Behind the Arras Reviews

Bilston Voices

Cafe Metro, Bilston

Thursday 25th November

The final meeting of Bilston Voices for 2010 was “Black County Night” where the cream of local talent was scooped up and ladled in one gastronomic delight at Cafe Metro. This event has reached out far and wide into the Midlands Poetic community over the year  so an evening of local indulgence was easily justified, and at the evening’s end, gloriously vindicated.  

Jill Tromans opened the evening with a very assured start. When poets go straight into poems it can take time to adjust to the subject matter and style. Jill’s easy manner, and engaging explanations of her work, made her performance very accessible whether it was the affectionate look at her family reminiscences with “Our Kid”, her take on modern image obsession with “Plastic Surgery”, or the amusing tale of her visit to the vets. 

Eileen Ward- Birch chose eclectic inspiration for her set. “Inspired by Faeries” wondered into fantasy, “Fallout” the Icelandic Volcanic eruption, “Urban Madonna” contemporary street chic but her longer elegiac piece” On the Renovation of St Leonards” really stood out. 

Geoff Stevens closed the first half with a Gatling Gun like fusillade of humour and wit. “The Flying Squad” queried what multi lingual translations of Council signs might really say, “Why “Em Darlaston Blokes So Slow?” queried the intelligence of Darlo men folk and “Black Country Chat Line” was as salacious but affectionate, as the title suggests. The stand-out pieces though were “No Faking Out” as all-in wrestling from yester year was recalled and the hilarious “Grandad’s Night Out” giving a whole new dimension to the concept of Club 80’s/90’s nights. 

After the interval Mike Tinsley picked up Geoff’s humorous mantle, and placed his own distinctive stamp on it. Looking like a cross between Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Wagner from the X Factor he covered Doctor’s visits, baldness, organ donation, Balmoral and the ability of carrot to be ever present in vomit! Needless to say the home crowd lapped it up……………. 

Headlining was  the excellent Brendan Hawthorn. His topics included “Black Country Aspiration”, “Gastric Pubs”, “Health & Safety Inspections” and his mothers Cuckoo Clock.  He excelled with “Thank You Letter ‘69” about the virtues of sending thank you letters with greetings cards, taking in fond memories of presents past, in particular the bright orange Space Hopper. He delighted with “Sot –Nav” about the Sandwell Organised Travel Navigation System (European version). 

Host Emma Purshouse should take enormous satisfaction that the Black Country can provide such a strong roster for an event such as this, rich in local dialect, reference and humour. Hopefully an audio record of this type of talent will be made so that the content, recollection and delivery of these poems is not lost.

Gary Longden


The Mrs T Party

The Margaret Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth, Birmingham

Monday 22nd November :

THIS was a controversial event which brought pre-event protests from Thatcherite sympathisers as it sought to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the departure of Margaret Thatcher from office at No. 10.In conjunction with Birmingham based internet radio Stations Radio Wildfire  and Rhubarb Radio.

The evening offered a satirical and bitter sweet look back at the Thatcher years and  featured sketches, songs, comedy and poetry from a number of local artists as well as nostalgic music from the era which Rhubarb Radio DJ , Gary Dring  skillfully interspersed with Thatcher speeches.
 Former Birmingham Poet Laureate Adrian Johnson, accompanied by musician Jessi Eastfield, headlined the evening with a performance of excerpts from his Tony Benn endorsed novel “Love & Taxes- how Jack and Sarah beat the Poll tax.”, set during the Poll Tax Riots.

Radio Wildfire’s  Dave Reeves also performed contemporary material and played harmonica and accordion. The smoothness and professionalism of the set was in no small part due to the fact that they had just performed it for a live broadcast on Radio Wildfire, repeats of which can be listened to on a loop at:

A diverse evening also included a part improvised sketch by  local playwright Jan Watts and music and  comedy by John Langford. Compere Stuart Zola joked, sang, acted and played guitar in his ubiquitous multi- talented way. A good appreciative crowd enjoyed an evening of fond, and not so fond, reminiscence and excellent diverse entertainment.

Gary Longden

Smart Poets

St Martins Church, The Bullring, Birmingham

Friday 19th November

SMART poets are based at St Martins Church but attract a membership and audience which reaches far beyond the immediate Church congregation. Workshops, multimedia events, as well as performance evenings ,all feature in a varied programme. This evening featured the work of published poet and ex Birmingham Poet Laureate , Sybil Ruth.

Much of her material came from ” I Could Become That Woman”, celebrating  desire and the way it disrupts our lives, turning friends into lovers, partners into parents. The poems weave a world where identity is constantly re-created as the imagination hijacks confession, as fantasy and memory collide. Her ancestry of a German Jewish mother and a Welsh father manifests itself in both the angst of the former, and the lyricism of the latter. But pretentious she is not, with a pithy poem about “Socks” the standout performance of the night.

