Fresh from a hugely successful States of Independence publishing fayre event at De Montfort University , held annually, at the weekend, Shindig made its bi monthly appearance at the Western Public House. Another healthy audience comprised those for whom Saturday was simply not enough poetry, and regulars who had been unable to make it. The standard of performance never fell short of high.
The four headline performers were particularly strong this month, and diverse in styles. Michael W. Thomas is a poet, novelist and playwright who has lived, been widely published, and performed ,in several countries. His literary credentials are formidable , and stretch from Finland, to Florida and back to Albania, where he vies with Norman Wisdom for the international affections of the Albanian people. He now lives in Worcestershire. His tone tonight was reflective and elegiac. A poignant sonnet dedicated to his father, moved through childhood reminiscence, to a particularly fine piece about schoolmate footballers cloaked in the spirit of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jack Charlton. His most striking poem was Your Buffet… a wonderful piece inspired by the practise of American hobos to leave secret signs on telegraph poles and wires alerting others of their ilk to local rewards and dangers. Michael performed with a rucksack at his feet containing his writing. I thought that it neatly symbolised a man whose writing is as travelled as he has been.
Host Jonathan Taylor affectionately described the next two poets as the country mouse and the town mouse respectively- in both cases, they were mice who roared.
Aly Stoneman is Nottingham based , and was promoting her new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Lost Lands. Her presentational style is fey, beguiling , gentle, and easy, as is her writing. The lost lands are the connections we make between places and landscapes which have held significance in our lives, how they came about, and how they change with time. Her skill lies in her ability to juxtapose broad brush written landscapes with pin sharp observation which resonates. Fall of Snow spoke of transience, a landscape which is created then disappears, Waterline was quite beautiful. She is currently working at a hippy-lit English road-trip novel , A Beginners’ Guide to Running Away, and her self-styled description of hippy-lit neatly describes her, and her fondness for myths, water, wilderness and human beings.
Some thirty five years ago I first saw John Cooper Clarke perform as a support act for Punk band the Buzzcocks as he dodged beer cans thrown from an impatient crowd. Fortunately the Shindig audience is more civil. Andrew “The Mulletproof Poet” Graves gladly acknowledges his debt to the Performance Poet pioneer as is evidenced by his performance style of delivery. He describes himself as “a troubled poet for troubled times” and wryly observes that all poets are “miserable bastards on the road to self destruction” ( a claim left unchallenged by a poet full audience). Reading from his new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Citizen Kaned, he took us through Love in Strange Places, delivered an homage to Yuri Gagarin’s historic first manned space flight with Vostock 1, and ended with his signature Middle Aged Mod, I could not help but select Quadrophenia on my i-pod for the journey back home. Although unashamedly Performance in style, Andrew is no ranty shouty big mouth, his well chosen subject matter is matched by the economy, vibrancy and brio of his language. May the pennants on his scooter aerial flutter boldly.
Jonathan Davidson is director of Midland Creative Projects Limited, Associate Director of the Birmingham Book Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. He is an award winning published playwright and poet ,but a reluctant performer, which is a shame, because his performance on the night was quite brilliant. Light, self-effacing, amusing and entertaining ,he took us on a joyous trip through his wonderful writing with a smile. The tradition at Shindig is not to applaud a poet other than upon arrival in anticipation, and upon departure, in appreciation. However such was the sharpness, wit and joy of The Manager Writes ,a waspish satire on the mangled English and thoughts of a football manager’s notes in his club’s programme, that spontaneous cheering was the deserved, and only possible, outcome. His readings from his two collections, Early Train and The Living Room ,were predominantly homely, but never overly sentimental and always laced with an acerbic aside. I do hope that Jonathan can be persuaded to read more regularly.
Shindig regularly boasts floor readers of the highest standard. Once again we were not disappointed. Past Birmingham Poet Laureate, National Radio’s 1&2 DJ, and local commercial and BBC radio DJ, Charlie Jordan, casually sauntered up to the mike and let her wonderful, memorized poem Words do the talking for her. Love poetry is difficult to pull off in front of an audience for several reasons. Firstly, as it is invariably a first hand account, it risks being intensely personal, and although significant to the writer, may not connect beyond. Secondly, over the centuries, Catullus, Donne and Shakespeare have set a standard which is hard to beat. Which is why I was drawn to Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s two efforts, Scars and I Know. She combined restraint with emotion, and anguish without vulgarity.
I always enjoy listening to Deborah Tyler –Bennett. Hitherto I have heard her only perform historic period poems. Her enthusiasm for her writing, sense of time and place, and general joie de vivre cause me to reflect that if I was transported in a time machine back to Victorian times, Deborah would be the ideal companion to show me around. Tonight she only went as far back as the 1960’s and 70’s, but was no less engaging. James Bond Will Return was a nostalgic return to the rat infested flea pits of the era, but it was Cheerful Revisited, dedicated to Ian Dury which stood out. Cleverly replicating the metre and rhythm of Dury’s Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3, it pulled off the very difficult task of mimicking , but redefining the original ( and brought back fond memories of seeing him perform).Authentic and fond, she never allowed the source material and images to swamp her writing which is the bear-trap in such pieces.
The Old Man of Hoy provided fertile ground for a magnificent landscape poem by Jayne Stanton, and the Elephant in the room provided a neat twist for Matt Merritt’s nature themed poetry, to pick just two more performances from a strong field of floor readers.
Jonathan Taylor for Crystal Clear Creators ,and Jane Commane and Matt Nunn for Nine Arches Press, are to be commended for assembling both such a strong cast of performers, and creating a relaxed easy ambience for them to perform in. Shindig next meets on the 21st May, 7.30pm start, free entry, sign up for an open mic slot on the night.
Gary Longden 19/3/12