A packed house, the fullest I have ever seen the Cafe for poetry , turned out to see headline act Bernadette Cremin make her Birmingham debut , a just reward for her trip up from Brighton on the South Coast. Bernadette has an impressive record of published work with two collections from Waterloo Press, Speechless and Mining Silence due to be followed by New and Selected by Salmon Press in a year’s time.
A characteristic of Poetry Bites is that headliners are not given extended, obsequious introductions, they stand or fall on their own merits, Bernadette herself chose also to give little personal information away , resulting in the pressure being on the performance and the poetry, both of which were more than up to the test. Split into two sections to close the first and second halves of the evening her poetry was diverse, personal, and engaging.
Excerpts from Altered Egos left us wanting more, a six part series of insights into the fortunes of six very different women ,their typically tragic love lives and rooms which “smelt of excuses and kicked off shoes”. Suicide was her bravest, and best, piece of the night with the shadow of Ian Curtis a brooding backdrop. The sadness of suicide is routinely covered in poetry, the anger that it can engender for those left behind less so, and this was a fine attempt at exploring such emotion. Her set left two thoughts with me. Admiration for the fey, yet telling nature of her work, and a desire to find out lots more about what is driving her writing.
A burgeoning body of “open micers” took to the stage in numbers which might have posed problems to the length of the evening if all had not displayed admirable self- restraint. Fortunately the first few stayed within the three minute/one or two minute framework, and the rest followed suit. It only takes a few to interpret three minutes as four, and one or two as two or three and an audience can be in for a very long night. Attempting to shed light on much which illuminated is no easy task so I shall name check on a wholly arbitrary basis.
Jon Morley is a hugely impressive poet with a passionate interest in Caribbean literature. Currently working at the Drum in Newtown, Ratid explored Afro-Carribbean dialect around Birmingham now, Links considered present day Birmingham and its Afro-Caribbean community with Birmingham of the past and how all intertwine. Brilliantly conceived, the latter was my favourite poem of the evening.
Joel Lane is traditionally the man to be first at the barricades, tonight was no exception. In a time of £1m a month footballers and bankers who can lose that in a few minutes he did well to remind us of past Coventry MP Dave Nellist who insisted on drawing the average wage for a skilled worker only when he was in office as well as offering a Riots poem with The Wake. Antony Owen and Janet Smith were on the ramparts too. Antony reflected on mechanisation in car factories and unfair trade with the new world before leaving us with a chilling snapshot of the 9/11 jumpers in Liberty. Janet explored a statue of Lucifer and pathology department after hours ,before a defiant account of a stay in the Cells.
Adele Faulkner, aka Ddotti Bluebell part sang of Love and Religion combining beautiful lyricism with wry poignancy, the latter a feature of both Penny Hewlett’s heart wrenching Clearing Out and Jan Watts’ Close to Ducks , the latter a plaintive ode to death. Yet the evening was by no means sombre with Mary Shear the star of the light stuff. The Ideal Man was great knockabout fun, Chocolate provided one of those classic “did she really say that” gasps as she moved on to the next line!
Poetry Bites next meets on November 22nd when the headliners will be local author (Ghost Town Music) and poet, Bobby Parker and Joseph Horgan . Horgan was born in Birmingham to Irish parents and currently lives in Cork. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for poetry in 2004. He writes a weekly column for the Irish Post, reviews and contributes to radio and television. His first collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, was published in 2008. Last year, he published his second collection A Song at Your Backdoor. A Poetry Bites special, in support of Amnesty International plays on Dec 6th.