in this lowly writer’s eyes) was undoubtedly Luke Wright, a foppish and seriously talented spoken word artist, whose set brimmed with comic irony, originality, and anger. His final (hysterical) piece gave voice to the perverted frustrations of UKIP voters. The piece was brilliant, and the performance devastating. Musical acts Johnnie Common and Creative Martyrs were just as intriguing. Common’s strange and whimsical arrangements were as funny as they were accomplished. Creative Martyrs lent a strange, and phantasmagorical air to the proceedings, drifting between stage and crowd like figments of a dream. Kirstin Innes, author of Fishnet, gave a provocative and spirited reading. Her debut (and meticulously researched novel) tells the story of the sex trade in Scotland. Innes’ stage presence is as provocative as her subject matter, and she was a joy to hear. Rally & Broad also performed a poem each (both have new pamphlets out). Both writers are expert wordsmiths, and bang on the pulse of post-referendum Scotland.
It is a privilege to be served up such prodigious talent once a month in Glasgow. Aspiring poets would do well to spend a Sunday afternoon lazing in the cavernous depths of Stereo, feasting on wine, and expertly crafted entertainment. There are many Cabarets in this vibrant city, few are frequented by such exceptional talent. I wager the billing will continue to shine – Rally & Broad have a lot of talented friends, and the featured poet next month (Caroline Bird) is as sizzling and on-the-mark as Luke wright. Keep an eye on Rally & Broad’s billings. Money may not buy you love, but at a meagre £5, it affords you a hell of an afternoon.
Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan
Photos : Chris Scott
*Note: all Prostitutes involved in the reviewing of this event were purely fictional*
Democracy has never sounded Sexier: an Ear-gasmic line-up at Café Siempre
Politics and performance have always made great bedfellows, and what a terrific meeting of minds Anna Crow curated at Café Siempre last Wednesday night. The vegan-friendly café took on the distinct feel of a speakeasy, as some of Glasgow’s most colourful eco-warriors, artists, and canine companions assembled to share in a night of music, poetry, and performance – held in aid of the Green Party (turns out the right to run for election comes with a hefty price tag).
Glasgow does not suffer from a dearth of gigs, spoken word nights, or poets – but rare is the chance to hear such a well-chosen collection of talent all under the same roof, for a fiver. I wager fans would be hard pressed to hear the likes of Sunshine Social, Monoganon, Something, Someone, or the effervescent Teri Booth for so little, and in so intimate a venue. Add scorching Scottish Slam Champion Bram E. Gieben, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a line up.
Musical highlights included approximately one half of Sunshine Social, who made up for their absent numbers with a stripped-back, harrowing performance; harmonic folk trio Something, Someone; and divine singer-songwriter Teri Booth, who’s “Take me Down” and airy vocal pyrotechnics elicited multiple ear-gasms from the spellbound crowd. Up and Coming poets Liam McCormick and Kirsty Nicolson brought some fiery West-Coast voices the stage, both mixing personal poems with more political pieces, warming the crowd nicely for Martin Bartos (Green Party Candidate), who chose to regale the crowd in verse. Of course, Monoganon and Bram E. Gieban were bound to be fabulous. This reviewer had to dash off early, but I hear Bram is performing again in Glasgow, so tune in next week for a review of his stuff. Other shoutouts include wannabe escapist (and singer-songwriter) Tom Davis – whose distinctive vocals and melancholic ballad provoked audiences to meow along at the end of his set.
Politics reigned supreme at “Supporting Democracy”. In a charity-happy, fundraising-obsessed culture, Supporting Democracy was one of those rare fundraising events where the cause actually took center stage. Zara Kitson’s articulate and on-point speech at half-time was thought-provoking, and articulate. Liam McCormick, Kirsty Nicolson, and Anna Snow performed well-constructed and compelling poetry focused around activism, poverty, and identity. It is exciting to hear young voices using poetry as a platform for political change, and I hope to hear more of this type of work from all three writers. All funds raised on the night will go towards the costs of Green Party electoral candidates.
