StAnza International Poetry Festival ‘Border Crossings’ : Kim Moore and John Dennison.

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Supper Room. Town Hall, St Andrews.
5th March 2015

I have to say I am not sure where ‘Border Crossings’ stops and ‘An Archipelago of Poetry’ starts. John Dennison is from New Zealand which certainly counts as an island. Kim Moore is from Barrow in Furness, but unless she’s actually from Walney Island… oh wait, why can we never remember that the bulk of the UK is, in fact, an island? Certainly both Kim and John have crossed borders to get here anyway, and Kim has zigged and zagged across the UK by train to do so.

The venue has a very ‘civic’ feel to it, and straight away the audience knows it is not at a slam (where many of them were twenty minutes earlier) but at a reading. Not that there isn’t wit to be heard, but is embedded in poetry that demands and repays attention.

Kim Moore (c) Bookseeker

Kim Moore is the daughter of a scaffolder, and has been a teacher of the trumpet for eleven years. She describes ‘her’ people thus:

I come from people who swear without realising they’re swearing.
I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers,
the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house.
Some of my people have been inside a prison.  Sometimes I tilt
towards them and see myself reflected back…

She prefers to record her poetry in a hardback book rather than ‘scrappy papers’, because that way it is ‘more real’. Some of her work deals with harsh facts, such as domestic violence, in metaphor. Other poems, such as ‘A psalm for the Scaffolders’ are celebratory. Others still are blackly funny, such as the curse of a trumpet teacher in return for the various atrocities committed by her pupils, in which she changed the gender of the perpetrators to protect their identities. Or so she says!

John Dennison (c) Bookseeker

John Dennison’s poetry needs more careful listening still. His poems are shorter, nothing much longer than a sonnet, and when he reads them we are aware of the way he wants his words stressed. There is a careful pace to them, and an apparent deliberation in their construction. His background as a chaplain comes to the fore in, for example, a piece he describes as a ‘Jonah poem’ set in the hold of a ferry, or a poem about climate change based on the story of Balaam’s ass from Numbers 22, or one that points out how like a Madonna and child the common ampersand is – that’s ‘&’ to you and me. His poetry is remarkable.

I would like to give this event five stars. I can’t, I have to take a little bit of the shine off the fifth star, and here’s why. The balance between the two poets wasn’t quite right, and all it would have taken to restore it was one extra poem being given to Kim Moore. Maybe because John Dennison’s poems were short and there were more of them, it felt as though he had more time, as he shuffled to and fro in his book for the next one to read. I admit I didn’t check my watch, I just went away with that impression. As regards the actual quality of the material, and its delivery by both poets, I couldn’t fault it.

Reviewed by Paul Thompson

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StAnza International Poetry Festival ‘Poetry Café’ : Agnes Török and Toby Campion.

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Studio Theatre, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.
5th March 2015

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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

100 Poems 100 Poets

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Project Cafe

Glasgow

Feb 22nd

I Have just attended the most incredible afternoon of poetry. The event entitled 100 poets was a fundraiser for the Scottish Poetry Library organised by Glasgow poet laureate Jim Carruth. To manage 100 to get poets to read in the space of five hours would be no small feat. It would however mean that each poet would be able to read only one poem. Now I am sure there are some people who would be wondering if attending an event where you would be restricted to such a short set would be worth attending. I however had no qualms in accepting my invitation to perform and I did so without reservation. Well I have performed at slams so the idea of one poem and off is by no means new to me.

As the event took place on Sunday I regret to say I wasn’t in attendance for the full five hours as I have church to attend in the morning and this is very important to me. Bearing this in mind I had said to Jim not to put me on too early and I would be down as soon as possible after morning service. To make sure I kept my word I asked my depute minister Alex Stewart to remind me to leave church as soon as possible after the service and not let me wander in to the main hall for the three c’s also known as coffee, cake and chat. Being a good guy Alex was only too happy to oblige and I left the kirk on the corner much earlier than usual and headed to the Project Cafe which was the venue for this poetic feast.

As this was a new venue to me I had a wee bit of trouble finding it but when I finally arrived the place was packed to the rafters and on what would have been my dad’s 88th birthday had he been still been here it was perhaps coincidence or possibly fate that the first poet I saw on my arrival was Stephen Watt who was reading his award winning poem suitably entitled my father. Needless to say this was one of those lump in the throat moments and I just about managed to hold myself together.

