If a prize existed for the most exotically named event and venue, this would win easily, and so it was with some expectation that I made my first visit .The name comes from a line in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”; “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit,” the former phrase also the inspiration for a local poetry publisher. The vaults themselves are 19th century coal vaults which acted as stores for canal transportation and have now been converted into a cavernous, and atmospheric bar. The ceilings are still vaulted, the original tiled floor remains, and the windowless interior is vented by an exposed suspended stainless steel ventilation system which is quite brutal in appearance. However a combination of church pew benches, wooden tables, sofas, and freestanding lampshades creates an altogether softer, louche, ambience which would not be out of place in a David Lynch film set.
Every event has its own character, and that is set by the host, who has two options. Those are to either act as an unobtrusive facilitator for the event, or to act as the hub around which the event turns. Host Barry Patterson is in the latter category. A physically imposing man, loquacious, eloquent and a fine poet in his own right, Barry encouraged, enthused and ad libbed in equal measure. His “Astronaut” piece is a fond and affectionate paean to the Moon landings, and “Happy Birthday Howard” also caught my ear about the controversial H.P. Lovecraft, enfant terrible of the “weird fiction” genre.
The spirit of the evening was captured by a young woman , Carey, who had been before, and had this time brought some of her own work to read for the first time. Yet such was her apprehension, that she had asked a friend to go up to read on her behalf. But as that friend made her way forwards, Carey had a change of heart as she witnessed the literary equivalent of a mother having her babies taken from her, and read herself instead. “Thinking” and “On the Cathedral Steps” were described by Barry as “good old fashioned introspection”, were warmly received, and I am sure that Carey will be back. The relief as she stepped down, saying “that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be” was palpable, an endearing reminder of how tough it is to stand up to read in front of others for the first time, but also evidence of what a supportive environment Night Blue Fruit is in which to do so.
The polar opposite to Carey was the vastly experienced Mal Dewhirst who had opened proceedings fresh from his exploits on the Great West Midlands Poetry Relay. “Polesworth Word Triathalon” was a clever Olympic style word challenge, “Dungeness” a beautifully observed landscape poem and his final poem about Liverpool and the Cavern Club and its music had a particular resonance in a cavernous club.
Sometimes an open mic can deliver the unexpected, and tonight it came in the form of Sukhat (phonetically correct but almost certainly not the way he spells it).Flamboyant, and a little left-field, Sukhat romped through a series of poems about vampires and “The Dream I Had” ( at 3.40am), in a surreal, but hugely enjoyable performance. His attention getter is brilliant, he arrives on stage with bundles of large writing pads, upon which there is just one poem per pad, and after delivery he smashes the pad down onto the floor which resounds to a very satisfying thump. Quite extraordinary- and a lot of fun.
Martin Green’s vignette about poems written on the inside of a cigarette packet was good, “Citizen” Andy Biddulph was on top form with his political polemics, Josie conjured up a memorable erotic image of a walnut smooth chest and Colin Dick, poet and painter was as inspirational as ever.
Closing the evening was Anthony R Owen, a man whom I have had the pleasure of listening to quite frequently in recent months, and he never ceases to impress. Not content with the success of his collection, “The Dreaded Boy” he debuted a sparse, beautiful homage to the victims of Hiroshima in a series of self styled “anti-haikus” which worked very well indeed. He also offered what amounted to a meditation on Heinrich Heine, the 19th Century German Jewish poet whose work was burned in the Nazi dawn in 1933 at Berlin’s Opernplatz, an event which had been anticipated in his play Almansor, written over a century earlier, in which he said: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”)
Night Blue Fruit meets on the first Tuesday of the month at around 8.30pm.