Supporting Democracy was like a delicious tasting menu of music and performance, with just enough of each treat to satiate my appetite, and a nice long break between courses. The real success of Anna’s night was the prodigious talent she managed to assemble. The atmosphere was intimate, the music was divine, and the beer tasted pretty damn good. Despite the leanings of the organisers, everyone was welcome, Green or not-so-Green. This reviewer spent the night sandwiched between a revolving door of politicians, poets, Monoganon-s, puppies, and a fellow layman or two, without smelling even a whiff of bullshit. In fact, not a single person tried once to hawk a CD, piece of merch, or even ask for my vote. They just wanted me to buy a Green Party Button, and bathe in the delicious sounds of democracy.
Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan
Aye Write Festival,
18 April 2015
Spending a Saturday evening, cooped up in a library listening to poetry has never held much weight for this reviewer over the years, but Aye Write! Festival 2015 were unearthing the hottest property in spoken word this evening at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow in the form of George Mpanga aka George The Poet. The 24yr old Londoner has been making quite a stir over the last couple of years, featuring on BBC Radio 1, Sky Sports F1 Grand Prix in Monaco, and being shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice category at the 2015 Brit Awards. An ability to adapt rap into a strong, poetic form has enabled the young lyricist to carry his social and political messages farther than even he could ever have envisaged, and for the second time in the past couple of months, George was ready to win over Glasgow.
From among the hubbub of silver-haired scholars, studious apprentices, and salmon-shirted Aye Write staff directing festival things to their appropriate halls inside Glasgow’s stunning Michell Library, Jean Cameron welcomed George to the stage – headset attached, projector backdrop, comfortable seats for Q+A purposes, and lectern on stage awaiting like a business conference. Although sceptical at this formal layout, the evening settled quickly into the young bard’s calm and likeable approach, reeling off the thought process behind new book ‘Search Party’ (launched February 2015) with anecdotes before each poem.
It is the ability to slip comfortably between academic language and London slang which is George’s most established quality, spouting advice between each articulate, assertive line. It is only the occasional stutter and brief pauses to regroup his thoughts which allow the audience to blink free from being indoctrinated by the poet’s tirade concerning ‘the universality of humanity’. This is not to say that this is an unwanted brainwashing, however peculiar that may seem. It is a positive spiel concerning social groups and opportunities available within communities which the skilled lyricist is administering during “Believer”, rising out of the social groups in which we are all parcelled into. The attentive crowd do not applaud until our speaker chooses to say thank you, and it is perhaps a small intimation that the air feels too heavy and that the guest needs to feel that he has everyone on his side.
In “Scapegoat”, the insightful prognosis that a strong social group offers latitude from life’s difficult times is not a revealing proclamation, but it is the poet’s undertones to fight which veer his work from thoughtful oracle into motivational speaker. As he states himself, George loves a validated argument and his curiosity in problem-solving and seeking solutions within corporate circles occasionally jars between being on the cusp of enlightened, radical thought-processes and the enterprising mission statements one finds in the reception areas of big business. Indeed, tonight’s orator cleverly uses the incantation of human growth and technological advances to surprising effect in one poem:
“There are seven billion people in the world
and not one has the same fingerprint as you”.
If George was selling a product, then it would be self discovery and how to progress oneself. The lesson of learning from one’s failures is addressed in the questions and answer session after a half hour set, wherein his advice to younger poets is not to ever consider themselves ‘lesser’ at the beginning of their journey, but to embrace that transition of human experience. Using commentators and an assortment of heroes such as Muhammed Ali, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou as an example of anyone who can articulate an ethos, George’s observation that one newspaper referring to him as a ‘rapper’ may border on racism is food for thought, and addresses exactly where ‘the poet’ moniker begins. The slow and deliberate responses, articulating his experiences, lends tonight’s performer as being both considerate and respectful, always seeking ways to add value to his words.
Satire frequently breathes inside of George’s messages, and from experiences ranging from reading in UK prisons to Buckingham Palace, a broad spectrum has now listened to his positive rhetoric and unabashed plugs for his new book – or ‘manifesto’, as he calls it. Tonight was a fascinating experience which left the crowd with a lot on their minds with the upcoming elections only weeks away. If the young poet’s proclamation that we are all in boxes used to manipulate political standing, it will be interesting to listen to what he has to say once the ballots have been crossed and the results are in. Don’t be surprised if, one day, you find yourself voting for George Mpanga’s Search Party.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt
Studio Theatre, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.
