Arriving at Theatre Deli for this month’s Verse Matters evening of poetry and performance, I was delighted by the decor of the cafe/gallery, with a flavour of being visited by a set-designer from a Terry Gilliam movie; vivid and colourful art pieces vying for eye-ball space on the walls, a criss-cross of fairy lights, like a star cluster strung from the ceiling and of course, the players, fellow audience members of all persuasions, equally colourful, smiling and up for it. Oh, and Rhubarb, the canine representative of the Poetry Appreciation Society, who barked at all the right intervals, was also in attendance.
(Rhubarb, of the Poetry Appreciation Society)
First up was Rachel Bower, Verse Matters organiser, who brings together this feast of word-smithery, grabbing the mic to get things moving, giving us a reminder of content warnings and triggers, which is refreshing to hear when many similar events often don’t have that and performers simply let loose whatever stuff they have which can of course unsettle audiences, catching them off guard. Poetry, perhaps somewhat by its very definition, ought to provoke and inspire, absolutely, but it is clever and also considerate to think we can support each other more as an audience, especially as we don’t know the struggles that others face each day when they step into the world. Good call, Rachel.
(Verse Matters organiser, Rachel Bower)
The first poet of the event was Vicky Morris, whose Our Girls’ Tip-Top Annual retreated to the childhood memories of reading adventures involving chuckle-inducing parody’s of stero-typed young female behaviour, including, as Morris reminds, ‘lashings of exclamation marks to match their bewildered faces.’
Morris’s Ghosting considers people who walk out on relationships, often after years of commitment and left us, the audience, feeling like there was more to know, more to ask, but a poem apt enough to give an understanding of the reality of partnership breakdown; the haunting memory of better times shared.
(Susie Halksworth, a strong newcomer)
Next on stage was first-time performer, Susie Halksworth, whose apology in advance of what she called ‘a miserable poem‘ may have prepared us for what we thought would be social-decrying akin to reading the etchings inside the skull of Jack Dee, but actually was something of a misdirection, as Halksworth’s first piece about Chia-seed puddings and the bland delusion of people who ‘pretend that food will stop us dying’ was actually laugh-out-loud funny and we lapped it up. A marvellous treat of observational poetry from the debut artist with a very elegant delivery as well.
(Author and poet, Steven Kay)
Steven Kay, author of the historical account of the first Romany to play football for England (The Evergreen in Red and White), stepped up to offer Resolve, a balanced, humbled outlook based on a narrator’s dealing with loss during war-time. The fact that the character in the poem was a Munitionette added the underlying weight of hope for brighter times, not just for humanity as a whole, but of course for a more rounder freedom for women at a moment in history when mother’s, sisters and partners were keeping life together ‘on the home front’, effectively running the country.
(The story of the first Romany footballer for England)
Rachel Bower returned to the mic in place of late-arrival, the wonderful Nicole May who was due on stage at any moment, and we were treated to a very illustrative use of half-rhyme in Bower’s piece about people watching on the iconic Sheffield through-fare, The Moor.
Nicole May from Manchester, a passionate poet rising through the scene, then graced the stage and delivered a powerfully-tongued piece about domestic abuse of a mother, which punctuated the previously charmed air to remind of the stark reality of patriarchal violence, but not without grace did the flowing alliterations call us back to the here and now when May told us at the end of the piece that it was a representation of a mother, not her own.
(Nicole May, performing the piece Culture Clashes at a previous event)
The brilliance of the poem was all the more illustrated by May’s ability to captivate us with what was believed to be a biographical account of abuse. Poetry as an art form should delve into representation as much as possible, especially in this time of me-me-me and Facebook, which May’s next piece, a calling-out of scrolling the internet for the next headline, adequately placed into the frame, perhaps shaming our eyes from our rose-tinted phone screens. The line, ‘murdoch’s morning minions,‘ sticks in the mind.
