Basking in the warmth of a late summer’s evening, Parole Parlate assembled to hear the usual assortment of fine poetic talent topped by an unusually strong headliner, A. F. Harrold, whom I had not heard perform before. His striking,large,bearded frame, gives him the aura of a Russian Leninist Revolutionary, and I half expected his set to include tales of the glorious efforts of the workers at the Tractor factory, and a breakdown of the grain harvest from the Ukraine. Interesting as that might have been, he chose a different tack, which enthralled, and delighted the audience.
We chatted briefly beforehand, and an immediate problem surfaced. How do you address someone known by their initials? Mr Harrold seemed a little formal. A or AF , a little casual. Fortunately he suggested that Ashley would do. From the minute he took the stage, a quixotic quirkiness unfolded for a memorable and intensely idiosyncratic act. Laughing, joking and ad libbing with the crowd, he romped through some children’s poems before arriving at some lengthier adult material. Like many accomplished artists his trick is to make the difficult seem simple, his self-effacing comments flying in the face of some very fine work.
Jennifer Jones was an excellent children’s piece, How it Happens a poignant homage to the death of a parent, Mortal Zodiac a highly amusing astrological tour. Rarely have I heard a headliner get through so much material with such humour and so little sense of time. A star turn. One of the best Parole Parlate headline acts I have seen without question.
The turn-out for the night was as strong as ever, with the supportive and enthusiastic management now laying on a Poetry Special food and drink offer for early arrivals, offering even more reason for people to consider making a night of it and arrive early (if only to get a good seat!).
First up was Raven Brooks, a name which on first hearing sounds as if it should have been conjured up from the San Fernando Valley, but in fact belongs to a young local woman who made a big impact. Opening and closing with villanelles, she progressed through a clever duologue between a woman and a waiter, Human Heart, and then to ,I Stand Accused ,about generational faux-pas. Teasingly, she refused to elaborate on The River Man , with imagery of The Styx and other dark forces mysteriously swirling around. Confidently and strikingly presented, she displayed technical skill with warmth and wit, I look forwards to future performances.
Maggie Doyle is a conventional rhyming poet, and tonight she showed that you can make the form go a long way. The Party was light knock-about stuff, whilst The Merry Widow evolves , lengthens and delights with each new extended incarnation. The familiar bits are welcome, the latest instalments always great fun, in an epic ode to twilight sexual misadventure! Yet it was The Bullies which really delivered tonight. A plaintive tale of childhood suicide in which Maggie used simple rhyming patterns as an uncomfortable, sinister, subversive, but effective tool.
In Birmingham, Rhymes is a similar Spoken Word event hosted by Lorna Meehan. It is always a pleasure to see Lorna getting a run at actually performing rather than carrying the added responsibility of carrying an evening as well. Shoes saw her at her best as she invited the audience to metaphorically and figuratively join her on her poetic journey, Celebrity Appendage , allowed her to exercise her waspish sense of humour as her big television break descended into an appearance as a lesbian shop assistant on screen only by dint of her elbow!
The recent riots have spawned a plethora of civil unrest poems ,and the next two poets offered their contributions in very different styles. Spoz, with, Only the Dead Dreams of the Asbo Kid ,delivered a heartfelt vox pop, filling a void that contemporary popular music seems unable to fulfil. He also succeeded in rhyming “glass on”,with “croissant “, too! Antony R Owen, whose poetic milieu is in writing about conflict, took a more restrained approach with Slippers ,which he dedicated to Tariq Jahan, the father of a young man murdered during the riots. His key line was of eyes that “gawp at an Eton mess”. In the rest of his set he drew both from his current book The Dreaded Boy and other pieces covering the devastating effect of drought and the impact of war on women, Afghan villages and the American heartlands. Antony personifies the success that serious poets can enjoy as performers of their work. His easy economy of language and inspired imagery is carefully crafted and compelling.
Fergus McGonigal is a Performance tour de force these days. Christmas is for Children is amongst his funniest satires. With the festive season still some four months off, this will no doubt (deservedly) get much more exposure as the weeks roll on. A ten accent poem showcased his inability to do accents, and his nature poem showcased his contempt for pastoral poetry . His skill is in taking the everyday, and heading off into the netherworld of the surreal with it. This is a skill which Catherine Crosswell also possesses. The Dentists Said becomes an hallucinogenic trip into the small print on medications including Anusol, Recipe for Success embraces television series, brewing and colonic irrigation, whilst the gist of Executive Dinner will be familiar to anyone who has suffered the roulette wheel of place settings at formal dinners. The disparate perspectives on our world which Fergus and Catherine offer are eclectic , rewarding, and always touched by humanity.
Parole Parlate prides itself on also providing a platform for prose reading, and tonight had three authors. This form is much more difficult to succeed in than poetry when read out loud .The standard required to make your mark is far higher. I firmly believe that all prose readers should study the art of Storytelling both to assimilate what ingredients make for a successful prose piece and to glean how it is best presented.
Andrew Owens went for a carefully crafted episodic piece, Bootleg to Paris about a drug smuggling trip which goes wrong. Concise, atmospheric, and with three twists, it engaged and was pretty much a case study in how to get it right. Alice Sewell bravely used the device of telling a tale about male debauchery at University voicing the male character herself. This cleverly offered an instant and ongoing novelty, but also enabled her to explore the worst excesses of male behaviour in a way that may have bordered on the offensive if voiced by a man . A neat move, well observed ,and executed. Tony Judge is an experienced and successful local author who enjoys writing wry satire under the, “Brief and Approximate Guide to” banner. It is a formulaic and derivative series which succeeds because of its familiarity. His Brief and Approximate Guide to Worcestershire was a home banker, and so it proved, although at 1000 words its impact may have been greater with some editing. Curiously he then proceeded to his Brief and Approximate Guide to Parenting which was so similar in style that it neutralised the former piece. The material was good, but here, less would have been far more effective.
Parole Parlate next meets at 7.30pm on Thursday October 6th, which is National Poetry Day, whose theme of Games will no doubt be explored on the night.
Gary Longden 1/9/11