The Tea Box has a particular kind of energy: that of bergamot and old ladies. Based in Richmond, it’s atypical of the London poetry scene, with scones and tea lending a genteel and reserved air to proceedings. There was a good ratio of performers to audience and they were not afraid to show their appreciation and call for more verse.
The Tea Box has been hosting poetry for two years now and shows no signs of stopping. From the beginning it’s had the tagline ‘Where Innocence meets Experience’ and welcomed poets of all experience levels and what’s really encouraging is to see so many poets coming back event after event, their poetry stronger and their eyes just as bright and wide as the first time they read. The event is now hosted by a series of guest hosts, this month local poet and rapper (and a man I went to primary school with) Ed Parshotam.
And speaking of Ed, it was his first time hosting a poetry event, but he quickly settled into his role and into the room (the layout split the audience with the stage and was initially awkward). He also aided the flow of the night with several of his own poem-cum-raps.
- His rap on a disgusting roommate (previously seen at Sage and Time) is a great use of rap to let loose some lyrical put-downs.
- Innovations, a poem listing innovative inventions, flexed Ed’s impressive imagination. The audience were most amused. (I liked the bottle with attached bottle-opener.)
- Jack Kelly’s poetry had a rhythm that flowed well between his lines. They all had a surreal feel to them, playfully subverting common idiom, working best when he let the rhythm take us through his internal narrative, without trying to impose a background on the poem’s creation. Bag Full of Shrapnel was a highlight creating a man stumbling through life, his “bag full of shrapnel” at the “remains of the day” a quietly confident refrain.
- Harriet Cramer’s tried to capture a memory with her poems. Of course she was drunk at the time (of the memory and of the writing) so her meaning’s a little muddied. When she was on form her poem Meeting Friends not Falling Baby was held together with strong rhyme and opened the parlance of her friends to the audience, but on occasion her repetition and sentimentalising of evenings out made her own words sound a little cliché.
- June Mason’s “middle aged rap” wasn’t. A rap that is. That said, she posed a valid question as to why certain styles and themes were closed to her. I did like the idea that some themes, such as death, were more prescient for her as it was “not just faraway but nearer”.
- Jason Why does improvised poems based on audience interaction. It’s an interesting act, but more suited to Music Hall than to a poetry Jam, particularly if the audience are not biting. His first improv was laudable, combining the words he was given into a comprehensible poem. His second required a volunteer (in name only) who was more bemused than excited.
- Yvonne Mallett read two contrasting poems. One, a ponderous narrative entitled Working From Home was supposedly directed at the transport minister who wants more people to work at home, was amusing in a Flanders and Swann kind of a way, but I felt would have been more powerful if it’d addressed said minister more directly. The second, Rene’s in His Heaven and All is Well gave short but fitting thanks to the painter whose blue skies the day had emulated.
- James Webster also juxtaposed two very different poems. The first was dedicated to Franita, a co-worker who had sadly passed away, and questioned what happens after death, beginning, “I have a dead girl’s number on my phone”. The second, Baggage, is more personal, discussing his past with an engaging openness. These poems, both new, were delivered with passion that will make them strong pieces once they have become more polished.
- Anne Humphry introduced her work as ‘thoughts on times we live in’. Anne’s been coming to this event since it started and her poetry has gotten stronger as it’s become more contemporary. More Than Enough on the ubiquity of advertising; Against the Clock a poignant comment on the pressure time puts on you; Lists and Tasks demonstrating an aged vulnerability; A Force For Good had a simple beauty to it, while A Force For Evil was a poem of regret for beliefs that become more important than lives. Her poems are elegant, rich and full of feeling.
Elizabeth Darcy Jones, the nation’s unofficial ‘tea poet’ is a perfect fit for The Tea Box. Tonight she was celebrating the birth of ‘poet-tea’ (say it quickly), unveiling the news that her book Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea Lovers will be out this September from Quiller Publishing.
She was glorious (she usually is). Her poems personified different kinds of teas into a colourful cast of alluring and seductive characters, each steeped in the personality of the tea they represent. From Pinhead Gunpowder, a tea that ‘speaks to sinners’ and inspires the drinker, to Golden Oolong, a dashing gentleman of a tea, inspiring a ‘second flush’ (a pun for tea enthusiasts there) in its ‘memory of a teenage crush’ and on to Earl Grey ‘a Nigel Havers of a tea’. Her poems point out what’s special and extraordinary about tea, whilst also reminding us of its everyday power to bring people together.
And her final poem, Fortune Favours the Tea certainly brought the audience together, a history of tea and a rousing anthem for all tea drinkers, complete with a chorus you can chant.
Ed finished an entertaining and varied evening with an improv based on objects held up by the audience. He showed a quick tongue and quick feet as some more esoteric items came into play (“I don’t know what obsidian is but I’ll say it anyway”), even referencing the police siren that threatened to drown him out to finish the poem.
Overview: A great night at The Tea Box. Not the most polished poetry event, but a very warm one, the poets and audience all seemed comfortable and it’s this kind of sharing and caring event that helps poets grow.