Brian Whittingham was next up to the stage and he also read a poem on the topic of parental love and how we seek parental approval even though they are no longer around to provide it. This is a very moving poem and I really enjoy listening to it. I believe I could hear it 100 times get something different from it every time I hear it. As I managed to find a seat I realised I was in good company as I was seated at the same table as Elizabeth Rimmer, Eveline Pye, Rita Bradd, and Colin Will with Etta Dunn and A C Clarke at the table opposite me. With Etta who is the Chairperson of the Federation Of Writers Scotland in such close geographical proximity I thought I had better behave myself or at very least to try to.

Speaking of Colin Will, his poem The Pict was one of the highlights of the day. This complex and thought provoking poem challenged us to think differently about Scotland, stereotypes and the idea of nation and maybe open our ears just a bit more to listen to point of view of others. Another poem which spoke to my heart was Shaun Moore’s take on the Clutha helicopter tragedy and the fact whilst Glasgow mourned some people seemed indecent in their quest for publicity. I wonder who that could be? If it’s ringing any bells they are probably alarm bells and warning you against cynical opportunists. Talking of opportunists Kathryn Metcalfe’s poem on Iraq and summed up perfectly what she and I think of David Cameron. Believe me when I say Kathryn has a habit of hitting the target with her political poetry and yet again my wee chosen sister was bang on the money.

There were also excellent readings from the brilliant Magi Gibson, Rosie Mapplebeck, Peter Russell whose Ewan MacColl inspired poem was one of the best of the day, Donny O’Rourke whose choice of Scots Pine though short was actually lethal, Bernard McLaverty, whose choice of topic seemed to be the boy least likely to succeed but did and made things happen. Stewart Sanderson who is yet another new and exciting voice to the spoken word scene and Stephanie Green who will be appearing at Stanza next month.

Eventually it was my turn and my poem of choice was The Lemon Dress. This poem was written about growing up in the 70’s with a secret and it seems to be a favourite of other poets particularly though not exclusively female poets and it got good reviews from Rita Bradd, Finola Scott, Rosie Mapplebeck, who is a very strong supporter of trans equality and Suzanne Finn whose poem on confession and guilt really struck a chord with me.

In the final hour we had barnstorming performances from our national makar Liz Lochhead, Geoff Cooper, whose poem on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda spoke clearly to my left wing heart. Alan McGlas whose poem The Editor reveals an editor’s secret thoughts which he dare not write when he is sending out rejection letters to those he has refused to publish. Robin Cairns whose poem The Haggis Replies is one of the best and funniest Burns themed poems I have actually heard and Sheila Templeton whose love poem for Glasgow was I thought a fitting way to hand over to Jim Carruth for the final poem of the day.

At the end of a brilliant afternoon Jim gave his vote of thanks to those who needed thanking and raised a fantastic amount of money to assist the Scottish Poetry Library in their renovation work and as I made my way back to Baillieston I reflected that whilst I couldn’t claim to be one in a million. I was proud that I was one in a hundred.

Reviewer : Gayle Smith

Rally & Broad : The Apology Shop

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GLASGOW STEREO:

25 January 2015

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Robert Burns, Rabbie Burns, Robbie Burns, the Bard. There were so many choices for what name should be iced on to Scotland’s national poet’s birthday cake, that it was fitting that Edinburgh’s Rally & Broad team rolled into Glasgow with “The Apology Shop”. Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay’s firebrand show melds spoken word, performance poetry, and music with impactive lyrical content, all stationed within the hospitable basement of Stereo Cafe. The decision to move the R&B shows from Wednesday evenings at the Tron Theatre to Sunday afternoons in Stereo has proven to be an astute one as droves of the rain-sodden public piled beneath the cobbles on Renfield Lane. With such extensive choice around the city, the R&B event appears to be making itself quite at home with a public blithely familiarising themselves more with cabarets than Songs of Praise. ust as Burns alluded that we are all equal prey in his poem “To A Louse”, the spoils on offer at this afternoon’s line-up were genuinely remarkable:

