Review: Inky Fingers open mic (05/11/13) and Inky Fingers ‘gentle mic’ (04/03/14)

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Reviewed by Hayden Westfield-Bell

Reviewer Hayden Westfield-Bell enjoyed the Inky Fingers open mic so much he’s reviewed it twice …

Tues, 5th November, 2013 – a warm welcome.

I attended my first Inky Fingers session last year and brought my diary with me thinking I could take a few notes on the note pages by the side of each week. My intention was to fill a couple of these with observations about the readers, the café itself, the host and the audience. I walked away from the evening with a weary pen hand. I had filled ten pages…

I hadn’t been to anything quite like it and feared that perhaps I’d ‘peaked’ too soon; having only recently started to attend poetry events regularly. I remember walking up the café on that chilly evening, how the windows were fogged with condensation, and the lights inside pushed the shadows of those inside up against the window. It was hard to tell how many were inside until I pushed through the door and found that all the tables and chairs had been taken. I’d arrived fifteen minutes early, and the place was full already. I shuffled my way into a corner, and was kindly offered a place at a table. The woman who had moved to give me space introduced herself as Alice Spicer. She would be reading this evening, nervously shuffled papers in her hand, and explained to me that though nervous she was very keen to get on stage and share her work.

Energetic hosting and eclectically enjoyable poetry …

The café continues to fill. I hold a mug of herbal tea tightly in my hands to warm them up from the cold outside. Candles flicker on the table tops as hidden chairs emerge from a cubby hole in the corner of the room. The patrons hand these over to one another with jibes and smiles as if they’d known one another all their lives. Freddie Alexander introduces himself as the host, reads one of his own poems, then introduces the first poet (all with incredible enthusiasm and energy, I’m not sure where he gets it).

From there the evening is a blur of poetic explosions and whimsical mutterings; Georgia Marsh’s well kept poems on gardening, drooling the lines to emphasise the monotone, everydayness of tending to the greenery outside her window.  We move from poet to poet – the confident, the nervous, the prosaic, the rhythmic, the newly converted. Tawona Sithole (featured poet of the evening) delivers his sharp, expressive lines with a musical accompaniment; every line bold, yet held fragile in the air as if during the performance he himself is tasting his words – cooking with sounds. Jean Westwater shares striking poems exploring the ageing process on her body and the ‘war’ against it; then Alice is up. We wish her well (our table has doubled by this point – joined by her mum and another family member who pop open bottles of wine and offer to fill my mug) and watch her perform ‘Sketching the Minotaur’. She had no reason to be nervous – she delivers her lines confidently and pauses for effect, letting her line find traction before moving on the next; ‘half human, half animal, half you’ and ‘the roar of the rain on the skylight’.

We’re treated to short stories from Ross McLeary and Peter May – the latter a nervous performer struggling to deliver his psychedelic prose. There are short poems from Rachel Burnett, and longer Scotland-infused poems from J. A. Sutherland, who reads quietly but with a certainty in his carefully delivered words. I go home happy, confused, entertained, and overwhelmed with the sense of community in that space. The Inky Fingers open mic isn’t just an open mic; it’s a place where people meet and trade lines, ideas, shapes and influences over mugs of tea – sharing together rather than simply performing.

Tues, 4th March, 2014 – a familiar community.

The familiar surrounds; candles, cups, chairs, though quieter. Orange and coconut herbal tea. Freddie steps up the stage and dubs tonight’s Inky Fingers the ‘gentle’ open mic – no featured poet, a smaller line up, and generally a little more laid back (though Freddie’s still as enthusiastic as ever). We kick off with the first wave of three: Eleanor Pender, Duncan Campbell, Derek White and J. A. Sutherland (we’ve seen that name before, haven’t we?) and Eleanor starts proceedings with clearly read, sure-footed prose concerning a group of friends swimming in a pool in London. Her prose is a blend of the poetic and prosaic, where the water is a ‘frozen tugging embrace’ and actions show us (as opposed to tell us) the inner workings of her characters in an everyday environment. Powerful stuff. Strutting up to the stage Duncan Campbell fires off a quick poem on trying to pull girls in pubs after a breakup and feeling pretty shallow about it. His rhythms are quick – pulled tighter still by rhyme – and keeps steady a poem that would otherwise slip into more meditative (but less punchy) prose.

