The Tea Box is a charming, genteel and tea-filled place during the day, but at night it dons a mask and cape and transforms into a vibrant local arts venue. With tea.
Last month I commented that while a great night, the Jam@TheBox lacked polish, not so this time. Polish was plentiful; the event gleamed so much you could see my face in it.
And the clearest reason I can see for this month’s smooth, polished, professional Jam was Anna Le’s superb hosting. Previously seen at Sage and Time, her hosting was (as always) slick and affable, quick to joke and quicker to banter with her audience, who were all too happy to engage with her warm and open hosting.
Oh, and her poetry:
- Her 1st, ‘Case of Sera Sera’, dedicated to a friend Sarah, was powerful and filled with a knowing love for its inspiration that was beautiful, hurt, but finally in control of her stormy past. Anna’s delivery gets more focused as it progresses, reflecting the sentiment that ‘you can steer destiny.’
- Her 2nd called ‘The Crown Forsaking Me’ deftly mixed her own feelings for her hair with a running newscast providing some political commentary. While she did forget the words, she did so quite endearingly.
- ‘Vowel-Play’ and its sweet wordplay makes me happy. Dedicated and read to an audience volunteer. ‘I can’t help thinking of the last vowel in the alphabet’ she tells us; managing to say the words without having to use them.
The Open Mic
- Elizabeth Darcy Jones (whose book ‘Distinguished Leaves: Poetry for Tea-Lovers’ is out in September) is perfect for this venue, like a person steeped in The Tea Box itself. Her poems are full of both life and tea, and in one case, bottoms. Her adorable poem ‘Beloved Bottom’ left us ‘bum-founded’ and sparked an ongoing discussion of bottoms throughout the evening.
- Donall Dempsey, was full of charm, his poems are funny, smart and sometimes sadly beautiful. My favourite was ‘Homepage’ a precisely brilliant and bleak poem. The poem ‘If Mice were the Size of Kangaroos’, written with a class of children, was whimsically amusing (‘Just take the cheese, please!’).
- Julie Mullen sexes up vegetables (which I believe is illegal inTexas). It’s certainly not my cup of tea, but I can’t fault her delivery, which makes the best of her poetry’s charms. But her ‘She said, she said’ melded two voices into one sensual whole rather effectively. Interestingly, a copy of her collection ‘Erotic Poetry for Vegans and Vegetarians’ rode on the campaign bus with David Cameron during the last general election.
- James Webster the whiplash poet for the evening went from a bemused poem about the Royal Wedding’s coverage to the harrowing ‘Pain Poem’, which had the audience rapt. His flowing and passionate delivery spoke of the desperate search for pain both on the streets of London and at the edge of a razor.
- Sh’mya’s ‘Hong Kong in a Jazz Breeze’ was a superb breathless and nostalgic look back at his time in Hong Kong. The language was lush and intense with a chaotic and increasingly frantic delivery. Though it had a slight ring of ‘what I did on my gap year’, it was frenetically entertaining.
- Peter Hayhoe, a previous feature at Sage and Time, was described by Anna as a ‘poetic surgeon, he grabs your funnybone and plucks your heartstrings’. His poem/short story ‘100 Ways to Die’ asked if media fear-mongering and the advent of social media devalue human experience (‘humans have sex drives, not hard drives!’). His ‘Broken on the Pillar’ was harsh and violent, but beautiful. And his poem on Sainsbury’s check-out machines not approving of his hair, poetry and mum made you feel sorry for the machines’ lonely, thankless existence.
- Janice Winddle A nice mixture of poems, from her own naughty youth, and the failure of words and their traitorous tendency to mean different things being overcome by touch, to a poem on the past of the Rome washing over her. Evocative and eloquent.
- Amy Acre promised us she wouldn’t fuck with our heads (as she has a wont to do). Instead she touched us (not literally) with her ‘Erasing the Dictionary’, where she symbolises rewriting her own romantic past and outlook with going through the OED with a marker pen. In the end she proposes to ‘just lie back on the blank pages’, completing her longing for a relationship not defined by, well, definitions.
- Kevin Reinhart had a shy indie-charm. His poems had magic, musical references and shyness and got more confident as he went on. His characters carry ‘shyness like a sick-note’.
- The Brothers Grimm His ‘This Boy’ on a boxer (probably Mohammed Ali) ‘misconceived in the mighty melting pot of the mono-culture’ made his words into punches. The room craned their necks towards ‘Ganz Vorbei’ (Quite Finished) a quiet and forlorn poem, and ‘Art for Fuck’s Sake’ had the balls to begin ‘All black people look the same to me’ and then leaving a slightly too-long pause before ‘All white people look the same to me’ building up into a rousing poem on the unifying power and importance of art.
- Anna Mae’s first two poems, about pro-anexoria and obesity seemed to convey the same message: look at the starving people in the third world and stop being so self-obsessed. It was well expressed, but a little preachy. She contrasted this with the lure of a past lover through the metaphor of a directionless bus route: suitably meandering while maintaining its poignancy.
- Donald a moving poem on the 7/7 bombing, a clash natural and architectural beauty with a city’s industrial past, and a superbly sweet poem to a lost cat. But he didn’t seem to offer any new perspectives.
- Anna Matiu‘s performance perfectly matched the tone of her poems. Her ‘Moving Experience’ sounded unsure of its own place, all intricate and pretty questioning. And ‘To Insomnia’ mixed its thoughts and phrases all up in a tired run to the sad and tired beauty of daylight.
- Andrew Flower ‘Conversations with a Friend’ was nicely questioning, tongue slightly kissing cheek. ‘Fate not Heard’ did what many are afraid to do, and used hyperbole seriously, questioned the point of life without passion.
Keith Jarrett was a great focal point to the night. So much so that he will soon be receiving an article here all of his own. To summarise, his poetry was flowing, intelligent, reflective, political and affecting. It was poetry of homes, of belief, of life. Joyous.
This month the Tea Box had a great deal of wonderful poetry, was well run and showed that you can squeeze a lot of poets into one night and still bring the awesome all night long.