Texture

Liz Lochhead

Kevin Gilday

Carly Brown

Shambles Miller

Shambles Miller is one of those musicians where the music is almost incidental to the story-telling. A well-rounded performer, Shambles’ easy going manner allows laughs to filter between each couplet, each string pluck, and it becomes simple to see why a spot supporting the similarly-endearing Beans On Toast towards the end of 2014 was acquired. Dipping in to the sterling repertoire available as digital albums on his website, Shambles played a set of three songs, consisting of the EP single, “Confessions” – a beautiful ode to an ex lover which doesn’t so much tug as much as it does haul the listener in to the smaller, finer details of relationships. The killer line ‘So long and thanks for all the sex’ is executed in a strangely-comforting manner, which is a clear precedent of Shambles’ instantly likeable character. That uncanny knack of knowing when to pause for laughs (and they were always coming…) is clear throughout the bewitching second song, “Rapture” – a paean to the end of the world, before Shambles rounded off his short but effective set with one further number; a wonderful, commentating musician to begin proceedings.

As the waist-coated and bearded musician stepped offstage, it was then the turn of Texan-talent Carly Brown. A stunning set, garnished in unorthodox, theatrical, and comedic ingenuity graced each poem that Carly chose to perform. The wonderful “50 Shades” was a critical review of the character Anastasia Steele from the book of the same name (albeit, ‘of grey’ tones), analysing our so-called heroine’s self-perception. Carly’s next piece insisted that she was ‘not a poet’; a wonderful tongue-in-cheek look at the ingredients which supposedly mould what a poet should adhere to; the ‘black polo neck top’, ‘the black racoon eyes’, etc. It became clear how Carly became the Scottish Slam Champion in 2013, demonstrating an astute attention to detail and a bright approach to subject matter. Final poem “Texas, I Can’t Bring You To Parties Anymore” was a volatile, but erudite, response to the methods and disciplines adopted by her home state – racism, the death penalty, and the deeply-ingrained lifestyle of Texans were all subject to Carly’s clinical revulsion. This is a poet whose smile is as wide as her talent, and one that promises a fantastic future ahead of her.

Next on the stage was Glasgow’s irreplaceable Kevin P. Gilday, vexing facetious and indignant verse from his second full-length show, The Man Who Loved Beer. As one of the hardest-working poets on the scene, Kevin’s devotion to performance poetry have provided indelible memories during 2014 of performing to thousands at George Square during the referendum and the privilege of sharing his thoughts upon the spoken word stage at Glastonbury; rallies and broad-range, if you will. Gilday’s confession to being enormously hungover was apparent as he clung to the microphone, face whitened by the spotlight, head tilted backwards. However, this worked beautifully in the young poet’s favour as he frothed lines that painted pictures of alcohol dependency (“I’m a can-carrying man /a pint-swallowing bam”…) and an ugly Glasgow with all its prejudices and shortcomings. An expertly-delivered poem entitled “Found In The Mud” listed off Kevin’s first experience of the patter that circulates round Glastonbury festival, with the line ‘Some mud went in my hummus’ delighting the capacity-crowd, roaring with approval. It is Kevin’s grasp of culture, patter, and the patterns of behaviour that Glaswegians depict that makes his poetry such an accessible and enjoyable experience. This continues in the final segment of his set; the exhausted escapade of “Middle Class Love”, the dispirited-but-still-horny “Hangover Poem #3 – Hangover Sex’, and the cringe-worthy treasure that is “There’s A Workie In My House”.

Liz Lochhead was the ideal way to finish the spoken word proceedings. As Scotland’s makar, Lochhead’s poetry has influenced writers the length and breadth of the country for decades, and continues to inspire young (and old) minds alike with her sharp wit and often beguiling story-telling. Today, seeing as it was Burns Day, Lochhead opted to recite Burns’ celebrated poem “To A Mouse”. This preceded her sublime response “From A Mouse”, where the bold vermin retorts to Rabbie’s scolding words. A self adulating slant considers poetry, life, and a bluster that Lochhead expertly delivers in her usual witty style; “Get Rentokil, get real”. Prior to rushing off to a Cumbernauld theatre for a Burns Night, Lochhead (in resplendent tartan jacket) promised to deliver some “mucky” poems for her audience, and the last two were certainly delivered with aplomb; “Song For A Dirty Diva” was a delightfully comical look at a sex life at standstill, while the final effort contemplated the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE) – a quick-witted reflection of sex in the sixties compared with the modern day, and the subject ‘happy to be a member of permissive society’. Often allowing the audience to finish her lines, Lochhead was a fantastic performer to the end, fully befitting of her maker title.