Local professional poet Bob Cooper was reliable, whilst the up and coming Ben MacNair performed the most popular piece of the evening  with his “Warning on Modern Life”, a really good performance piece. The well-attended event offered walk up slots to a variety of other talented poets and was expertly compered by Penny Hewlett.

Gary Longden 


RhymesMargaret Rose Abri Cafe, DigbethThurs 19th November RHYMES is now touring its bi-monthly Poetry Evening around Birmingham and this month landed at the Cafe in Digbeth, an established Poetry and Boho hotspot. This bill was probably the most diverse ever, and was impressively strong, playing to a full house in a delightfully intimate, supportive environment. 

Opening the night were Andy Cook and Sean Colletti from Birmingham University. Andy excelled with the Urban Angst of “Seven Hills”. American Sean gave us the humour of “Down Hill”, a wonderful existentialist piece and  Ginsbergesque “Cold Feet” , and finished with the  fine “California What You Mean to Me”, which compared England with his homeland. Surprisingly, and gratifyingly, England came off slightly better than you would imagine! Colletti combines a dry, laconic delivery, with a formidable intellect, witty and compelling. 

Fatima Al Matar is attracting considerable attention on the Midlands Poetry circuit and beyond, and with good cause. It is said that when Eric Clapton first saw Jimi Hendrix play, his first reaction was to give up the guitar, his second  was to go home and practise. Any poet who sees Fatima perform will understand those emotions.


 Born in Kuwait, she combines the precision of expression befitting her accomplished  academic  background with a mystic  lyricism in the tradition of Kahil Gibran. Add in the dramatic delivery of an actress, and you have a potent, powerful performer. Much of her material came from her book “The Heart and the Subsidiary”. “Redundant “ was a beautiful homily on motherhood, “Stains” a vitriolic tirade against an errant love, and “Pebble” a poignant retrospective on a failed relationship. It was an inspiring performance, from an inspiring performer. 

Jordan Westcarr is the new Birmingham Young Poet Laureate and was faced with what was probably a daunting experience as a schoolboy performing in front of a seasoned , knowledgeable poetic crowd. Fortunately the upside was that the audience knew young talent when they heard it and Jordan received an enthusiastic reception to a nicely balanced set. He opened with “I’m Listening” and “My Home” and then really hit his stride with his love poetry , “Long Enough to Smile At You” being the stand-out piece. His self- effacing, yet assured performance and fresh convincing material will linger. 

Headlining was new Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy Mcfarlane. Roy champions a multi-cultural and international style in traditional format. A charismatic, powerful, engaging performer his material included “Where Are You From”, a celebration of Birmingham’s diversity, “the Flaying of Palestine”, a powerful allegory from Greek mythology, “The Struggle of Normality” a study in mental health , and some good Hurricane poems! This diversity in content will serve him well in his year in office which together with an enormously likeable manner augers well for the coming months. 

Rhymes plays again in January, date and time to be confirmed on the Rhymes facebook page or at:

Gary Longden

Midlands Poetry Slam

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

Sat 6th November

ORGANISED by Farrago Poetry this was a regional heat which culminates in the National Final in London. Very well attended, sixteen poets did battle over two rounds culminating in Theo McRory emerging triumphant. However what really distinguished this event was not the winner, deserving as he was, but the diversity of poetic content. 

Richard Frost from Milton Keynes shone with an astonishing opening piece on the cannibalistic habits of gerbils which subtly and delightfully unfolded into a brilliant allegory of separated fathers, following it with a pithy and brave piece, “God”, which reflected on what he would make of the world so far. Slams tend to be dominated by humour, but one of the stars of the evening progressed on content and delivery alone – Fatima Al Matar.

Her opening “Face” a homily on ageing was one of the best poetic recitals I have ever seen. Fragile, intense and with radiant beauty, she whispered, she intoned, she mesmerised a rapt audience, following it up with an equally strong “Woman”.. Emma Purshouse is a fine poet, actress and comedienne, and she combined all three to delight all, in particular with the zany “Nubs”. Last of the finalists was Lorna Meehan, always a wry observationalist poet, this time she tickled us all with her failure to become a “Rock Chick”. 

Nationally renowned Slam Champion in his own right, Mark Niel, MC’d the event, and Home Counties based duo the Anti-Poets provided the entertainment. The Anti-Poets, recently seen at the Buxton Festival ,visually combine the fetishwear of Marc Almond with the braggodocio of Adam & The Ants, yet aurally offer sharp poetry from Ian Eccentric supported by the double bass of Ian Newman. They are unique, funny and hugely enjoyable, as was the evening as a whole. Not your regular night out in Wolverhampton I suspect. 

Gary Longden



Old Fire Station, Highgate, Birmingham

This was the inaugural Rhymes event at the new home  of Rogue Play since their move from the Mixing Bowl Theatre at the Custard factory. Although the surroundings have changed the calm, good natured Mistress of Ceremonies, Lorna Meehan, has not, and Lorna opened proceedings with a fine poetic effort of her own “Shoes”.

