Station Pub, Kings Heath

Following an itinerant period, “Rhymes”, Birmingham’s longest established poetic event, has now settled on the Station as a regular venue and the traditional values which had built its original success are now much in evidence.

Three out of the four featured poets were local, the headliner was from Cambridge. The result was a good turn- out, a combination of the familiar and the new, and a satisfying evening.

First up was local student, and rising star Jodi-Ann Blickley, fresh from her recent triumph at Glastonbury. Jodi- Ann exudes a beguiling fragile, frail innocence, underpinned by a mesmerising lyricism delivered at a ferocious speed.

She writes of love, and love lost, counterpointing her youthful beauty with self –effacing uncertainty. Her tribute to her mother was heartfelt, but her most satisfying poem was a clever reinterpretation of a theme explored in Adele’s “Someone Like You” in which she imagines meeting a lover twenty years hence.

A line in which she spoke of counting her lover’s eyelashes was brilliantly, and poignantly, observed. I have followed Jodi-Ann’s performance career for some eighteen months now and she goes from strength to strength.

She is now veering into rhyming storytelling territory, which is itself no bad thing. Although I would say that her sparkling writing is sometimes submerged by the speed and pace of her delivery, sometimes a slower pace, with more pauses for the audience to savour the words, would create even greater impact.

Janet Smith was making her farewell performance before taking a holiday. I suspect that she has never paid an excess baggage penalty in her life, such is the economy of her writing, and her stripped down descriptive skills.

She is the only person whom I have ever heard agonise over the word “short” –because it is not exact enough! We started off with an examination of cities with, “Lucifer”, before heading to Scotland with, “Running”, and then taking in, “Pacific”, in an uncharacteristically longer poem.

The longer than normal tine slot suited her well, offering a context in which favourites like, “Bear”, and, “A Cry”, had even greater impact. Her poetry is always so welcome because against competition from poets offering more ephemeral topics and transient themes, she demonstrates that high quality writing always has a place on the performance circuit.


Before the headliner Alan Wales treated the audience to a clever extended piece called “Under Deadwood” a witty and entertaining pastiche of “Under Milk Wood”. He combines the arch campness of Frankie Howard and Kenneth Williams, the rotten urban underbelly of the film “Twin Town” and the gentler observational comedy of Max Boyce in the manner of Mrs Williams, leaning over her garden fence while putting the washing out to gossip with her neighbour.

All of which set the stage for Fifi Fanshawe, who had travelled from Cambridge to perform. A headline act needs to be able to command the stage, and Fifi did just that. Her opening, “ I am Woman”, was a defiant tale of female snoring, farting and general bad habits which gloriously set the tone for the rest of her irreverent, and highly entertaining, set.

Janis Ian’s, tender, heartbreaking paean to teenage female angst, “At 17”, has long invited a pastiche, and Fifi did just that with, “ When I was Nine”. Having recently attended a school reunion I can vouch for the fact her poem of the same title was awkwardly accurate, but my favourite of the night was “Wardrobe”. Any man who has ever lived with a woman will have recognised their unerring ability to scan racks and drawers of clothes before pronouncing that she “has nothing to wear”.

Men smiled, women winced! Poetry when performed has to be for the audience, not the performer, and Fifi knows this with a well crafted stage persona part Victoria Wood, part Jenny Eclair part Joyce Grenfell. This was her first visit to Birmingham, I hope it will not be her last. Her website, containing information on how to buy her eponymous first CD is: http://sites. google. com/site/fififanshawe/

Lorna Meehan did her usual easy thing as MC whilst also performing the new, ” How to Swallow a Universe”, and, “All Stories are About Love”, – probably the best poem she has ever written. “Rhymes” next meets on Tuesday 20th September with David Calcutt headlining. 20-07-11

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