Smoke & Mirrors, Malvern

The vibrancy of poetry events around the Midlands is well documented in Behind the Arras, but nowhere does the poetic muse flourish more healthily than at Smoke and Mirrors in Malvern. Organised by Dee Davidson and Caitlin Belgard. This year has seen performances by John Cooper Clarke, Attila the Stockbroker and Ian McMillan, as well as a cornucopia of local talent, all of whom are included in the Smoke and Mirrors book, which was launched on the evening. The book itself was compiled, and a companion audio recorded, and produced in under a month – a remarkable achievement. But then remarkable achievements seem routine for a couple who led the successful campaign to retain the Malvern Youth Centre, the only community hall in the town, from closure and redevelopment.

Formats can make or break poetry events. Yet Dee and Caitlin like to live dangerously. The performances were to showcase contributions to the book, with the opportunity for performers to add a few others. But instead of fixing a running order, a rolling ballot was in place to determine the order of performance – it worked brilliantly, primarily due to the calibre of poet and material on show , adding an uncertain artistic edge to proceedings.

First out of the hat were the Very Grimm Bros, vehicle for Adrian Mealing accompanied by his “brother” on acoustic guitar. His urbane and distinguished demeanour was the perfect foil for his raw subject matter which took in Police violence, and a tribute to Gill Scott Heron. Nor was Trish Marsh prepared to settle for the routine or mundane. She introduced us to the concept of GITS- great issues of our time, accompanied by placards to prompt audience response. Witty, sharp and fresh, she bounded through the perils of excess carbon emissions and the need for recycling,taking in Bin Laden on the way.

Writing simple, effective poetry is far more difficult than it at first appears. Whenever you hear something which makes you think “I wish I had written that” it is an implicit endorsement. That was my reaction to Ali Oxterby’s ,The Hug, a joyful, and wry exploration of the pleasures, and perils, of hugging. Previously, I had met Brenda Read- Brown , and seen her perform during the day in a library. In the environment of a relaxed, licensed ,evening she was unrecognisable, with two tour-de force pieces , one inspired by her work with prisoners. Dan Duke is a very strong comic performance poet. He fuses a Rowan Atkinesque absurd stage demeanour with a keen intellectual edge neatly balancing fine observation with base belly laughs. Up a GUM Tree about a visit to a sexually transmitted diseases clinic (non-auto biographical of course) epitomised this approach with male members of the audience looking anxiously around worried that they had laughed a little too readily at some of the jokes!

The likes of Heather Wastie,Ray Miller,Ted Underwood,Tim Cranmore,Myfanwy Fox and Catherine Crosswell effortlessly vindicated their selection for publication, with seventeen year old Laura Dedicoat, current Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate, a shining example of emerging poetic talent. The evening closed with a contribution from myself, a batte-of – the-sexes pentalogy duet with the cutting, but adorable, Amy Rainbow, and a delightfully lewd and bawdy contribution from Bill Thomas about eating spare ribs.

Every event has its own characteristics. Smoke and Mirrors trick is to be clever, yet unpretentious, diverse but with a strong poetic core, and performance based whilst never compromising on the stand alone quality of writing, a summary true of the evening, the running event, and the book, which is available, including audio disc for £10 from http://www.versatilearts.co.uk
Gary Longden 17/12/11

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