Poetry Can F*ck Off (aka The Poetry Army) by Heathcote Williams


– reviewed by Catherine Heath –

Poetry Can F*ck Off was a brilliant evening of rhyme and revolution, accompanied by a very British dose of alcohol. Taking place on election night, the fires of discontent were burning and aptly expressed by five very different performers, united under a common cause: that poetry can – and does – change the world.

Canada Water Culture Space is the perfect mixture of library, café, arts venue and bar, coming together to create a very chilled vibe that attracted a varied mix of ages.

You could tell a lot of organisation and practice had been poured into the performance, which was virtually seamless, and the five performers each had something unique to offer.

Poetry teaches the heart to think”

Written by Heathcote Williams and performed by Brainfruit, the evening was aimed at communicating how poetry is relevant and useful in today’s world. This was achieved partly by highlighting the genre’s influence throughout history, ever since humans began the oral tradition, up until the present day.

The performances were effortlessly led by Roy Hutchins, completely from memory, and he really got the crowd going.

His assertion that poetry can stimulate the the senses by creating a unique rhythm between breath and oration was a revelation, and something that will no doubt have inspired many in the audience to try it themselves.

Rhyme and revolution

The performances mainly focused on poetry’s unique ability to incite revolution without needing to resort to violence (and how the genre has so much more to offer than florid descriptions of daffodils) – one notable example cited was Mahatma Ghandi’s use of Shelley to rally his protestors against the British Army in India.

This election night special also featured poet John Crow among the usual cast, with live music by Dr Blue. Each performer read from their own books with a natural flow, seamlessly melding together in a verbal orchestra of elegant rhyme.

Sameena Zehra was in possession of the most unique voice, deep enough to resonate through the audience’s bones. She trilled the rhythm of the poetry like she was born to do it, from Coleridge to Shelley, to the Syrian rebel poets, enunciating each syllable in just the right place every time.

The audience was held in rapt attention as she recited Shelley’s immortal lines: “Rise like Lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number-/Shake your chains to earth like/dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many-they are few.”

In order to rally his supporters, Ghandi recited these lines to bolster their courage in the face of the British troops – and triumphed, without firing a single shot.

An ode to passion

Jonny Fluffypunk performed some amazing feminist poetry, his casual attire complementing the jazzy country folk music playing in the background. He looked a bit like he had wandered in off a communal farm, tapping naturally to the music and adding a laid-back, humorous tone to the performance.

An especially memorable moment was his recitation of poetic protesters decrying the greed and selfishness of the Wall Street wolves, the traders ironically responding by dismissing them as dirty hippies and dousing them in champagne.

Selina Nwulu was the youngest performer but no less enthusiastic, throwing her heart into reciting her lines. Still an experienced spoken word poet, feminist, and human rights activist, she clearly reveled in communicating the immortal words to a fresh audience.

Poetry Can F*ck Off tied together what on the surface could have been fragmented, disparate bits of poetry and constructed a convincing case for the genre as weapon of choice in the revolution. The night had a strong socialist theme, verbally dismantling such contentious topics as Wall Street, the Syrian regime, British imperialists in India, slavery and the arms race.

Poems start with pencil and paper, and then they change the world”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment was the recitation of Oscar Wilde’s poem, written after he was imprisoned for illegal homesexual acts. The various lines of verse truly came together, producing an impassioned call to typically reclusive poets to band together and join the revolution.

Perfectly fitting with the election results announced that very night, it underscored the need to connect with a form that invokes what it is to be human, the hearts of everyone beating faster to the sound of eternally-stirring words and imagery.

Spoken word poetry at its best.

Sabotage Star Rating: ★★★★

You can catch Poetry Can F*ck Off (known in other iterations as The Poetry Army) in Edinburgh next month at Summerhall from 14-22 August. Tickets here.