(Award-winning Rosie Garland, below: Rosie’s debut novel, Palace of Curiosities)
The poised Rosie Garland commanded the stage and mic when she started with Lights Go Out, a sensual piece performed in a soothingly provocative display of controlled form and a dazzling wave of the hand in the manner of an urban shaman of words…
Back row or back room, my hand finds yours
Pulls you cheek-to-cheek, lip-to-lip
Go down for the third time and come up choking
And down again with my hand on your head.
The lights go out.
Garland’s piece about the Hindu goddess of chaos, Kali, inviting the Virgin Mary out to party was funny and carefree, ‘Mary call the babysitter and let me take you dancing.‘
Garland stole the first act of the evening and left the stage before the break with all the air of a literary titan, albeit more approachable.
After the break, singer-songwriter Sarah Sharp took to an electric piano which floated easily through clever octave changes as her fingers danced, unleashing soft melodies with punchy lyrics, such as the side-splitting, ‘Nobody likes your ornaments! Nobody likes your ornaments!‘ Sharp let our minds wander into escape clouds of comfort and joy.
(The delightful Sarah Sharp)
Sarah Sharp is a master stroke along the border between comedy genius and on-trend musical tastes, kind of like a folksy Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls meets Perrier award winning comedian David O’Doherty, with the soft yet purposed voice of Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. An aural treat, for sure.
With the music over, short story writer Anne Garage arrived up front to read a well-crafted tale about Luke, a little boy who becomes fascinated with the activities of a fox living around the garden of his new home. The boys unease at being recently moved to a new place, unsatisfied with the wallpaper and generally needing a perk-up, is balanced into a more hopeful piece with an unspoken reminder that nature is always between us city-based (or ‘civilised’) animals and that when we capture a look at it, in all its natural surround and behaviour, it captures us, revealing everlasting sublimity.
Sez Thomasin stepped under the lights to inform us that they have been writing a poem everyday for the last 25 days or so and that each year they embark on a challenge of writing a 100 poems for a 100 days, which is quite remarkable when one considers how much effort poets put into their work.
(Sez: Their piece about monkey genitalia was funny-as-f**k!)
Sez didn’t disappoint either, with their eloquent observation of magical memories in Coin Flip and glorious control of audience participation with the brilliantly titled (and written), The Louder the Monkey, the Smaller the balls. Not an unsmiling face in the room after that one Sez, exceptional.
Perhaps billed as the main act but by no means outshining any of the aforementioned artists – for no other reason than the whole cast was talented – Rob ‘The Baron’ de Born appeared on stage with what I would nevertheless regard as something of the more form-based pieces of the night.
(Rob ‘The Baron’ de Born)
What Rob didn’t have in performance flair, a la Rosie Garland or Nicole May, he certainly had in driven imagination and control of genre, delivered with charming nervousness as he placed rhymes in their lines with thrusting hand movements, the sign of passion in the purposed poet, which de Born definitely is. Rob is an entertaining poet and then some, with his piece about not be able to visit an 11th century palace during a stay in Morrocco having that rhythmic, pocket-riding, wordplay of hip-hop or, to be more poetry-centric, well-paced spoken-word.
I could chew upon the laurels
While out came scented vapours
From the grating under me
And you’d take your impressions
Though impressed you might not be
By the fallible confessions
All about his majesty
Rob de Born
De Born’s ode to his wife was wonderful, Woman Made of Flowers, was crisp and clever, an unadulterated celebration of his love for a woman who couldn’t be with him last night because she is unwell and a piece that was peppered with the already alluded-to romanticism of nature, with colours and scents of flowers. Perhaps Rob’s work is crafted to evoke a sense of an Eden-for-poets, where The Baron can wander freely, safe and assured that he is the master of all he lyrically purveys.
(Sheffield poet and scene-regular, Carol Eades)
Performing before de Born on the billing, but deserving of the final mention, was local poet-scene regular, Carol Eades, who read a short piece on behalf of her friend and fellow poet, Liz Ferrets, who due to an illness was unable to attend and was surely missed by those in the audience who know her well.
Verse Matters is back again in June, so check out there facebook page for more info’ and consider going along.