Off the Wall @ A Touch of Madness, Cape Town 12/01/2016

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien-

Date: Monday 11th January 2016
At A Touch of Madness (Observatory, Cape Town)

Patricia Schonstein reading at Off the Wall
Patricia Schonstein reading at Off the Wall

The set up….

Attending Off the Wall feels a bit like you’ve intruded on someone’s house, but luckily no one has noticed yet. It’s clear that the same group of people has been meeting here for a while, readers are barely introduced by name (if at all) to the stage, and there’s a lot of catching up going on before the show.

I attended with few expectations. Online, there’s little information about the night, the website hasn’t been updated since May 2014 after all, though the Facebook page seems to be maintained more regularly. I accidentally found out from another poet that the featured poet that night would be Patricia Schonstein, who also co-edits the rather handsome magazine Stanzas.

In short, the lack of easily available information made me worry that this might be the type of event you have to be in the know to attend – perhaps outsiders wouldn’t be welcome? Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, quite the opposite in fact.

The Basics…

Accessibility: At first it felt on the older and whiter side, though the venue did fill up with a handful of younger and POC poets attending and performing. There was a poet reading from his braille tablet (it’s worth noting that the inside of the venue is wheelchair friendly, though there are steps coming into the building).

Format: First half is dedicated to the featured poet, followed by a break, followed by an open mic.

Regularity: every Monday at 8pm, except for a brief summer break. Check their Facebook page if unsure.

The night itself…

Ralph, the emcee, started off the evening giving parish notices explaining the absence of a couple of poets – there were several fires raging nearby which prevented one poet in particular from attending. This was followed by a mini-lecture on poetry and its lack of sales, he talked about its popularity in Zimbabwe before talking about changes in reading and writing habits at the turn of the 20th century. This prompted some gentle heckling from an audience member ‘tell us about which turn of century you mean!’

Patricia Schonstein then introduced the second issue of Stanzas, which is where it became clear that this first half would be a soft launch of sorts rather than a featured poet slot. Apart from Graham Dukas, and then, in the second half, a poet called Liz, all the poems from the magazine were read by Patricia. Graham read first his poem ‘The Bongo Flavour Barber Shop’. He is a clearly confident performer who delivered an entertaining observational poem, in which a barber shop co-exists next to The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Church:

The synergies should be obvious to all but the unenlightened…
have your hair done before cleansing your soul or,
have your soul done before cleansing your hair.

which ends with wonderful gusto on the lines

that there’s about as much hope for your soul
as there is for your hair.

The energy dipped a little after that, not because Patricia isn’t a gifted reader, but because the quick succession of poems by a variety of poets, read without context, or breathing space, wasn’t really the best way to showcase a magazine’s content. I would have almost preferred different audience members reading them, explaining how they related to each, to add a little variety. Out of these, two poems did stick out, both again on the humorous side, Jane MacArthur’s ‘Scuttled’, and Nick Mulgrew’s ‘maybe-gay’.

Highlights of the second half included Graham Dukas, back again with a poem titled ‘I am against’, which riled at middle class behaviours before ending on the self-aware note, ‘but mostly, I am against being judgemental’. Hitting a different note, was Wendy Woodward, whose poem ‘The Minotaur Comes to our Picnic’ (read from her collection A Saving Bannister) begins:

Give me a glow-worm, not Ariadne and her silly string,
a being of tunnels who is his own light.

This, and the other poem she read, ‘The Small Rain’ felt beautifully unexpected in the open mic context – quiet and thoughtful, both a part of a much wider universe.

In conclusion…

A gentle evening of spoken word, perfect for testing out your new poems, making bonds with the local community and hearing a mixture of works.