Hip-hop MC and wordsmith Loki was due to round off ‘The Apology Shop’, but was replaced at the final minute by the piquant flavours of Black Lantern’s formidable Texture (Bram E Gieben). As one of the BL founders, Texture has become part of the thriving hip-hop scene which has emerged out of Scotland over the last couple of years. This ability to drop intelligent, relevant and sincere words over electronic landscapes works beautifully on the incredible “Burn”, with Texture’s atmospheric, hypnotic swirl shuddering the walls inside of Stereo. An equally haunting but exhilarating “Incvbate” weighs in with commentary about society’s pressures, and clever lines such as ‘…uninspired by church spires’ are spit out with such venom that it is difficult to argue that Texture isn’t the real deal, and speaks from the heart.

In light of those stories which have failed to reach mainstream media, Texture’s snarling indignation permeates during the third number, echoing ‘nothing is sacred’, until the frustration of attitudes in the early eighties during “Echo Boomers” allows sections of the audience to revel in an incredible hook that overlays a time when ‘Thatcher’s sarcastic pound snatchers’ were gaining momentum. Texture’s anti-corporate stance and gifted vocabulary doesn’t always make it easy listening, but then it never was supposed to be – as the final number, as Texture says is “a love song to the Scottish hip-hop scene”, testifies; nods are awarded to Loki and Hector Bizerk, with Texture’s affection quite visible – ‘…we’re part of a mongrel family’. This was an astonishing look at what spoken word can become in future, if aided by confidence, electronics, and a direction.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Reviewer : Stephen Watt

Texture
Texture

Merry Crimbo from the Mumble

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MERRY CRIMBO

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Mumble Words is putting its feet up for the Festive Season,

But will be returning with a fist full of similes in the New Year!

Autobiography as Novel

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The CCA, Glasgow

Monday

Tuesday 25th November

Shazia Hobbs tells us her brother will only write their story when their mother is dead. She smiles nervously at the audience, and adds that her mother barely features at all within her own book. Good thing too – Shazia’s book is garnering quite a lot of attention, and her mother is still very much alive. Shazia’s novel, The Gori’s Daughter, the autobiographical story of a mixed-race Scottish-Palestinian woman, has been a source of enormous tension within her extended family. Shazia tell us she is not on speaking terms with most of her folk, and many Pakistanis within her old community accuse her of whistleblowing. “White”, according to many of her relatives, is synonymous with “trash.”

Shazia Hobbs name hints at her incongruent beginnings. The daughter of a white mother “gori” and a Pakastani father, Shazia was raised in a polygamous household, in which she resided with her father, his Muslim wife, and Shazia’s half-siblings; as well as Shazia’s mother – his white mistress. As a small child she was sent to live for four years in Pakistan with her grandparents (her father’s wife could not cope with his mistresses children.) When Shazia returned to Glasgow she was subjected to racism, violence, hate crimes. “It was the 1980s, she tells us. Child Line was for white children. When my sister and I called, they told us to find an aunt to talk to. When we said we were suicidal, they said to call Samaritans instead.” Shazia was labelled a “smelly Paki” by her schoolmates; her Pakistani community, who believed that white communities were inferior, called Shazia “the white woman’s daughter”; when Shazia filled in official forms, there wasn’t even a box for her to tick. “Mixed race wasn’t an identity,” she says. “I had to tick Other.”

The evening’s event – “Autobiography as Novel” – is focused around a dialogue between Magi Gibson, interviewer for the evening, and Shazia. To begin, Magi asks Shazia to talk about the process of writing. Shazia explains (unsurprisingly) that the starting point was simply her life. “People told me I had story to tell. Why not write it?” The point of the evening is to explore the relationship between autobiography and novel – and introduce Shazia’s work. After drawing out Shazia’s life story, Magi Gibson, Shazia’s interviewer, points out that novels – unlike autobiography – permit the author to fictionalize, to build on memories, and create a world which better represents the emotions underlying lived experience. This – she prompts Shazia to explain – is why fiction works better than autobiography or memoir. Shazia adds that fiction also provides a buffer for those writers who portray events so close to their lives. Particularly when their characters are still alive and kicking. As the evening ends, I am convinced not only that Shazia’s story is extraordinary, but also that I should read Shazia’s book – every Glaswegian should. I am also impressed by Magi Gibson’s delivery. She is a terrifically accomplished writer, and she has some killer anecdotes.