Next up we have a confession from Derek White, whose humorous jibes on the Inky Fingers organisers and fellow poets elicit giggles and laughs from the audience. J. A. Sutherland follows with a series of sesitudes (compact poems with a limit of 62 words per poem) on items found in the travelling 26 Treasures project; clocks used in religious ceremonies and a carved stone that becomes a ‘jutting stone protuberance’. After a short break we’re on to the second wave, featuring Alec Beattie, Calen Upton, Jo Harrison, Ian Reavy and David McDonald.

Beattie, as a member of Inky Fingers and organiser of Blind Poetics (another Edinburgh open mic event) is no stranger to the stage and takes to the mic confidently, setting up his first poem by telling us about an island he found himself reading about where people used to go to die. He reads a very powerful, spiritual poem; rich and vivid with description in which he slowly becomes ‘a figure with no breath or fat to give away’. He concludes with a poem realising his father as a camel; a working class hero that never complained and did well with only one hump. He’s clearly heard, and the poetic pauses and rhythm of his reading really works to the poems advantages. Calen Upton is similarly confident and delivers his rap-poem ‘Dead to the World’, which is met with healthy applause.

Jo Harrison’s poems – based on Shakespearian sonnets – were one of the highlights of the evening. The poems themselves were dense emotional structures; thick with description and heavy with sounds; ‘chugging whisky warm’, ‘bellows like a goon’. Reavy’s poems were similarly complex, though unfortunately undone by his nervousness on stage (practice makes perfect, his poems are high quality, all he needs now is the confidence to perform them). His first poem is deeply informed by histories of a foreign people and their travels, in which the intricately carved ‘propelled by the pace of eternity itself’ and an ‘indifference of stone’ makes an appearance. His second poem ‘Crab Nebula’ contained the wonderful description of the crab’s shell as ‘proof against the universe’. Great stuff. Last up is David McDonald who delivers an explosively varied poem that navigates through the spiritual, mythological and everyday in standard ABAB rhyming pattern. The poem shifts to the political someway through, and this unfortunate movement creates more of a propaganda piece than a meditation on politics.

Third Wave! Freddie Alexander, Michael Mcgill, Hannah McKickny, Tashi, Tony Maude and Jamie Livingston. Freddie approaches the mic confidently and delivers and dreamy, rambly, drug-induced poem that shifts through recurring symbols, places and people. There’s a great sense of darkness and confusion in the poem, which comes across well, and I found myself meditating on the line; ‘the moon was the only silver dollar in the sky’. His second poem is a tragi-comic piece criticising the pithy minimum wage increase that occurred last year. Michael’s poems bounced from meditations on sex and relationships to short lines of conversations overheard and documented in the Edinburgh area. He’s confident and theatrical; the images terse, vivid, erotic and almost orchestral. His voice glides the length of the line, a smooth as the themes themselves.

Hannah McKickny seems a little nervous, but takes to the stage and delivers a number of short romantic love poems. Then we’re joined by Tashi (nicknamed ‘Tashi the Tibetan’) who shares with us a story about receiving political letters before reading a very political poem concerning the volatile situation in Tibet. It’s conversational in tone, minimal, and took a semi-satirical approach to the subject matter. Tony Maude shares with us a poem on his experiences in the West of the US (Portland), and the poem is very refined – the imagery is tightly packed and sharply defined leading to some beautiful lines like; ‘the tension of an unresolved second’. And we finish with Jamie Livingston who delivers a colloquial druggy drool packed with sexual imagery and drug references. He has a great awareness of rhythm, though the rhymes suffer a little, but the poems are full of lovely quotably lines; ‘life’s like throwing sand to a beach’.

So, to sum up?

Inky Fingers is more than just an open mic night; it’s a community – a space where poets gather to share and enjoy their words and the words of others whether well-established or fresh in front of a microphone. The venue is also fantastic, though it’s location on the corner of a sometimes very busy road network can spoil the quieter performances. Even the gentler open mic nights attract a good crowd, and when there’s a featured poet on the line-up the café can fill very, very quickly! Turn up early, grab yourselves a table, open up a bottle of red and enjoy a few hours of tidy stanzas and thought-provoking prose.