@ the Charterhouse Bar, 16/11/2011
– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –
Review of the last Sage and Time of 2011
This was my third time at Sage and Time, and the last event of the year, and that sense of community, supportiveness and general good humour that makes this event so special was very much in evidence, with poets referencing each other and the event itself in their pieces, and plenty of laughs throughout the night.
- Hosting duties were split between accomplished poets Richard Marsh and Anna Le (both members of the Dirty Hands poetry collective), and the obvious friendship and sense of fun between these two set the tone for a relaxed and welcoming night.
- Richard Marsh kicked the night off with a sweet, whimsical tale of two misfits who find love at the gym. His characters were touchingly relatable and vividly rendered by a fluid, engaging delivery. As a host, he’s charming, always taking the time to compliment and engage with each performance, picking out a line he likes, or making a friendly joke.
- Anna Le hosted the second half, and as always I was struck by the obvious passion with which she introduces performers. Her introductions are both a rousing welcome, and a great anticipation-builder.
- She performed a piece of her own called “Spine”, which I loved, an exploration of courage, fear and determination animated by a mesmerising delivery that used dynamics and careful pacing to great effect.
Open mic highlights:
- Stephanie Dogfoot’s ‘Equus’ was a wonderful expression of sisterly love and support. It had its share of serious, grown-up emotional content, but masterfully set against the surreal backdrop of childhood –the bizarre worlds that people who have grown up together create, complete with burnt teddybears and clown phobias. Through this lens of shared imaginings she made the serious, adult crisis at the heart of the poem achingly poignant: A surreal exploration of the intense, enduring, and weird nature of sibling love.
- Donall Dempsey’s ‘A Bridge Is Only A Bridge When…’ imagined a woman’s parting words at the end of an unpleasant marriage. The elegantly phrased poem compared the failed relationship to the striking image of a “half-built bridge, silhouetted by sunset” but “startlingly surreal in its unfinishedness”. He also performed an intimate tribute to his partner Janice’s philtrum (the little cleft between your nose and lip, non-anatomists!), re-imagining it beautifully as “the indent left by the finger of God.”
- The Janice in question was Janice Windle, whose own pieces were imbued with an elegant, conversational delivery. One of them was a companion piece to Donall’s, which declared, “I’m in love with your mandible, darling” which concluded an affectionate exchange.
- Among James Webster’s pieces was an unexpectedly touching musing on his ideal superpower. He would choose to be “quietly super”, with the power to find lost things, especially people. Acknowledging that he wouldn’t be able to take them home, he’d be glad, at least, to “give them someone to talk to”.
- Amy Acre’s gorgeously life-affirming “love poem to the sea” was one of my favourites. “As old men talk to their dogs”, she talks to the sea, and the sea both sets her free and inspires her to love of all the messy wonder of life; from dandelions and dragonflies to the delight of Sage and Time itself. It was intensely sensual and personal; proclaiming the “red earth” as her church, she let us glimpse her relationship with the world. And did so with a graceful, inspiring passion that made me want to run to the nearest beach, take my clothes off and dance around naked in the sea.
- During Keith Jarrett’s inspiring performance of ‘Parting Words’ I had to work to keep my tearducts from boiling over into undignified spillage. Masterful use of repetition and assonance gave the piece a mesmerising, mantra-like quality, while his quietly determined delivery complemented his perfectly measured pacing. A resolutely optimistic self-reminder to not be defined or limited by one’s postcode, by one’s past, or one’s fear of the future – something I’m sure most of us need from time to time. Keith Jarrett is awesome.
- The first featured poet of the night was Sh’maya, an engaging performer whose first piece was a meditation on ancestry, history and loneliness developed from the image of a tap-dancing boy on city streets, rendered with a passionate, electrifying delivery and skilfully imbued with a sense of urgency and movement.
- Sh’maya’s second poem was about a quest to find the most beautiful word in the world. His protagonist imagined travelling around the world, meeting different people who suggested different words with special meaning to them and their lives. Full of potential, but the poem was seriously hobbled by the cliché-riddled depictions of some of the characters, which often verged on patronising stereotype. The worst offender was a depiction which verged on romanticising suffering: a childless woman standing on a Kenyan beach looking yearningly out to sea, clinging to the hope of a child, proclaiming the most beautiful word to be ‘yearn’. As if she (and therefore, the poet) were revelling in her misery. The problem was not the attempt to give a voice to diverse characters, but that they did not sound like real people with real ugly and beautiful life experiences, rather, magical props placed where they were for the sole purpose of providing Sh’maya’s protagonist with a story (and in the woman’s case, a means of transport). This was intensely problematic.
- The second featured act, Anthony Joseph, was new to me. And he blew me away.
- Joseph read pieces from his collection Bird Head Son, “an autobiography in verse”, and a few more from his latest, Rubber Orchestras. His poems ranged from touching character portraits, memories of childhood and experimental jazz-poetry, to musings on family heritage and history against the backdrop of colonialism. A prose excerpt about a future colony of Afro-Caribbean people on an alien planet, from his novel The African Origins of UFO, was infused with vivid detail that brought to life the Caribbean cultural roots of the community while retaining the extra-terrestrial, futuristic strangeness of the setting (where exist such wonders as “surrealist butter”).
- His startling, inventive use of language, vibrant musical delivery and persistently brilliant animation of memory, place and history were a constant delight.
Anthony Joseph (the crowning moment of the night for me) talked about the need for poetry to be more than flat words on a page, to be alive and affecting, and like all good poetry events, this night of Sage and Timey goodness was full of that. Brisk-moving waves of poets inviting the room into their worlds. While not every performer was as compelling as Anthony, the night was still packed with strong, inventive voices (not all of whom I could mention here sadly) and by the end of it I was filled up with poetry – with language, ideas and glimpses into people’s personal universes, their senses of humour, their stories, the inside of their brains and hearts and marrow. A fitting finale to Sage and Time’s 2011.