The Last Word Festival is a week-long annual festival of spoken word events at The Roundhouse. In addition to the scratch show for ‘Dear Adventure’ with Kid Glove, I watched ten other shows. You can find five of them reviewed briefly here, and another five reviewed on The Norwich Radical website.
I hadn’t seen Sophie Rose perform, and this ending up being of of my favourite shows of the festival. Rose had a natural quality to her performance, as she moved from narrative story-telling to poetic details, successfully blending humour with more serious moments. The ‘quiet violence’ began with high heels, which made me think I should get rid of mine, dusty because they look so much better in my wardrobe that on my feet, where I’d eventually be stumbling and sporting some of the ankle-protection shown on Rose’s subtle costume. The concept of the show appeared to me as a unique one, yet it was so relatable that it was both hilarious (who knew bags could be so funny?) and, dare I say, life changing. By the end, it encouraged the audience to do what makes them happy, rather than what they feel obliged to do, to find the people who would make them soup when they’re ill, and to change what they don’t like rather than simply put up with it. Sophie Rose wants to know, what’s your quiet violence?
Producing Your Own Poetry Show
Throughout the festival there were a range of workshops offered. Having seen Sophie Rose’s show, I was curious as to how this would also work with a workshop about how others could produce shows. Rose made the room a comfortable space, where we worked individually and as a group to discuss different aspects of making a show. It was difficult to contain in the hour slot, and she generously offered extra time, as well as the space for collaborative discussion under her direction, and gave everyone detailed notes and the offer to contact her. One of the useful tips I picked up was about distilling your show idea down to one word; my word ended up being ‘self-acceptance’, which isn’t what I expected, but shows an idea of what the audience should get from it as well as the artist.
What I Leaned From Johnny Bevan
Poetry veteran, Luke Wright, previewed his new show amongst many emerging artists. With many shows already under his belt, I was excited to see what this one would bring. Sitting in the audience, I was already excited by the music playing, and as the show began, we heard crafted guitar twangs (from Art Brut’s Ian Catskilken) to a backdrop of changing scene sketches. I was filled with nostalgia of my own early twenties, that were often filled with drinking in council estates with mates and days spent in my first years at UEA, locations both featured in the show. Yet this nostalgia also gave a sense of timelessness, a dystopian feel, which the tale of Johnny Bevan represented, that we remain to the social class we’re born in, and that just as previous governments reinforced these class divisions, so will the current one. With the election results still fresh, the poetic narrative of Johnny Bevan painted a bleak future, but perhaps, in this gritty reality, it is a reminder as to why it is important to keep fighting. Essentially, this is a story, but the poetry of the show is not merely due to the use of rhyme, but the depth of meaning behind the words.
I didn’t know what I had let myself in for at the time – Poetry Reincarnation started at around 7pm, and it was stilling going past the scheduled end time of 11.15pm. I had also attended part of the earlier programme of events, with a panel discussion on poetry and, essentially, its importance in our lives creatively and politically. The evening event kicked off with Malika Booker, giving a somewhat unspoken progression this world has made beyond the Beat Poet generation of white men, and its unmentioned allegations of pedophilia, and support of the NAMBLA. Since finding this information out, I now always feel uneasy about this kind of worship of poets such as Allen Ginsberg. There were around twenty poets, so I’m going to focus on my favourites. Booker was one highlight, having recently read ‘Pepperseed’ and she was followed by Cecila Knapp, who represented the under-30s and did a stellar job all weekend. Libby Houston was a poet from the older generation of poets performing since the 60s who impressed with her poetics, humour and wide smile.
Kei Miller reminded me that I want to buy his collection, and poets such as John Hegley and Elvis McGonagall brought excitement to the event in the form of rhyme, rhythm and comedy. Music was used effectively throughout the show, breaking up the mass of spoken word, and including more experimental and psychedelic parts that were evocative of the 60s, yet Gwyneth Herbert was a powerhouse in this respect, with a voice that ranged from soft and subtle to loud and proud. Janaka Stucky was a poet I was unfamiliar with, and coming from Boston, it felt a privilege to see him perform his work. Salena Godden, recently mentioned by Hannah Silva at The Place for Poetry, was even more of a delight to watch after hearing this analysis. Francesca Beard was a poet I recently argued at She Grrrowls, and I saw her do some of the same, as well as new material, and again, she left me wanting more, with every word layered with meaning, yet also dishing out a dry, witty humour throughout her set. I sadly missed the end of Dr John Cooper Clarke’s set, and leaving after a couple of sexist, tired wife jokes, I was disappointed with what I did see, but hopefully I’ll be better impressed when I see him again in July. The way poets such as JCC are often held on a pedestal, it seems almost sacrilege to dare say his jokes were sexist, and as much as I want to suggest that perhaps I just couldn’t keep to the the speed of his speech, I can’t deny that these cliched wife jokes just don’t tickle me. And surely, if we want our poetry to be truly revolutionary, I can’t be too scared to say something is sexist. What this event did showcase, as well as the non-programmed event simultaneously taking place in the Made in Camden bar, of which I was meant to be a part, is the vibrancy and variety of contemporary poetry today, and the importance of learning about poets who came before us.
In case you’ve not noticed, Cecilia Knapp has been a regular feature in The Last Word Festival. This scratch was presented almost in full, stripped down against a backdrop of a blue moon sinking behind a horizon. We saw the first half, where Knapp delivered her usual poetic narrative, mostly in free verse, that lulled the sold-out audience into her world, painted so beautifully with her words. I felt there was a danger of romanticising things here, but this was possibly because cigarette references personally jar with me. I know this criticism is probably unfounded, and otherwise that I would struggle to find any room for improvement here, because however beautiful the language, this is her life. ‘Finding Home’ is a piece that manages to be both autobiographical, and I found that I could relate to the words, and I was taken on a journey, so that by the end – or the half-way point – I wasn’t ready for the lights to come up.