Kitchen Garden Cafe. Kings Heath
Some poetry events eschew meetings in the summer holidays on the basis that people will be away. Other more confident promoters reason that just as many people may become free to attend who otherwise may not have been available.
Organiser Jacqui Rowe is one of the latter, and her confidence in her audience was well rewarded on a balmy summer evening with another full house. Both headline poets write page based poetry and it is gratifying to see an audience as ready to be stimulated, as entertained.
The convivial ambience of the Kitchen Garden Cafe is well suited to poetry with the audience arriving up to an hour early to enjoy soft and alcoholic drinks, snacks and good company. Indeed the poetic camaraderie is a particular feature of this event which is as much a meeting of friends as it is of poetry aficionados. Yet it is by no means cliquey, an interest shared means that people can, and do, come alone, but leave having made new friends.
Anthony R Owen topped the first half bill promoting his latest collection, “The Dreaded Boy”. Anthony’s work is stark and dark. The dreaded boy in the title refers to the boys who would deliver telegrams from the War Office during the First World War informing next of kin of the deaths of loved ones in battle.
War poetry has a noble tradition, and this is a worthy contribution to it, including work on Iraq and Afghanistan. It is seen from the perspective of civilians and women, as well as combatants. His work is not a polemic, nor is it verbose. The majority of pieces are concise and bare. The subject matter does the talking. He name checks Coventry military casualties as well as the work of Dr Karen Woo, killed whilst administering humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, to whom he dedicated “Diamonds”.
His art is in memorable imagery. The bloodied body of a freshly born baby is juxtaposed with the bloodied corpse of the fallen. “Clean” details the tender cleansing of a dead body in the Tigris by a grief stricken widow, of whom there are estimated to be 780, 000 in Iraq, a number roughly equal to the population of Birmingham.
Neither is an easy listen. The issue of the morality of blood spattered war games for computers is a difficult one to tackle without crass moralising, yet Anthony succeeds here too with “Realism” in which he rightly questions the lack of corporate responsibility in their promotion. Subjects like these, and those tackled in “Rwanda” are tough, but his ability to produce a memorable phrase such as in “Scent of the Sun”, about planes dog-fighting, in which he describes the skies as pallbearers, delights as well.
“The Dreaded Boy” is available from Pighog Press. ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6, £5 plus P&P.
David Calcutt topped the second half, and was introduced as a polymath poet, novelist, playwright and literary mentor. Tonight, David concentrated on the poetry, with rewarding results. In a mini personal poetic odyssey he started with “Stone”, written over 30 years ago and of uncertain origins from his first collection, “Outlaws”, before ending with a poignant selection from a current project he is working on with those living with dementia, together with John Killick, and host Jacqui Rowe. “And I Can Tell Them My Name” was particularly moving. One of ten new poems that this work has inspired.
He explained his poetic manifesto as wishing to explore the boundaries between the conscious and sub-conscious, and his exploration of Purgatory in “He is a Rider” was powerful indeed. Yet he is at his best in describing simple things with simplicity and insight. A recent workshop he had led had witnessed a herd of cattle on the move, and hitherto I had not seen the magic in cows that David had spotted. Equally his exploration of the mouth-bow as both musical instrument, and weapon of war, was innovative, and rewarding.
The open mic section boasts a formidably high standard with a palpable frisson of excitement surrounding the random draw for the order of performing amongst audience and performers alike. It is a veritable poetic smorgasbord of samples from poets, many of whom might merit a headline spot in their own right. Two contrasting, yet successful, performances caught my ear.
One of my favourite scenes from Quentin Tarrantino’s film, “Pulp Fiction”, is when Uma Thurman is revived by an adrenaline shot to the heart. Fergus McGonigal has a similar effect on an audience with his high energy / high octane performance. Punk band The Ramones used to enjoy starting their tours with a set that started out at 45 minutes long, but which they aimed to consistently reduce simply by performing the same material faster and faster.
And so it is with Fergus and his fantastic performance piece “Conversation”, which he has timed at 4.3 words a second, but which tonight may have broken that barrier. Exuding an ebullient demeanour, no doubt spurred by a fashion choice in shorts normally only favoured by Prep schoolboys and Gordon of Khartoum, Fergus rattled through his new crowd pleaser to the delight of all.
Broadcaster and Poet Charlie Jordan also chose words for her spot, with her evergreen “Words”. A beguiling, cerebral piece, Charlie combines the passion of a pastor, the wisdom of an university Don, and the incisive linguistic technique of a surgeon as she teases, plays and teaches, but never preaches. Fergus blinded with his dazzling verbal assault, Charlie hypnotises with the strobe like rhythm of her language and delivery. The contrasting merits of two thematically similar, but radically different presentations, is what makes an evening like this so interesting.
Michelle Crosbie was not new to me, (Behind the Arras regulars will know that I have eulogised about her fantastic performance of “O Dark Pilot Whales” at Parole Parlate), but she was new to Poetry Bites. Once again she excelled. “Apple Love Magic” was endearing, “The Fireworks of Love” a triumph of simplicity, one of those poems which makes you wish that you had written it, until you realise that you could not have done it so well.
Numerous regulars also did themselves proud. Maggie Doyle knows how to write a good performance piece, and “The Chelsea Flower Show”, was very good indeed, ”The Merry Widow” as funny as ever. Jan Watts was elegiac with “Bathroom at 38 Berkeley Rd” and naughty with “Meat and two veg Kim”, whilst Sam Hunt treated us to a very powerful “ Daddy Says”, an excerpt from her forthcoming Artsfest appearance.
Two single performances also shone. Laura Yates recited a beautiful poem about caring for elderly relations, and newcomer Liz Berry, from London, performed a fantastic piece, “The Fishwife”, from which two lines stood out, “Bare arms swayed like a forest of kelp. . . . cut from her bridal dress like from a fisherman’s net”.
Poetry Bites plays again on Tuesday 27th September, details available on the Kitchen Garden Cafe website: http://www. kitchengardencafe. co. uk/events. php?pid=main 26-07-11