Special second post this month with reports on the massacre of readings that I got my ears to while in London last month. Was there for seven nights, and managed to catch six readings. What, only six? Yeah, I know, how lame. But here they are, in all their glory. I gotta say, the London scene right now is vast and impressive and really quite kickass. I know I got just a glimpse of it, but a rich and diverse glimpse at that – and I’m somehow sure that it’s much richer and more diverse than what I came across. Also, folks (by that I mean Americans), they know how to treat their poets right over there, with a lot of respect, and consistently sizeable and interested and eager and focused audiences, at least half-filled with folks that aren’t even there to read. In other words, the Brits are down with the word.
These aren’t meant to be full reviews, really just impressions, some of which are taken from journal entries and contain a little extraneous info. You’ll notice a bit of information missing, as I’m still gathering at first post. Also as descriptions they’re somewhat incomplete, as I was more interested in being at the reads than taking copious notes, so inevitably I’ve missed or neglected to mention poets that I really liked. And in the end, I really liked most of what I heard, which is in itself remarkable. So here you go, a simple glimpse of the London poetry scene during one week in October.
10/6/13 – TORRIANO POETS
First night in London land in room, spin a little, then take off sugarless into the shaking eve and first poetic contact Torriano gang – or Torriano Poets, as they seem to prefer. A weekly Sunday eve reading hosted by David Floyd, the sweet and furious mixed crowd contained many ages and backgrounds. Pieces ranged from dark to humorous, political to lyrical, with everyone deftly kicking the word. Angela Kirby and Eve Pearce, both over 80, were in particular not fucking around. Love that. Also nice to see 80-somethings reading alongside 20-somethings – don’t get that often enough. Angela featured along with Peter Phillips that eve, with about 15 open mic readers. They conjoin every single week at the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town, a blank slate place with chairs and a stage – what more do you need? Unless of course you wish to BYO.
Afterward some folks gather down the street at The Torriano Public House (not the meeting house) for pints and repartee. Had a couple halves of realtime Guinness and I gotta say. Left hoody outside the place a couple hours and I guess London likes me as I’m still a-cloaked.
10/7/13 – MORE POETRY WITH KEN CHAMPION
Off to The Coffee Shop for More Poetry with Ken Champion, out Whitechapel way. Another ardent group, circle of a dozen heartfelt and dedicated and charmed away with light and heavy and song and camaraderie. Enjoyed feature by Wendy French, who writes about the NHS from the inside; luscious ballads by Tim and Mel; very cool piece on Robert Capa by _______; rantings on the music industry by George Harris; and sweet character pieces by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs. Little Q+A after aimed at moi, they (i.e. Ken) wanted to know my first impressions of the town, spoke of how aesthetically things seemed to fit together here, at least compared to NY, though he couldn’t quite agree. Swellfolk though, and pleasant convers outside afterward with George and Alison O’Palace who invited for a pint. You can find these folks getting started at about 7:15 on the first Monday of every month at Fazenda UK.
10/8/13 – POETRY UNPLUGGED
Poetry Unplugged @ The Poetry Cafe, open melee for 26 this week masterfully mc’d by Niall O’Sullivan with endless wit and diplomacy. This reading has a rep for being focused and high energy, and it is well deserved. Entirely open, it draws a full house every Tuesday evening in the only poetry-dedicated cafe in London. There were so many good readers that I couldn’t scritch on ‘em all (wanted to sit there and enjoy them, okay), but a few highlights were: John Paul O’Neill, who I’d crossed paths with in Austin in 1996, and who runs the fantastic Farrago Poetry Slam; Tom Bland, whose sly wit and improv reading style grips the crowd; Irina Jauhiainen, touting the stuff of life; and Chris Lawrence, absurdist and levitator, who twists minds in funny little knots. If you’re in town, try not to miss this. And stop in early to The Poetry Cafe for a delicious veggie snack or meal before the read. In Covent Garden.
Chris L. suggested this read, which turns out to be another hi-octane romp, mostly by youngers (i.e., 20sumthings, unlike Unplugged which seemed to have a broader age range). And what fun cavorting with the kidz! It was joyously hosted by Matt Cummins and Stephanie Dogfoot, celebrating her last night before moving to Singapore (good luck!). The three features all showed strong stage- and wordcraft: Ng Yi-Sheng, just in from Singapore, proffered a taste of queer East Asian performance work, strong and provocative; Anna Kahn went the humorous slam-style route; and Rik Poetree laid out some serious pro storytelling. The open here was just as vivulous, including an awesome chant by Wizard of Skill, a diatribe on the uphill battle of UK teachers (sounds familiar) by Rik Livermore, who’s also taking over for Stephanie; and more tickly madness from Chris Lawrence, who did show up himself. You can find this crowd revving on the second Wednesday of every month at Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington, which has fantastic grub as well. I’m just sayin.
10/10/13 – BANG SAID THE GUN
Hard choice on Thursday, and I skipped the Farrago Slam (should I have?) to check out the notorious Bang Said the Gun. They’ve done it up like a mud wrestling rock concert really, along with excellent animations and dozens of shakers (homemade rattle-noisemakers that explode with each applause). Rather than high energy I would describe this event as highest possible energy. MC Jack Rooke and the Bang Gang get the audience ridiculously amped, and it’s up to the poets to keep up. Sort of. Some of the performers definitely catered to this, doing comedic or full throttle pieces, but nice thing was the audience was also happy to chill and focus for quieter readers.
There were two features, several highlighted spots, and several single pieces (by readers competing for a highlight spot the next week). The features were of vastly different tenor, and slotted at different places in the show. After a few initial poets we had Roger Robinson, a veteran poetry and music performer who struck some deep notes with pieces about jazz and Trinidad. Later in the show the second feature, Stan Skinny, rocked the place with the manic alacrity of a tank of nitrous oxide, shrieking and spazzing and pronouncing; oddly enough in the middle of his set he had us all cheerfully singing dark lines by Philip Larkin. Madness and high amusement. All in all the quality of the pieces was quite good, with some more serious and page-writ, others definitely tuned for performance. Curiously perhaps the most riveting piece of the show was by Chris Lawrence, who followed me everywhere this week (joking – but was great to see him perform thrice), and who whipped ‘em up with some seriously weird verbiage, and basically ruled the Bang and left the stage glowing.
Somehow these guys pull this off most every Thursday at The Roebuck in Southwark, just a tube stop past London Bridge, which btw also features amazing food and more draft brews than you can shake a skimmer at.
10/12/13 – PLATFORM 1
Finally, another solid series at Poetry Cafe, this one hosted by Ernie Burns with three features and an open mic. This eve the features were all strong performers without being necessarily performance poets. I’ve misplaced my notes on the features, who were Vrouwkje Tuinman, Cathy Flower, and Gareth Lewis, but enjoyed their work thoroughly. Again a strong open mic as well, with more by John Paul O’Neill and Tom Bland (see Poetry Unplugged, above), and a terrific pieces by Dónall Dempsey, Janice Windle, and David Mason (among others). Afterward ended up hoisting pints yet again, this time in the raucous Phoenix Artist Club in Soho, wild underground speakeasy, for a terrific last night in town.
Conclusion: GO BACK SOON.