The Poetry Archivist – 26/01/16
– reviewed by Lettie McKie –
at The Proud Archivist, Haggerston.
Brand Spanking Newbie
In my last review for Sabotage I lamented ‘Where have all the poetry nights gone? With Bang Said the Gun stopping for their summer break, Chill Pill yet to release more dates and stalwarts like The Word House and Come Rhyme with Me closing their doors for good, London’s poetry scene is a bit thin on the ground at the moment’.
So I was particularly pleased to discover that poet James Bunting has just started a new monthly night. Teaming up with his former Hammer & Tongue Bristol co-host Sally Jenkinson, they have chosen a fantastic venue, The Proud Archivist, which is gaining a well-deserved reputation for a whole host of interesting events (like feminist comedy festival Tiny Women Brains which looks ace).
Attention to Detail
Chatting to James before the show, I asked him about his plans for the year ahead. He explained that each month there will be two featured poets, one featured musician and 5 open mic slots available. He’s also including musicians in the line-up to break up the intensity of a whole evening of poetry, and to include a generous 10 minutes per open mic slot. Open Mic’ers have to sign up and pay in advance online to secure their spot, an excellent choice for hopeful poets as it will take out the familiar anxiety of not knowing whether a slot will be available. For those who find it difficult to get to nights early enough to sign up, this is a very welcome departure from the norm.
Cool quirky venue: tick.
Nice slick format; tick.
Impressive consideration of how to solve some irritating recurrent problems on the poetry scene: tick and tick.
So far so good.
The Open Mic…
The Poetry Archivist open mic rules are sweet and simple – 10 minutes or two poems, whichever comes first.
Daniel Bull – a smartly dressed cheeky chap with a penchant for rhyme. His first two poems about stage fright and performing to a crowd were fun, but I think he needs to dig a little deeper to find meatier subjects. Writing about performing and ‘wanting to be heard’ is less interesting than the stories he might be able to tell.
Kit Finny – A talented and poised performer whose poems took us on a kaleidoscopic journey, rooted in everyday family life and friendships. One small quibble: it was sometimes tricky to follow the narrative.
Math Jones’s hilariously and (I think) deliberately overblown poetry reminded me of Tennyson and the heights of Victorian melodrama. He has natural stage presence and his rollicking stories about lust, murder and betrayal were quite mesmerising.
Rick Dove – A softly spoken poet, his sensuous verse was a bit hit and miss. I thought the rhythm of his first poem veered into trite on occasion (and his mixed-up grammar didn’t help). His second poem was much better, perceptively describing the joy of silence in another’s arms.
The open mic was very well organised and supportive with poets able to take a more risks in this warm, relaxed environment.
Monty Tom was an absolutely hilarious character, I kept thinking ‘this guy should try stand-up comedy’ as he prefaced every song with a witty comment and total charm! He was also an incredibly versatile song writer – my favourite was an upbeat love song, You Got Me Good, which he jokingly introduced saying ‘god that’s so American’. Well yes…but the searing, twangy notes coupled with an age old story of unrequited love definitely got me good. Real good.
Having edited the fantastic spoken word poetry anthology Rhyming Thunder, it’s clear that James has an eye for picking out talent. This month’s features were Ben Norris and Vanessa Kisuule, whilst next month they will welcome Maria Ferguson fresh from her show Fat Girls Don’t Dance at Battersea Arts Centre) and Chill Pill’s Simon Mole.
A previous winner of the Ideastap Underbelly Award 2015 with his fringe hit, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Family, Ben shared some new material with us. Many were rooted in family life, such as Future Nan which was a funny-but-nuanced account of a close family member who is deeply loved but also deeply bigoted. His next poem London To-Do List was a great crowd-pleaser full of witty observations about moving to a huge city and greedily taking it all in. His poem about male mental health was more hard-hitting, with the repetition of ‘pull yourself together Lad’ a powerful reminder of the damage done by raising men to never show weakness. Ben carefully blended down-to-earth banter with serious intent, managing to challenge as well as entertain.
Vanessa Kisuule is a multiple slam winner and previous Saboteur Award winner who has just published a collection Joyriding the Storm. The poems she read were often about love, and her perceptive verse offers no easy platitudes but tries to get to the heart of the emotion, exploring how we often slip up between the idea and the reality.
Her knack for imagery particularly stood out in a poem about her Grandmother who she is unable to communicate with as they don’t speak the same language (‘trapped in my Britishness’). Wishing to describe ‘how snow falls like capricious cotton balls of bliss’ she laments ‘I’ve composed you of dress cotton, banana leaves and stories that I can’t understand’.
Another poem, Personal Malleable Manifesto, was a new piece that tried to capture in imperative statements some sort of truth by which to live. This was a perfect example of the way this poet blends intelligent, contemplative verse with fiery lyricism, reaching a rare height of accomplishment. As the rich images and wise reflections washed over me, I felt the kind of excited rush that only a performer at the top of their game can create.
Both James and Sally also performed great poems on the night. Sally’s poem about not being in love anymore was full of perceptive phrases that stayed with me such as ‘I don’t want to use my body to show you that I love you anymore’. Similarly James’ headily romantic, optimistic verse stuck in my head ‘ Remember what I said about life, it’s in the city I grew up in’ / ‘I’m just a traveller, with dust upon my shoes’.
Oh and there’s a nice makeshift cash bar as well!
The next Poetry Archivist is on 23rd Feb. Tickets £6