Magi Gibson
Magi Gibson

When it comes to the night’s discussion around fiction, however, I am left a little divided. Firstly, Shazia’s tale did not begin as fiction. She submitted her story as autobiography – and it was at the behest of her publisher that she made the transition into a novel. Secondly, I am not convinced that fiction – as many of the writers suggest – is so better a choice than memoir, or biography. The most interesting parts of the evening – and the book – for me, are the bits I knew to be true. Writerly factitiousness aside, the insights that Magi, and Shazia brought to the Scottish Writer’s Centre were incredibly interesting, and I would recommend attending one of Magi’s events, as well as reading Shazia’s book. Most of all, I am grateful for Shazia’s bravery in telling her story. That’s what it is, really, her story. The rest is just semantics (and I’m guessing Shazia’s received enough labels to last a lifetime.)

Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan

The Gori’s Daughter is available on Amazon.

The Scottish Writer’s Centre hosts literary events on Tuesdays, once a fortnight at the CCA. [25/11/2014]

Last Monday at Rio – Slam!!

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The Rio Cafe

Glasgow

24-11-14

Twice a year, the ever-cuddly Robin Cairns replaces his normal open mike night at Glasgow with the brutal sport that is  the poetry slam. Robin quipped to the Mumble, ‘its open to all & they’re all here!” & indeed, the Rio Cafe was positively bursting at the seams for the event, an excellent testament to Glasgow’s growing, unpretentious & inspirational spoken word scene.

On this occasion, nineteen poets competed ‘Glasgow-rules’ throughout two rounds of bite-sized, two minute Chicken mc’nugget monologues. The judges for the evening were Nelly Bean, Derek Parks, Carly Brown, the Mumble’s own Stephen Watt & Carly Brown, the winner of the 2013 Scottish poetry slam championships. She too would have competed in a similar slam on the way to her title, & of course tonights winner would not only find themeselves £50 better off, but would also be given an entry into next February’s Scottish poetry slam championships.

The nights winner, incidentally, was the keen-minded & verbally rumbistious Kevin Mclean, one of the famous ‘Loud Poets’ of Edinburgh. For me, I didnt really mind who won, for I loved the wide array of philosopher-poets that srutted their stuff on the Rio’s sacred stage. As I’d entered the bustling  ‘arena’ I found myself sat with the young, & who turned out to be quite talented, Liam Mccormick, who very kindly sent me the first of his poems of the night, which reads as follows;

The Minor Tragedy of Reefer Madness

Drugs are fucking great.

Like…. really fucking great

You get an itch, you send a text, you get a call, walk to Tesco, behind the bins, go home, with a bag.

Then you get your baccy, your skins, your roach, lay a bedrock of shredded brown leaves, put the

weed through the grinder, tap it out on the paper, sprinkle some tobacco, run your fingers up the

side, lick the gum, run your fingers up the side aaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnd-

Where’s my lighter?

Check your pockets, look in the drawer, under the couch, kitchen table, bathroom cupboard,

flatmates desk (He still smokes right?), old jacket pockets, under the couch, lift the cushions, check

your back pockets- FUCK SAKE- check the fridge, washing machine, loft- I JUST WANT TO SMOKE A

FUCKIN’ JAY- kitchen again, top of the microwave, behind the microwave, inside the microwave,

behind the bread bin, behind the toaster…

Slam down the slide, filament fires up, press the soon to be cherry against the makeshift chemical

launch pad, inhale, inhale, inhale.

Inhale.            

                                                                f    

                                       f

                         u

            p

I would never presume to say, I have a problem with hash- I just like a smoke out

AND THE ONLY PROBLEM AH’VE HAD IS RUNNING OUT

But yet, when the sun rises and I fancy a slice of toast- I know-

I’ll have to settle for microwaved bread at most.

The rest of the poems on offer were full of intelligent word-play, hip-hop bibidibop, failed romances & socio-political diatribe, a wonderful selection that really should have done Mr Cairns, & Glasgow proud. Everyone was happy, the slammers & their entourages joining in the fun & applause rather than looking at  each with those dagger-pupil’d eyes that often accompany poetry slams, & for the neutral we had a grand old time.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen