Bilston Voices, Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston

Running successful poetry nights is not easy. Audiences take time and patience to build, and are fickle .If you don’t give them what they want, the venue will be empty next time around. So it is to Emma Pursehouse’s great credit, as organiser ,that she has built up an audience that invariably fills this cafe, and continues to source poets of sufficient quality to ensure that the audience keeps coming back. Who specifically is performing does not overly affect attendance. It is the guarantee of good quality and an entertaining night that does the trick.

The evening started in reflective, commemorative, mode as Geoff Stevens was remembered. Geoff was a prodigious local poet and publisher with roots firmly planted in the Black Country, and with many friends. His recent death touched the local and regional poetic community that he served, and entertained so well in his life. His friend Al Barz read three of Geoff’s poems in tribute. Geoff’s humour in Animal Magic , about the sponsoring of zoos ,brought gales of laughter, Sleeping With You, a love poem to Geraldine ,was sentimental and touching without being in the least mawkish. A measure of the quality of a poet’s writing often lies in how well others can interpret them – Al Barz did Geoff proud.

First on, and making his Bilston Voices debut, was Alan Glover. Many writers experience the highs and lows of life in magnified form and Alan was happy to lay bare his encounters with the lows with several pieces that felt like works of expiation. Intriguingly, I thought his best work lay outside of that sequence. Digital photography was a list poem that was well conceived , sharp and funny, Sixth Form Prose was simple knockabout stuff that worked brilliantly, read for him, by Emma Purshouse.

Another Bilston Voices debutante, but an experienced performer, was Janet Jenkins from Lichfield Poets. She produced a carefully crafted, and varied set, delivered with confidence and assurance. Gardens, a writing project at Birmingham Art Gallery, love, and false teeth all caught Janet’s poetic attention. It was her piece on Modigliani from the Art Gallery sequence which stood out tonight.

Donna Scott, once of Bilston is now a Milton Keynes resident and she closed the first half with brio and chutzpah. I Love Cake is very funny, her Introducing poem very clever, although the ending was a little abrupt. Charity Case , she had written that very morning and was hugely enjoyable, introducing the fascinating concept of the fashion womble. Bright and breezy ,she entertained throughout and even found time to rhyme Bahamas with Judith Chalmers!

Opening the second half was the newly anointed Bard of Stony Stratford , Danni Antagonist. Performing work available in her two collections, Emotion’s Memory and NSFW, I was struck by the interesting rhyming patterns she uses and her relaxed delivery. Bless This was her tour de force , and the poem which resonated with me most from the entire evening. The tale of how she is helping her father clear out the loft of their family home, it oozed pathos, compassion, wistful reflection and warmth. It worked because although it was ostensibly about clearing out a clutter filled loft, it was also written in the shadow of her late mother who was part of that clutter, who wasn’t mentioned, but whose presence lingered implicitly, not explicitly. An object lesson in good writing.

Later on in the evening , the question was asked as to whether poets should write as observers or participants ? The writer’s skill is in expressing personal experience in a form that is universally understood, Danni succeeded in that challenge with this poem.

Top of the bill was Mark Niel, now working as a full time poet. I have watched Mark’s career unfold from Slam champion, to the professional troubadour he has now become. His slickness as a performer is now finely honed with performance at the heart of his act. Bubbling full of ideas, he is appearing at the Wenlock Poetry festival in April, and has an exciting project involving reworking classic poems as modern, accessible performance pieces in the pipeline. Tonight, he stuck with established favourites like My Half of the Fridge in a well rehearsed set that felt more one-man show than poetry reading, and was well received by an appreciative audience.

Bilston Voices returns on Thursday 22nd March with a terrific line-up that includes Dave Finchett, Jacquie Rowe, Joel Lane, Jane Seabourne and David Calcutt.

Gary Longden 23/2/12

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