– reviewed by Claudia Haberberg –
By the time I arrive at the Poetry Jam, the Tea Box is already full to bursting. Had my friend not arrived some time before me, I wouldn’t be able to sit down. The organisers – Anna Le and Amy Acre, of the equally popular Sage & Time – seem surprised and delighted in equal measure by the event’s evident success. With the mix-and-match antique aesthetic of the venue, the breathless excitement of the hosts, and the occasional delays as poets clamber over each other in order to reach the microphone, the atmosphere of the event can be best described as adorably shambolic.
The Poetry Jam plays host to a rich variety of poets, from the completely uninitiated (such as John, who has never read at an event before and brings us a collection of lunch hour limericks), to spoken word veterans such as Peter Hayhoe and tonight’s featured poet, Niall O’Sullivan, who runs Poetry Unplugged at the world famous Poetry Café.
- O’Sullivan brings us excerpts from his most recent endeavour, The Mundane Comedy, written in terza rima and modelled on Dante’s Divine Comedy. The title says it all. O’Sullivan covers racism, class prejudice, open mic night culture and the Star Wars franchise with his characteristic brand of world-weary sardonicism that can, when mustered, pack a powerful punch. The Star Wars poem may have been ill-judged for a middle class, largely middle aged audience of poets, but the geekier, pop-culturally aware among us certainly enjoyed its forays into meme. He maintains that the greatest weapon against prejudice is humour. This might be subject to debate, but it certainly makes for an entertaining set.
- The evening had an unofficial theme of specular poems, a form which Amy Acre uses to great effect in The Ends of the Earth. The first stanza paints a portrait of an ordinary Nepalese woman – whom Acre met whilst travelling – and the second turns it, both literally and figuratively, on its head. Acre’s flawless delivery, the rich colours and deep brush-strokes with which she paints, and her thorough grasp of form make this poem deeply compelling and a joy to hear.
- Vanessa, we’re told, has come up from Bristol to be with us tonight, and I hope her journey was as worthwhile for her as it is for the audience. Her poem, Strawberries, is an achingly beautiful, sweetly nostalgic, charmingly awkward and very funny vignette of first love, centring around the taste of strawberries, the heat of the summer, and the differences between Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin. [I believe this is Bristol-based poet Vanessa Kisuule, ed.]
The evening also brings us a promising young poet in the form of Ameen Outspoken, who reads I Know Nothing, a thoughtful elegy on learning, reading and politics. His smooth delivery, pulsing rhythm, and engaging subject matter make him one to watch for future events.
We are also treated to a promising older poet, Terry, to whom age has brought cynicism and wit in equal measure. He is great fun, with subject matter ranging from doctors humouring their older patients to a workaday romance.
Peter Hayhoe is the final poet of the evening. Sabotage has not been recalcitrant in his praise in the past, and this review is no exception. He presented us with a poem, freshly written that day, about a festival romance. He juxtaposes the mundane (the morning after the night before) and the magical (emotions soaring as new love begins), the joyous (the experience of live music) and the grotesque (festival toilets), to form a funny, charming and engrossing whole. It gave the night its perfect cadence.
An open mic night is always hit-and-miss, and Poetry Jam is no exception. We hear the clumsily rhymed, curmudgeonly first world problems of Julia and Jan, and MC Little Mo and Edward Unique have little more than misogyny to offer. But the best poets of the evening are more than capable of eclipsing them, and I leave with a smile on my face and tea in my belly.