Dear Utter: Spoken Word,
Re: Your ‘Utter Nutters’ event, 06/07/11
I apologise that it has taken me so long to write this review, Utter, but, well, I’ve been dreading it. You see, I like writing reviews, I like trying to capture a poet’s style and performance. But I had such a bad time at ‘Utter Nutters’, your night dedicated to the theme of mental health, that I honestly had no idea how to put it into words.
You had promise. Your monthly events on selected themes ensure variety and can keep you on the pulse of society with events like ‘Utter: Coalition’, where your use of Alternative Vote to decide the winner of the Paid Gig Competition helped your event interact with the events of the day.
And the Paid Gig Competition! You give talented poets the chance to get paid to perform for the first time. As your website claims, you really do nurture new talent.
And it wasn’t all bad. It’s just that the good poets made the bad ones seem so much worse.
There was a little. But for the sake of positivity it will take up the majority of this review.
- Cat Brogan’s cameo was a highlight with ‘I had a dream last night’. She skillfully weaved parallels between people with mental health issues, immigrants, those living below the poverty line; all groups who are made ‘other’ by their differences. It was very neat and very moving.
- Rosy Carrick the co-host of Hammer & Tongue Brighton was excellent. The only truly excellent poet of the night in my opinion. She gave us an insight into stalking and psychological obsession. She tells us there are 2 kinds of stalking: the bad kind ends in death; the good kind does not. She practices the good kind.
- Her first poem ‘Trochee’ was a joyous tale of twisted, kinky, obsessive weird-love. The idea of a woman in love with a train-spotter who ‘took her interest for abuse’ was well-expressed in beautifully awkward fashion.
- Her 2nd was apparently based on host Richard Tyrone Jones’s false hand. It was resonant of Tom Lehrer, was very funny and an intriguing take on getting over your past obsessions in sometimes grotesque fashion.
- Her 3rd, on stalking Vladimir Maikovsky (posthumously) was odd, beautiful and really quite sensual.
- Her final poem ‘Cat-Sitting for Nick Cave’ was (once more) surreal and so much fun. The narrator claims to be cat sitting for Nick Cave and so posts catfood through the letterbox and must intercept the postman to maintain the façade. All illustrated with Rosy’s odd little turns of phrase, like ‘like a magician I torture the thought that something’s about to fall’.
- Dan Simpson the winner of May’s Paid Gig Competition. His poems were tight and well thought out. Especially good was his Mathematics love poem was filled with clever maths and physics puns, creating a lovely new language of scientifically expressed love.
- In comparison his ‘Girl’ was a little prosaic and a little creepy. And his ‘We’ve Changed’, about being changed by your ex, had a good performance, but was an overplayed sentiment.
- But his final poem on feeling sorry for the orange ghost in Pacman brought him back to his geeky and sweet best. Did you know the orange ghost is called (in different places and languages) ‘slow’, ‘stupid’, ‘crybaby’ and ‘clyde’? Now I do. And he managed to make me feel impressively sorry for poor ‘Clyde’.
- Richard Tyrone Jones, the host. He was engaging and frequently funny. He had a genuine interest in the night’s mental health theme (he himself is Bi-Polar) and his material engaged with it frankly and intelligently.
- His poem on male suicide was a strong start, encapsulating the urge to drastic action just to reach some resolution, but finding only separation.
- His second on senile dementia was just as cheery. Sorry, I mean, heart-wrenchingly and soulfully depressing. It was horribly moving and captured an image of a life replayed and remembered in fragments.
- His third, on his own manic phases, was a powerful performance that encapsulated how a manic phase can make you feel like you can (and almost have to) do anything, and also of the strengths needed just to go about a normal day.
It was a shame his enthusiasm for the, ahem, less enjoyable poets made his taste seem suspect and gave the whole mess of an evening a bizarrely self-congratulatory tone.
- Anthony Fairweather peaked with his first poem that segued neatly from intro into verse. It had a great rhyme and rhythm that really churned the poem along. That rhythm and superb performance kept going through all his poems, but often they seemed to lack meaning, acting as more of a vehicle for his verbal dexterity and aptitude for tongue-twisting rhyme.
- Clare Saponia who played along to her poetry on some kind of strange and tiny stringed instrument, gave us ‘Good Medicine’ a deeply depressing meditation on medication and therapy. It was bleakly and rhythmically discordant, a haunting way to express the methods used to get people to cope for a little while before being discarded by the system. It just seemed like it needed a little more polish and accessibility as she didn’t quite keep the audience with her.
Sadly, due to the frankly horrendous standards of the vast majority of the night I am forced to submit the following invoice.
Description: Hours of My Life
Helen Burke: 5 mins
(Her poem consisting of Eastenders jokes did not justify the time taken.)
Liz Bentley: 40mins
(A psychotherapist by day and poet by night: she managed to offend me several times. Her poems were mostly condescending and obvious, filled with barely thought through opinions and vacuous truisms. So bad I felt compelled to argue with her during her set.)
Ashley Reaks: 40mins
(Nonsensical poetry; distorted recordings of his own voice; twisted puppets of his grandmother reading nonsense football scores; and he tried to market his album as a suicide aid, which was in quite impressively horrible taste.)
Sid Ozalid: 5mins
(Has a new book out in support of MIND, which is getting some very positive reviews. Here he suffered from an overly long preamble, a strange sense of humour, and a pretense that a ‘quirky’ style and jokes about Adam West make good poetry.)
To be paid by: time travel. Or some other quantum chicanery.
Conclusion: There were some mitigating factors to ‘Utter Nutters’ but they were far outweighed by a night that really did make me wish for those hours of my life back. The worst part? They get Arts Council funding to book this dross.
In fairness it’s entirely possible this night was atypical of Utter and the usual standard is higher than this, and, call me a glutton for punishment, I will be back to see if they can do better. I just don’t really want to.