Poetry Bites

Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

POETRY Bites is an event which “Behind the Arras” has been meaning to cover for some time. Finally that moment arrived. The venue itself I was familiar with and exudes Bohemian bonhomie.

It hosts bands, historians, comics, musicians and storytellers. The approach via a gardening display also gives it an unique ambience! The staff are friendly with a good range of inexpensive alcoholic, and non-alcoholic drinks available, as well as snacks. The off-set floor space adds to the charm, but does require performers to make a conscious effort to work the audience.

Long established, “Poetry Bites” is hosted and promoted by poet Jacqui Rowe. Bravely, there was just one headliner, and numerous open-mic spots, which can make quality control hazardous. Yet such is the reputation of the event that most spots were taken by seasoned performers and established poets, many of whom I knew. So in practise the bill was guaranteed to succeed.

Jacqui herself opened the first and second halves, taking the opportunity to launch her latest Flarestack Poets collection “Paint”. The writing has been inspired by Jaqui’s recent residency at Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, the ancestral home of the Mander family who made their fortune producing paint in the 19th century.

Curiously Theodore Mander married Flora Paint, so a title for the pamphlet was not hard to come by! The poetry itself is inspired and beautiful, with the pamphlet available from her website. She also took the opportunity to perform her contribution to the Polesworth Poetry Trail – “Black Swan Possibility”, something which she had been unavailable to do when the successful poets were announced.

Headlining was Midlands troubadour Heather Wastie. One of the pleasures of commentating on the Midlands poetry scene is watching performers evolve as time goes on, and Heather is not one to rest upon her laurels. Heather has just been shortlisted as a prospective “Bard of Worcestershire” along with open-micer Maggie Doyle.

Performing a split set at the end of each half suited her as she combined poetry with music, played on keyboard. Host Jacqui Rowe introduced Heather by revealing that Heather had taught her daughter to play the recorder – although she wasn’t produced to accompany Heather as she played!

ESTABLISHED MATERIAL

Her material combined new work with established material from her two collections “Until I Saw Your Foot” and “The Page Turner’s Dilemma”. A professionally qualified and accomplished musician, comedienne and poet, she effortlessly slipped between disciplines to offer a show, rather than simply a reading.

“The Music Stand”, about her trusty ancient apparatus was poignant and wry, “Ping Pong Neo Natal ICU” her most daring and successful piece. Yet despite the cleverness and humour which run like rich seams through her writing her authenticity is perhaps her most endearing quality. “Love in the Garden” is light, fey, but heart-felt.

No-one who heard it cannot help but have thought to themselves “that IS what love is about” and not had a warm feeling. Which is exactly what listening to a Heather Wastie performance invariably does.

The open-mic slots were very strong, with forthcoming headliners David Calcutt (Author of “Crowboy”, “Shadowbringer” and “Map of Marvels”) and rising poetic star Anthony R Owen from Coventry (“The Dreaded Boy” collection), both performing short teasers. Naomi Paul is the scarlet pimpernel of local poetry, she appears, she dazzles, and then she is gone for a while. Her material is very good. She was able to dust down “Icelandic Eruption” from last time (as was Heather Wastie with her volcanic offering) along with the mellifluous “The Truth About the Goddess of Rhyme”, the witty “Displacement Activity” and the nostalgic “Grey Rabbit”. Sarah Tamar impressed with the harrowing “Just 22” and Spoz entertained with “Housefly” as did Maggie Doyle with “Motherhood”.

The evening was not short of social conscience either. John Lane performed very strongly with “Spring Awakening” about the Cuts Protests, and “Tender” about the privatisation of the NHS. Fine, serious poetry was also in evidence from Jan Watts, Penny Hewlett, and Janet Smith. The latter of whose quartet “Frost Struck”, “The Edge”, “In the Priest House” and “The Cry”, another Polesworth Poetry Trail winner, impressed.

All in all, a splendid evening, effortlessly eased along by Jacqui Rowe. ”Poetry Bites” meets bi-monthly on the last Tuesday of the month, next event, Tuesday 26th July 24-05-11.

Gary Longden

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