7th March 2015
As this is going to be my last review at StAnza this year I would like, first of all, to thank the organisers for making me welcome, for putting up with my being underfoot, and for letting me have a replacement ticket when I lost one. It was great to meet the poets – nice to bump into John Dennison again today and, after eavesdropping on an interview, have a few minutes’ chat with him and learn that, yes, our reviews are read by their subjects – and I made my daughter jealous by tweeting that I had been in the same room as Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully. Well, that actually means I happened to be in the bar with actor Clive Russell. Anyway…
My last poetry, pie, and Peroni session was a treat. Erin Fornoff, born in North Carolina and now based in Ireland, gave us a shorter and gentler presentation that the preceding ‘Poetry Cafés’, so much so that we were all unsure whether to clap at the end of each poem. To clap is very much a ‘Poetry Café’ thing; not to clap is very much a formal ‘reading’ thing.
Erin has learned to memorize the poetry she presents live, ever since she was due on stage to give a reading, grabbed her notes, and, when she stepped up to the microphone, found that she had picked up someone’s schedules for gym sessions. She gave us a programme of twelve poems in all, not all of which were memorized, it must be said, but all of which were engaging and delightful. They ranged from a tribute to the way people in New Orleans had been through Hurricane Katrina and come back to resume their lives, to the reaction of a Texan removed to Appalachia and seeing snow for the first time. Introducing one about living across the Atlantic, in a strange country, in a cottage miles from anywhere overlooking the Irish Sea, she mentioned that it turned out to be lonely – “Who knew?” I particularly liked the poem ‘My Father is a Skydiver’, in which she described her father’s growing old as ‘becoming less tall’; also ‘Moonshine’, in which she played with the meaning of the word ‘proof’.
Best of all, though, was ‘Opposite of a Thank You’. How to explain it? It was an esprit d’escalier piece, directed at a former mentor, someone who had encouraged her work at college, only to eventually suggest a liaison because he had ‘contacts in the literary world’. I’m glad to say this is available on YouTube, so just go there and search for her name and the title, and enjoy!
Nothing more to say, except perhaps we could have done with a couple more poems from her – as I said, the session seemed to be over in a trice. Identical to a thank you Erin, and identical to a thank you StAnza.
Review by Paul Thompson
Conference Room, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.
7th March 2015
The Conference Room is not the most attractive venue at the Byre, being bare, airless, and humming, but it does have the advantage of technology. It is easy to set up a laptop there with a feed to a screen. If StAnza-goers had been observant, they would have noticed occasionally on the wall of the theatre Atrium, a series of projected phrases zooming in and out of prominence, and maybe wondered what they were. This session was designed to give an explanation, or at least go some way towards it.
Michiel Koelink is Dutch, and Jon Ståle Ritland is Norwegian, but writes poetry in English. They met at StAnza two years ago, had a meeting of minds, and decided to collaborate. The raw materials were Jon’s poetry, in particular works from his book Body Searches, and Michiel’s dexterity with computers. He gave us a quick display of how his software plays with Jon’s words, fixing each phrase to a dot, and the dots attached to each other by lines. There is a central point of ‘gravity’ on the screen to which everything is attracted, but working against that the dots push away from each other while the lines tend to pull back. No, I don’t understand why it doesn’t all end in equilibrium, but it doesn’t. It moves, and phrases emerge into the foreground in an apparently random fashion. The sequences generated do not seem to repeat themselves; Michiel explained it by the analogy of throwing a glass of wine into the sea, and then bringing the glass back twenty-four hours later – it is mathematically possible to scoop up something that is one hundred percent wine, but it is very, very unlikely.
Then Jon gave us a reading of some of his poems. Here the session came unstuck a little, because he has a very quiet delivery, so we struggled to hear well. Perhaps next time there should be a little light amplification provided – it only needed a touch. After that it was Michiel’s turn again to take us through some of the ideas he had been working on prior to their collaboration, which inspired and fed into it.
We had the opportunity to comment and ask questions, which was quite fruitful and prompted a handful of people to speak up. I commented that the effect reminded me of how a touch-screen tablet responds to swooshes and pinches of its operator’s fingers, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be incorporated in the project. Michiel nodded and said that the idea had indeed occurred to them but it was way, way over their available budget.
I’m not going to award stars for this event, because it wasn’t that kind of event – but yes, I enjoyed it, and it sent me away musing on how conventionally we read poetry.
Review by Paul Thompson