In June I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Rainbow for the first time. She is one of those people whom it is impossible not to like, bohemian, street-wise and sharp. It was at Parole Parlate in Worcester, and she berated me when I declined to buy her book without my having the slightest idea of what she, or her work, was about. I liked her style. Then when she stood up to perform my initial favourable assessment was confirmed by a wining collection of predominantly rhyming poetry, capped off by a coruscating, “ I Don’t”, a withering rejection of a marriage proposal.
Its craft was immediately apparent, women loved it, men hated the sentiment, but could not help but enjoy it. I found it strangely unsettling, it was as if she had impugned the honourable state of men, and on the fifty minute drive home I mentally composed 400 words, which gushed into my word processor at home and I fired off my poetic response assuming that nothing more would come of it, other than a witty one-liner put down reply from the acid-tongued one. But no, that night, my inbox announced a response from her, not one line – but 600 words! She had fought fire with fire. I was compelled to do the same, with a reply to her reply composing itself that same evening, of another 450 words. Honours even, or so I thought. For the next day a further 600 words in response to my response to her response which had been my response to her original poem (you are still with me I hope) emerged. But this time, there was no coming back for me. She had earned the right to the last word – some 2000 plus of them!
So, out of nowhere, a five part performance piece had been created. It just needed our diaries to coincide. The Great Malvern Hotel open mic surfaced as a possibility. I foolishly said that I might be able to make it – inevitably the reply came back, ”I don’t do mights , I’m an all or nothing kinda girl” – which didn’t leave me much choice, did it?
I had never visited Malvern before, and what a magnificent approach it is as you travel down the M5. Hills which look quite modest from 20 miles away become increasingly imposing as you get closer, the silhouette brooding in the fading evening light. Twinkling Victorian street lights hint at a quintessentially English, up market Spa town with Georgian facades and neat curtains abounding.
The hotel itself reflected the town, with a confident, part haughty, yet welcoming ambience. The event itself was to be held in the bar which was pleasingly old fashioned with lots of wood, overseen by the delightful Lisa Bircham. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and organiser Neil Collins busied himself whilst I was quite happy to sit, enjoying a pint, although not on my own for long. A local lady caught my eye and asked whether she could join me resulting in a fascinating exchange in which it transpired we had much in common, same age, interest in the Arts and an unhealthy knowledge of The Revenger’s Tragedy, only the fact that she was clearly at least a bottle of wine ahead of me, and the arrival of Miss Rainbow prevented me finding out more. However I did learn one thing of great importance , the town is pronounced “Molevrn”, “Mal – vern” at your peril.
As proceedings started to unfold two things became apparent. Firstly, we were the only poets on the bill, and secondly that the other artists were very able, amplified musicians. My brow furrowed as I anticipated a “character building” set, characterised by a mass exodus to the toilets, scrum at the bar, and loud conversation as we tried to deliver our set. Sam Eden, Ed Whitehead, Alisha and Callum and Mikey Mann all excelled musically, which just left us, “the poets” to alter the mood………
Having Amy read the first poem was a good move, local girl, known to them, they would show her some respect……. but we did have ten minutes, how long would that goodwill last?. “I Don’t” received a deserved warm reception, then, miraculously as I responded with “I Don’t Either”, they stuck with us ! No exodus to the toilets, no chatter, and no scrum at the bar – as the staff made it clear they were listening! You never really know how good material is until it is performed live, and the audience laughed when we expected them too – and a few times when we didn’t. It actually felt like a complete piece, and the different voices and gender perspectives kept the words alive as a “battle of the sexes” offering. A celebratory hug at the end and the cheers and warm applause as we walked off sealed a job well done.
Listening to the comments afterwards was instructive, the dual presentation had worked, they hadn’t seen poetry like that before, the rhymes and humour locked them in, it was more like a good story than a poem. And I felt great. I want to be involved in poetry that engages with an audience that hasn’t come for it and can blank it out – winning them over is so satisfying and rewarding. It also taught me the value of collaborative performance and how close the skills of storytelling are when you deliver an extended poem.
Amy and I have wrestled with the question of what a five part poem is, a pentology perhaps? And what to call it? “A five part relationship drama” sounds a bit mealy mouthed? “I Don’t- or so I thought” ,has possibilities.
A fine, warm and welcoming event ,which I would recommend to anyone on a Tuesday night. I so look forwards to performing this again in the future and will certainly look out for collaborative opportunities in the future .