The first half was split between Kimmie Sue Ann and Afroben, Kimmie delivered a trademark strong opening set of Chav poetry and comic asides and was an interesting contrast to Afroben. The latter’s set majored on a War theme. Individual pieces including “Remembrance”, “Fireworks Over Gaza” and “Grains of Sand” were very strong, but would be even stronger within a balanced set.

After the break Claire Corfield entertained everyone with her comic creation Lady Josephine Whittle. Since graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2002, Claire has worked extensively as a comedy performer; from twisted cabaret theatre company Voodoo Vaudeville, to Rogueplay’s improvisation troupe, Funbags.

A politically incorrect “Little Miss Muffett” led into an uproarious “I like killing Animals”, cruelly observed observation on men who wear Speedos climaxing with Grandma Sadie’s Song. Although a relative newcomer to poetry this is a Character Act with enormous potential.

Closing the evening was Apples and Snakes regional Co-ordinator Bohdan Piasecki. Bohdan is, a Polish poet who currently lives in England. He represented Poland at the 2007 Poetry Slam World Cup in Paris and proudly wore the title of the 2008 Hammer & Tongue Oxford Season Slam Champion, and was an artist in residence at the European Poetry Slam Days in Berlin in 2009.

 A hugely charismatic and charming performer he delighted the audience with a highly idiosyncratic set. Although English is not his first language he is not only fluent, but crucially understands the mechanics of the language as a student but also its nuances with the deftness of a native speaker. His self-effacing humour won everyone over, essential when you come from a country which is unique in losing a war to Sweden! 

“Telling Time” was an amusing exploration of learning English as a foreign language,  but it was his decision to perform “ Cisza”, in Polish which really cranked the quality of the evening up several notches ,which culminated  in “Almost Certainly”, a poignant paean to the historic troubles of his homeland. 

So, an auspicious start to a new era for Lorna, Kim Charnock and the rest of the Rogue Team for what was a most enjoyable evening. 24-09-10

Gary Longden


Hollybush Poetry Slam

Cradley Heath

The Hollybush is best known for the excellent spoken word nights run by Richard Bruce Clay on the first Friday of the month, and other acoustic, comedy and variety events. This was however the inaugural Poetry Slam event and was organised by “Brewers Troupers” Emma Purshouse and Heather Wastie, both formidable performance poets in their own right.

A strong roster of 15 poets, both seasoned performers and newcomers, went head to head over three rounds. Highlights included, Roy Sadler and his unique “dance flavoured” piece, Naomi Paul’s wistful hippy reminiscence and Carol Ward’s affectionate homily to lost youth. The second round was lit up by  the brilliant Long Lost Frank, whose unique brand of Black Country humour never disappoints, his tale of scrap metal dealers doing the decent thing with traffic island modern art is achingly funny. The final separated deserved winner Dave Francis from runner up Gary Longden by 255 points to 253, with young “Tom the Poet” coming a very creditable third.

The intimate, and packed, Snug Bar proved an atmospheric and sympathetic setting for what will hopefully now become an annual event. 19-09-10

Kay Dents

Bilston Voices

 Cafe Metro, Church St, Bilston

A towering thundercloud hung over the venue as Poets and their audience gathered for the evening providing an atmosphere which no doubt will have had several scribbling in their notepads. Bilston Voices draws its audience from not only the Back Country but far into the Shropshire borders too, which means that it offers a welcome alternative to the established Birmingham Circuit.

Ross Trotman not only opened the evening, but gave her debut public reading performance which will surely not be her last, with a delightful lyrical collection of longer reflective pieces. Gary  Longden delivered a set familiar to Birmingham audiences but new to the Black Country whilst Paul Francis from Great Wenlock closed the first half with a thoughtful and diverse set taken from his book collection “Various Forms”.

Paul Francis has been writing poems for fifty years. From 1967-1998 he worked in comprehensive schools, and is the author of Beyond Control? A Study of Discipline in the Comprehensive School, the novel Love and Chalkdust and an autobiography, Comprehensive View. He proudly pronounced that he thought that poets should be political and vindicated that view with pieces about the London Bombings and Iraq. 
A heavyweight bill was boosted in the second half first by Dave Bingham, a Literary Magazine and anthology editor and a fine, inventive poet.

Can a poem about suicide ever have been funnier? Could anyone else write poems using one letter? I think not!

Simon Fletcher topped the bill. Simon is a  literature development worker, freelance writer, poet, novelist and storyteller, his work has been widely published and he’s performed all over Britain in the last few years. The erudite content, combined with a delivery which was as smooth as a Nigel Havers chat-up line was a fitting climax to proceedings, although Literary Editors may wish to double check his sources! 

Emma Purshouse hosted  the evening with her customary grace and self effacing wit. Wolverhampton Libraries with Simon Fletcher provide welcome and appreciated support for this event. To take part, or for more information contact Simon on: 23-09-10 

Kay Dents

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