@ The Albion Beatnik 28/01/2012
-reviewed by James Webster–
So I’m in the chaotically colourful, bustling and amazing bookshop that is the Albion Beatnik in Oxford and it’s very crowded and I am terrified of spilling my beer on a book. Here, London Poetry System have teamed up with Ferment ‘zine to deliver an evening of ‘cross media poetry’ which can apparently be translated as ‘poetry with technical hitches’, and aside from my fears of beer/book-related accidents, I’m having a whale of a time.
- It’s hosted by George Topping, who has a flustered energy and likability, kind of channeling a Matt Smith vibe. He kept things moving smoothly, and was entertainingly cheeky towards latecomers.
- He warms us up with ‘Love-Knot’ about warmth on a boat. It’s filled with amusingly dreadful puns (he’s ‘not a monogamist’, but a ‘mahoganist’) and funnily clunky rhymes.
- The first feature is Lucy Ayrton, whose ‘Tarquin’ is the first multi-media poem of the night. And it sparkled, its twinkly and ominous backing music providing the perfect pitch to Ayrton’s cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t talk to strangers (especially if they’re demons). Tarquin makes an effective mixture smart-Alec and helpfulness, while the demon is coldly spiky in both description and dialogue. Combined with the music it makes for chilling listening.
- Her other poems are full of slickly intricate rhymes, with a very natural delivery that belies her language’s complexity. She’s also very funny. ‘Fuck You Corporate-Land’ is an amazing performance of disappointment at the monotony of corporate environment (‘you’re disappointed? I was going to be the first ever brain surgeon/rock star’). And ‘I Don’t Hate Men, I Just Hate You’ is a highly amusing and perceptive piece on feminism and a certain kind of misogyny.
- Then Paul Askew, the co-founder of Ferment (available on the night for the reduced price of £3) steps up to the plate.
- He starts with this gem of an exchange with the audience:
Paul: “Can you hear me at the back?”
Audience Member: “No.”
Paul: “I suspect that was my mum, she likes to fuck with me.”
Audience Member: “Not literally …”
*Paul leaves, like, literally walks out the front door in a faux huff. The audience piss themselves laughing. Not literally.*
- He does come back, treating us to some of his delectably surreal poetry.
- He starts with some joke-poems about death, but he really gets going with a spectacularly meta acrostic about Oxford, that is about, um, trying to write an acrostic about Oxford with helpful hints (and eventually criticisms) from the city itself (‘I’VE GOT DREAMY SPIRES, LOOK AT ME!’). It’s also his poem from this issue of Ferment.
- ‘The Time I Tried to Work in a Café’ is a showcase in using his absurdist tendencies to illustrate bizarre profundity. Describing the Chaos Café, a trendy student hangout, designed by the owner to be as anarchic as possible as she ‘loves chaos … want[s] to kiss its lips’. Balancing chaos against the shadow of perfection which is ‘hollow and so fragile you’re afraid to move’ Askew meditates on how lives court chaos, how they can embrace or control their own lack of control.
- And he finishes with ‘The Crow’, a bit of a crowd favourite, with a nicely drawn character of the comic curmudgeonly crow and a funny situation that gives rise to an unlikely connection.
- Next were two more multimedia poems, from LPS poets Jennie Cole and Jericho. Now, multimedia performance is a really exciting genre, and I’ve seen some really strong performances utilising video and sound, but both these poems came across as pretentious and inaccessible.
- Jennie Cole’s ‘Cockaigne, A Pastoral’ shows us some interesting themes and phrases, but way too many of the lyrics were only vague poetical aphorisms and ultimately it’s too disconnected and oblique for me to connect with.
- While Jericho’s ‘Vertigo’ feels like an über-pretentious fan video to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s even more inaccessible and self-indulgent than ‘Cockaigne’.
- Caroline Bird is next on, another poet who examines life through the lens of funny surrealism.
- She treats us to a big mess of scare-stories, feelings and amusing randomness as she explains to us what’s happening ‘in every city of the world’. It’s all different aspects of city lives thrown onto the wall and somehow it all sticks.
- ‘Our Lollypop Lady’ is not only a splendidly bizarre poem, but an excellent piece of common sense. Suggesting that relationships need an umpire she brings to life an ultra-fair character who ‘lives in the middle of the kitchen in a yellow tent’. It’s intelligently conceived and humorously realised.
- While ‘Let the People Starve’ is on how love can make you stop caring about other things, taken to a ridiculous extreme (‘let’s … sink knives into everyone who said it wouldn’t last’).
- ‘Pity the Female Casanova’ is very insightful on the falseness of adoration, while remaining impressively witty and ‘Facts’ gives us the facts around the edge of an experience; a poem coquettishly hinting and suggesting at a just perceived something.
- Ross Sutherland, the final performer, gives us some more multimedia poetry with superb results.
- Starting with an hilarious retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (that almost makes me snort beer out of my nose onto a nearby copy of The Forsythe Saga) with certain words replaced with the words 23 places below them in the dictionary, thus making the title ‘Liverish Red-Blooded Riff-Raff Hoo-ha’. It turned into a bizarrely coherent and political poem (‘Great Britain is illiberal and weaponless’ was a favourite) that was delivered with considerable verbal dexterity, while the accomplished video kept it grounded in the source material.
- His ‘Experiment to Determine the Existence of Love’ is superbly sweet, with a perfectly pitched video. It recounts a date as a scientific experiment from hypothesis to conclusion. It mixes the science into the poetry seamlessly.
- ‘Symphony’ is an amazing interactive poetry project: Ross wrote a poem, it was translated into different languages and various people playing the Hide and Seek weekender had to find people to translate it back. And Sutherland reads both his original poem and the resulting translated poem, both to the same elegant music and affecting video. Both poems are wonderful, steeped in the sounds and feelings of London, but the best bits are definitely where the translations differ massively and comically.
- But by far Sutherland’s strongest poem in my eyes (and the strongest of the night) was an uproarious and poignant poem that worked as a meditation on death and the ‘trappings of grief’ while also perfectly describing the action of the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that played behind him. Flawlessly imagined and performed, it was equal parts heart-rending and heart-warming.
A very entertaining night that reflected very favourably on LPS, Ferment and the growing genre of multimedia spoken word, with only some inaccessible videos letting the side down. I recommend you check out LPS’s events and buy Ferment. Go do that now.