Rhymes, Station Public House, Kings Heath

And so it was not so much farewell – as adieu. The final Rhymes, which had brought out probably the best attendance in memory turned out to be the final Rhymes in this format. It was a fitting swansong. The Bill reminded us all of what had made the event a success in the past. Eight performers, seven of them local, brought out coteries of their own supporters and several poets not performing on the night happy to exchange poetic scuttlebutt. Long standing compere Lorna Meehan looked delighted, and a little overwhelmed, by the turn-out.

The first half required your first name to be James, the first of whom was James Barnett, a young cataloguing librarian from the University of Birmingham. His milieu is the dark, brooding and introspective – quite handy if you work in a library, and he did it well. Always accomplished, impeccably rehearsed and confidently delivered, he visited Discipline, Fidelity, The Head Girl and Visiting Hour at the Care Home. Curiously one poem was Untitled, which I would have thought would have been anathema to a librarian. His imagery was invariably meticulously crafted, the alliteration avoiding cliché. Yet as a whole, I felt it veered as a set a little too heavily towards bedsit angst, something which a re-jigged set, and experience, will easily redress.

James the Second was James Bunting. He had a game plan. It worked. It comprised four parts of around four minutes each, the last of which was entitled Introduction, neat eh? Part one, Paradise was a lyrical personal cri de coeur with shades of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno ingredients in a heady, satisfying, rich, mix. Part two, Politicians was the most edgy and satisfying. His lament that Kerouac, Dylan, Lennon and Ginsberg were from a fading generation and that no contemporary young performers were picking up the baton of dissent struck a chord which resonated with young and old in the audience. Promises was a bold, bare paean to a wicked girl and offered a light change of course before he hit the home straight with Introduction , an amusing coda a compelling statement of poetic manifesto with the memorable line that he was, “Older than when he started this poem” a defiant invocation for us all to get on and do something with our lives. I loved it.

Lorna Meehan explained that the New Rhymes may feature extended poetic performance from individuals and ensembles. As if anticipating this turn of events, the Decadent Divas offered us a vernissage of things to come with their four part, twenty five minute piece, debuted at Artsfest a few weeks ago. It featured Charlie Jordan, Maggie Doyle, Laura Yates and Lorna herself. Shakespeare decided that there were seven ages of man, the Divas have opted for four stages of woman by articulating the voice of women from four succeeding decades. The packed house in an intimate atmosphere clearly energised the Diva’s, with some skilful editing, new material , shorter soliloquies and more dialogue enhancing and improving this well written and entertaining poetic drama. To date the women have articulated universal observations about their time of life. The opportunities for them to build up character and have them observing contemporary issues gives this ensemble plenty to go at. I want to learn more about the individual Divas, and I am sure we will.

A varied bill has always been a strength of Rhymes and David Calcutt offered a change of direction, and pace. He split his performance into two parts, the first incorporated writing inspired by his work with those experiencing dementia, the second was a series of poems about curlews inspired by a recent visit to Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas. Few would consider a series of poems on curlews, but few observe nature with the clarity and softness of touch of David, as we shared the exhilaration of the twists and turns of this magnificent bird. Inevitably poems about dementia will include the downbeat, but what shone through was the humanity of these poems which were sad, yet celebrated the human spirit too as the sclerotic effects of this disease take hold. Beautifully constructed, and inspiring.

To close the evening Naomi Paul took the stage, a wry, dry, witty performer who takes her craft very seriously. Deadpan humour is her speciality, and it worked a treat tonight, drawing the audience in as they waited for a twist – how good would she be alongside Jack Dee? And she does do stand-up comedy too. But her craft is as much in the words as it may be with any joke that she delivers so performance poetry suits her well, an audience ready to appreciate the whole, not simply waiting for a gag. The Catch about a past lover was particularly popular with the women in the audience, as was Displacement Activity and Leaving the House ( she had clearly witnessed my wife’s ability to make provisions for a trip into town rival Mallory’s assault on Everest). She finished with my personal favourite, the tale of her personal odyssey to travel the Hippy Trail only to discover that it was all over with “The Grey Rabbit Bus”. Not even the lusty , booze and pharmaceutically fuelled antics of her fellow travellers could provide her with relief as: “ I am English”

The final Rhymes will be followed by……………………………………… an end of year Slam in November, and a New Rhymes in the New Year- check the Facebook page for details.
21/9/11

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