Long train journeys can cause the mind to suggest the strangest of boredom avoidance activities; returning from the Edinburgh Fringe I brainstormed my way through a number of bad punning titles for this reportage. The worst I came up with is the one you see. On the way up to Scotland’s capital my train was delayed for 90 minutes in between Birmingham International and New Street where I set myself the challenge of writing the worst poem in the world that had to be related to Birmingham. More of that later.
Primarily I was there performing a guest slot for Porky the Poet (aka Phill Jupitus) in his show ‘Juplicity’. As Phill reminded us, this show was part of the PBH Free Fringe and consequently if we enjoyed the show then a suggested £3 donation should be placed in his bucket. ‘Forget about me being that bloke off the telly, I will be shaking my bucket at the end’. Well, it was well worth the suggested donation and more and an hour of quality and nuanced poetry, humour and real warmth. Reading from his series of ‘Ten Line Fringe’ poems and an A4 folder Porky included subjects that were personal and universal. My highlight was a wonderful and acerbic poem attacking a nuance free and ill-researched Guardian review of charity gig Phill had read at. If you get the chance to see Phill in his Porky the Poet persona then do so, an hour well spent.
Another favourite poet of mine is Tim Clare whom I first encountered on ‘The Poets’ Graves Tour’ he undertook last year with Mark Grist and MC Mixy (more on them later). Tim’s free show ‘Be Kind To Yourself’ at the Banshee Labrynth held a tipsy and very rambunctious 11PM audience spellbound by Tim’s own whirlwind of nervous energy, the humour and wordplay of the poetry and the genuine interaction between Tim and his audience. Again, as with all good spoken word, the presence of nuance and intelligence is what makes this work as well as an Irn Bru fuelled poet with anxiety issues.
This same interaction with the audience was also evident in ‘The Dead Poets Death Match‘ featuring Mark Grist and MC Mixy at the Assembly Studios. The premise being that the audience gets to choose certain poets from a list who are then showcased via Mark and Mixy’s own words until the audience is invited to whittle down to two poets who attempt to best each other in a Rap Battle. On this occasion Byron (Grist) found himself trading rhythmic insults with Gil Scott-Heron (Mixy) and winning despite the worst ‘syrup’ ever seen worn by a poet. As is pointed out at the start any educational aspects of this are ‘coincidental’ but it is easy to see a sanitised (not too much I hope) version of this being a perfect vehicle to engage school pupils with poetry. Also, I must pay respects to Mixy’s ten word freestyle rap created from words suggested by the audience.
Byron Vincent’s show ‘Talk About Something You Like’ at The Pleasance is a compelling and, at times, uncomfortable monologue dealing with his own experiences of mental illness and the contradictions involved with mental health treatment, drugs and institutions; especially so in an era of staff cuts and austerity. Moments of humour punctuate what is an hour of brilliantly witty and insightful reportage which never seeks to shock, sentimentalise or seek sympathy but which does, in the manner of an Owen poem, allow us to imagine and understand a world that we may be ignorant of. I was particularly moved by his explanation of the isolation of mental illness in his telling of missing ‘an ironic fondue party’ where someone ‘was even going to bring Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ on vinyl’.
Dan Simpson’s ‘Applied Mathematics’ was a show which combined both witty and intelligent poetry with a real rapport with the audience. This rapport doubly important as the cellar venue in the Cortado Coffee Shop was so packed that the show became an intimate conversation. If you ever needed proof that the artist and the scientist are intrinsically linked by their abilities to imagine the Universe then this show gives just that proof. Or would that be evidence?
There were two shows that actually caused me real laughter inspired physical injury and clothing damage. The aforementioned Dan Simpson along with Paula Varjack have created ‘Never Mind the Fullstops’ and ‘The Anti-Slam’, both performed at the Banshee Labrynth.
The former is a panel show style event where poets are made to read song lyrics in the style of the best poem ever written, sing poems to the tunes of well known songs. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ being to the tune of YMCA being the jeans ripping moment for me. The appearance of other poets who have Fringe shows in Edinburgh as the panellists for ‘Fullstops’ was inspiring and it is the participation of the professional poets who took part in ‘Anti-Slam’ which caused the pulled muscle in my torso.
One by one the participants were invited to stage to read the worse, most clichéd examples of verse they could write. With scoring designed to reward poor performance, pretension and unoriginality it takes a very good poet who is self-aware enough to be bad enough to win. Appearing under pseudonyms and in character the whole poetry slam concept was beautifully satirised and parodied,
sometimes quite wickedly, sometimes affectionately but always accurately. The poem I wrote on the train up was with this event in mind but the final words belong to Fay Roberts, who in the clip below shows what it is to be a true winner of ‘The Anti-Slam’ in her guise of ‘Melody Starchild’.