– reviewed by James Webster –
The Keats House Forum is a unique kind of poetry event. Keats House is the museum-cum-memorial to John Keats, where he lived for two years, wrote some of his most memorable poetry and met his fiancée Fanny Brawne (who was apparently something of a creative proto-punk). I know this because those of us who were there early were given a guided tour, saw all the Keats memorabilia and were given a potted history of his time in the house. It made for an appropriate start to a poetry event (even if it was odd to be at a show where there was no bar).
The format’s simple and effective; hosted by Simon Mole (one of the Keats House Poets) who made a point of asking what everyone wanted for Christmas (recorded bold in brackets), the open mic spots were interspersed with performances from the Keats House Poets. Then Kat Francois headlined and closed the show.
- Simon (road bike with drop-down handles) started us off with a piece (inspired by Human Planet), about a guy who can hold his breath for a really long time. It was a breathy performance, filled with verdant language describing an underwater world. By piling on the language and increasing speed Simon builds up a real sense of pressure, which he breaks occasionally with a fun call and response.
- Laila Sumpton (Mary Poppins powers): previously seen at the Beaconsfield Reading Series, she started with a piece on Ear Worms (medically described as a musical hallucination). It was cleverly put together: you could feel the song entwining itself into your brain as she describes it.
- And ‘Viral Times’ managed to make the personification of the common cold seems super-cute.
- Anthony ‘The Hurricane’ Hett (socks that don’t fall down) gave a calm, but captivating performance of ‘For John’, emotionally drawing on the awkwardness and heart-rending nature of visiting sick friends. The words tipped over each other as he struggled to speak as it finished with a powerful monologue to his dying friend.
- Paul Sherreard and Stephanie ‘Sonority’ Turner performed some re-workings of Keats’s poems:
- Sonority turned Keats’s ‘Solitude’ into the contemporary ‘I Go Solo’, an engaging piece on a late night walk that made its words sound out like footsteps on a quiet street.
- And ‘Song’ is translated by Paul into ‘I Got a Dog’, which was an adorable piece on feeling abandoned by the death of a pet.
- Janice Windle (gallery desperate to sell her paintings) read ‘Beginning a Painting’ which described frustration and procrastination with nice intricate language.
- While ‘His Name’ was an utterly gorgeous and magical (in an age-old blood magic kind of way) poem about finding a bone good luck charm.
- Wizard of Skill (radio) performed ‘My Radio’. His performance is always full of quirky energy, but his idiosyncratic delivery swallows a lot of his language, the poem lacked focus, and he repeats his chorus far too often. That said, he did have the audience chanting along to the chorus.
- Kaori (date with a special someone) captured the audience completely with a lovely tale of nostalgia for Godzilla destroying people on TV, contrasted with a touching family story of an earthquake.
- Deanna Rodgers (headshots and membership of spotlights) read a roaming, rough-and-tumble of a poem, filled with the energy of her youth, riding over London with friends with ‘jackets on inside-out because we are Fresh Princesses’ on the old Routemaster buses (she also runs Come Rhyme With Me with Dean Atta).
- Ed Mayhew (best free thing you can find) gave a lively performance of a hugely enjoyable poem on a protracted rap battle with the Mayor of Lime Regis. Some entertainingly clunky rhyme, and a superbly fluid, eloquent spoken word monologue, made for an ace poem.
- Jess (little person in my life) based a poem on her ‘wish list for life when [she] was young and stupid’. Her younger self’s aspirations were a joyous mess of the hedonistic, anarchic and bohemian. Best line: ‘being thrown out of this establishment will be the best thing I’ve done all day’.
- Donall Dempsey (Janice Windle’s filtrum) gave us his super sweet ‘Love Potion’ dedicated to his partner’s filtrum.
- And also a ‘Love Song for Emily’ (Dickinson that is) that was beautiful on Dickinson’s ‘perfect embroidery of knowing’ and ‘The Present Moment’ was terrifyingly cute account of his daughter giving him a present of stone, grass and twigs.
- Dean Atta (new mattress and someone to share it with) his ‘My Love, 5th Draft’ personified his love that ‘met you in a club and dumped you by poem’ as ‘amnesia, never knowing its home’. It’s very cleverly put together; it didn’t sound like I’d like his love, but I loved the poem.
- ‘My Mother’ was full of quotable lines as he gave a sweet summary of what makes his mum amazing: ‘more than poetry, she’s the breath before we speak’. Amen.
- (also, did you know he’s recently gone viral and caused quite the stir with his ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’? He has)
- Kat Francois (a new front-left tyre)
- She starts with a description of someone who ‘used to dance in her not so long ago days’, using repetition to create a rhythm of music, it becomes all the more upsetting when things change and the woman’s limbs ‘hang useless’, but ends inspiringly with the affirmation that ‘in her mind she travels to places that in reality are absolute impossibilities’.
- Next, a piece that describes a woman’s body and her issues with it; from her ‘inviting mango-calves’ to her dress that turns into a ‘crimson whirlwind of wonder’ with a gust of wind. Again it’s a triumph of freedom over frustration as she’s ‘sick and tired of hating herself’ and steps out to dance.
- Her ‘West Ken Blues’ was performed imaginatively, using the space and props perfectly, she weaves the images of ‘the days when innocence reigned’ in the air for us. Starting with larger than life characters, moving to tragedy and pain, she movingly evokes the atmosphere of this troubled and low-income neighbourhood. A superb socially conscious performance piece.
- Her final ‘Poetry Addict’ is another great performance. An explanation of all the reasons she performs, where you can hear her gasping for the breath that poetry gives her, it’s both intimate and performative.
Conclusion: A really strong afternoon of spoken word. The standard of the open mic (with the possible exception of Wizard of Skill), the Keats House poets and feature Kat Francois was incredibly high. One of the most consistently quality afternoons of poetry I’ve attended, with a variety of styles and themes to entertain and inform, whatever your tastes. Keats would be proud (probably).