Review: Sadcore Dadwave (Not the Oxford Literary Festival) 20/03/13


-reviewed by James Webster

The Event

Sadcore Dadwave is a night I was hugely intrigued by; with a really cool line-up, a bafflingly unspecific name and mission statement, and a spot in the always impressive Not the Oxford Literary Festival. Spawned from the minds of Sian S. Rathore and Paul Askew, this night was part of the performance facet of Sadcore Dadwave, an organisation that also encompasses an e-zine and seems to have a strong focus on transgressive and alternative literature. These genres both seem to have a focus on pushing at the barriers of genre, crossing lines of convention and style, and it was perhaps appropriate then that my reaction to the night was split. Indeed, looking back at it in different ways gives an impression of two different events, one hugely enjoyable and the other … not so much.

The Positive View

An immense evening with a series of thoughtful, funny and frankly fascinating performers, all ably spliced together by our two hosting ‘dads’, Sian and Paul, who used the device of being our theoretical parents to clever comic effect.

Sian opened with ‘We Are All Anagrams of Something Else Entirely’, which won me over with its fun overarching anarchic imagery tied together by the poet’s playful way with words. Her twin pieces ‘I’m So Miserable’ and ‘I’m So Jacked’ were both hilarious in their exaggerated misery/cheerful mania, listing with a whimsical joy the ways in which she’s so miserable/jacked (“I’m so jacked I fucked Lord Byron to death!”).

Paul brought his usual blend of thoughtfully amusing absurdity with the damaged, darkly sweet and beautiful ‘Battlefields’, while his ‘Holiday’ began as basic comic satire of holiday-makers (“let’s get refused service in pubs and bars”), but evolved into an insightful and laugh-rousing piece on the idea of holiday itself (“let’s declare war on our home towns”).

Emily Harrison gave a set with a clarity of expression that many other poets would be envious of, while also offering up some really powerful imagery and imaginative ideas. Particular highlights were her raw and visceral piece on Mark Quinn’s ‘Self’, her ‘Making John Lennon Cum’ with its playful visuals and the way it interacted with a public entity on an intimate and personal level, and the brief and adorably bittersweet ‘Taxidermy’.

Diane Marie‘s extracts from her e-book ‘I Wrote a Poem Dedicated to God that I Considered to be Extremely Disrespectful’ were way cool. I really loved the way she painted scenes with her words, layering them part by part, building meaning through repetition and gradual change. It seemed she was giving us fragmentary extracts from a whole that also appears to be made up of interlocking fragments, a kind of study/deconstruction of words, jokes and typeset.

Luke Kennard‘s feature set was a phenomenon of super-clever satire, blended with his own uniquely creative way with words to create an ice-cool set. Old favourite ‘The Murderer’ is a nice take on how the rehabilitation process can be subverted by constant reminders and cultural demonisation (presented with amped up amusement). ‘Leatherbound Road’ was a sweet and unique twist on a love poem, viewing emotion only through reference and analogy. And his big set piece ‘Insufferably Upbeat Spies’ deconstructed the various clichés, tropes and annoying cocky-cheerfulness of spy shows with great aplomb and a surprisingly tight plot. He made superb use of comic exaggeration with spies chirping things like “being a spy is just so wonderful I could burst into animated stars” and a villain known as “the Heart-fucker” who pretty much does what it says on the tin …

And in the open mic Lucy Ayrton‘s ‘Bonfire Juice’ was at its usual nostalgic and heartbreaking best, Joe Briggs‘s lecture-cum-anecdote-cum-poem on punk music painted a rich and spiky smorgasboard of anarchic ridiculosity, Lysander fit some big words and ideas into a rapid-fire political rap, Molly Arenberg gave an extremely affecting piece addressed to her girlfriend’s parents that had some very powerful things to say on gay acceptance, and George Chopping gave his social-awkwardness-as-comic-performance turn that always works well for him.

All in all, a night of intelligent, thoughtful and often gut-bustingly funny poetry, which walked the fine line between clever confidence and arrogance with the poise of a tightrope walker.

The Negative View

A clumsily organised event (the hosts were 20 minutes late) that always felt just a bit too pleased with how clever it was being, this night had the feeling of an in-joke that I was being judged for not getting. The somewhat exclusory atmosphere of the evening was not helped by the specious nature of what ‘Sadcore Dadwave‘ actually is, or what it’s mission statement and intent are as regards the kind of poetry they’re trying to promote, which didn’t stop them from policing the open mic and forbidding some poets to perform, because they didn’t fit the ‘feel’.

Sian‘s ‘We Are All Anagrams of Something Else Entirely’ had some fun and anarchic overarching imagery, but it didn’t do enough for me to tie together the otherwise massively disparate nature of the poem. While her two list-style pieces ‘I’m So Jacked’ and ‘I’m So Miserable’ seemed lazy in their formats and, while funny and original, effectively repeated the same joke over and over again, as if hammering you over the head with how good said joke was.

While ‘Battlefields’ and ‘Holiday’ were solid pieces, the latter started off as disappointingly 1-dimensional and Paul sacrificed his usually thoughtful and nuanced performance of ‘The Life and History of Paul Askew in 5 Dream Sequences’ in order to emphasise the comedy, which robbed the poem of some of its depth.

Emily Harrison‘s poems, while occasionally powerful and imaginative, tended towards over-explaining, which made her overall style seem clunky and could lead to some poems coming across as forced and obvious. I can’t help but feel her genuinely interesting ideas and engaging imagery may have been better served by suggesting more and explaining less, giving the audience more to sink their imaginative teeth into.

The fragmented nature of Diane Marie‘s work, by contrast, could be seen as having the opposite problem, as it could be said to have lacked focus and drive. While the individual images were gorgeous, they did not always succeed in suggesting a connecting theme or narrative and perhaps her work did not lend itself perfectly to performance.

Luke Kennard‘s performance, for all its wit and mammoth intelligence (or perhaps because of it), seemed smug in the extreme. His piece on tabloid journalism was expertly constructed, but seemed too pleased with itself in its almost vindictive humour. ‘Insufferably Upbeat Spies’ suffered from the same problem, its hilarious deconstruction of the spy genre becoming increasingly repetitive and seeming to revel in its own cleverness. “The Heart-fucker” was possible the best example of this, for in his exaggeration/satire of the negative stereotypes that spy/crime shows indulge in with their villains, Kennard seemed to indulge his cleverness to the point of obnoxiousness, which undermined the satire.

And in the open mic Lysander‘s delivery was monotonous, his politics undeveloped and obvious, and his lyrics unimaginative. Molly Arenberg‘s poem, for all her clear emotion and moving subject matter, was over-long and perhaps needed more artful language and expression, while it could have done without the artificial-seeming actions. Joe Briggs‘s punk elegy was more of a list than poem and lacked any more coherent message than ‘punk is pretty cool’. While George Chopping‘s absurdly long intro was embarrassingly awkward and rambling, while his poetry was amusing, but somewhat trite.

Overall this event was smug, exclusive and pretentious. While a lot of the material was very good and very funny, there was too much of sense that people were only trying to entertain themselves which came across as masturbatory. Not that I have a problem with masturbation (literary or otherwise), but often these things are more fun when they’re a more collaborative effort …