Octopoet (Coffi House, Cardiff, 11/10/15)

-Reviewed by Renn Hubbuck-Melly-

The room was full. People had to drag plastic chairs in from the garden as we sat in rows waiting for the evening to begin. Mark Blayney, the ever-energetic host, stood up to the mic and proclaimed with Bruce Forsyth-like pizazz that the evening he had in store for us was packed. “What is the evening we have?” “Packed,” returned the audience, getting into the spirit of things.

The event was Octopoet and the place was the Coffi House on Wellfield Road in Cardiff. Octopoet has gained a reputation for being an annual event that writers want to perform at, and word-lovers want to attend. It started a few years ago as part of the Made in Roath Festival. We were not short of talent this time, either.

Kirsten Jones, the co-writer of High Hopes and other half of writer and actor Boyd Clack, began the evening’s proceedings by reading a few extracts from Clack’s autobiography Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. It reveals a colourful character who meanders around the world, and of the strange encounters he experiences.  Although it is clear that the book as a whole would be an intriguing read, my interest did tend to wane as the extracts chosen drew on a tad too long. There could have been less focus on the autobiography and more on Jones’ own poetry, which she out read after these.

Bethany W. Pope was next up and was wholly dazzling with her clever word-play, gothic and evocative poetry, and melodic American voice. Before reading, she set the scene with an anecdote about how she ended up sleeping in a barn, on an ill-advised job, with a young horse resting its head across her chest. This setting clearly informed the morbid, earthy nature of the poetry she wrote at the time. She also explained that she had been experimenting with acrostics, where the first letter of each line is part of a word that runs down the side of the poem. The first poem she read out, about a vixen living a brutal existence, was actually a double acrostic, meaning that the first and last letter of each line, read together, contained their own meaning. It was also divided into fifteen sections of sonnets. Once you got your head around that, you could start to appreciate the technically challenging word acrobatics which Pope pulled off.

With the night starting to warm up, everyone was eager for the next act to take to the stage. David E. Oprava slowly walked from the back of the room to the front, book in hand and poised for performance. He told us that he had a new book published and asked us to pass it around the whole room and rip out a page. The pages were perforated and he wanted every person to have one. With the unmistakable sound of the successive tum, tum, tum of perforated paper, Oprava read out musical, poetic prose which invoked images of bodies, dark nights, and movement. What it was about, I don’t know, but that didn’t seem to be the point. Also, the illustrations interrupting the letters on my page really brought the words to life.

David Foster-Morgan read from his new collection, Masculine Happiness, which draws inspiration from O’Hara, Ginsberg and Borges, amongst many others, as well as mythology, to explore themes of masculinity. J Brookes, following him, kept it local by reading out poems about places and roads in Cardiff, and hit a poignant note with a poem about a local man who had fallen dead on the street. He also read from his new book, imaginatively entitled, Book.

Susie Wild then read out some new and exclusive poetry. With a peek into her private life, she gave us autobiographical poems reflecting on experiences such as moving.

The penultimate writer was Carly Holmes who gave us a story about a werewolf-like creature which secretly lives in a shed at the back of a woman’s house. Grizzly images were sewn together with visceral descriptions of meat fed to the creature, followed by a violent climatic sexual act. Altogether, these were animalistic and haunting, and a fitting piece for the month of Halloween. She also read from her new novel, The Scrapbook, about a woman who keeps a scrapbook of images of her husband, who disappears one day and never comes back. This was recently shortlisted for the International Rubery Book Award.

None other than the unique, glittering talent that is Boyd Clack closed the event. He never fails to make the room laugh. He had his guitar at the ready and played some fun little ditties which were a good way to round off the evening. His dry wit caught us off-guard, however, when he began to talk about the terrible state the world was in and proclaimed that we are all rats. Then, with a flippant turn of phrase and wry humour, he added that “you gotta laugh, eh”?

All in all, the event was full to the brim with intrigue, talent, and great writing. Each act had their own personal style to add, and something which set them apart from the rest. Wales is not short of wordsmiths. Also, considering how many attended, neither are we short of people who seek out, watch, read, and want to listen to local, contemporary writing. Octopoet is a testament to the strong community of writers who are willing to give their time for free and share their wonderful words.

Host, writer Mark Blayney