iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

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Review: The Bleeding Obvious Christmas Party, The Red Shed, 16 December 2017

First up was Helen Rhodes. (You can follow her on Twitter: @ThinkingChimp )  She is based in Wakefield, but this was the first time I had heard her.  She began with an anti-fairy tale.  I do like a good anti-fairy tale (search on this blog for Fairy tale, if you don’t believe me).  It was well-crafted, with rhyme and metre effectively used, but not according to a rigid scheme.  She did a poem about self-doubt, and two political ones.  You may have heard me saying before that I do not usually like political poetry.  Politics, and self-doubt, are very frequent subjects in contemporary spoken word, and they are also frequently mishandled.  Poems about self-doubt have a tendency to implode in a way that makes the audience think, “Yes, you aren’t very good at this, are you?”  Poems about politics tend to produce a lot of sterile shouting about things that the audience already gets, or they inadvertently convince the listeners that the person speaking doesn’t know what they are talking about.  All Helen Rhodes’s pieces worked.  The self-doubt poem had the audience nodding with recognition and approval.  The political poems used poetic technique to make them stand up, rather than a mere, selfish appeal to the audience’s sense of justice.  Helen definitely left the audience wanting more, and I will be looking out for her next performance.

Helen, wife of The Bleeding Obvious’s Jess Rowbottom, began selling raffle tickets in the interval.  This was for the benefit of Mermaids UK, a charity which supports transgender children, and their families.  I bought two strips.

Next up was the inimitable (and I use that word advisedly) Lee McHale, from Castleford.  Those of you who are familiar with the ‘Mr Gum’ series of children’s books by Andy Stanton may be interested to know that Lee McHale looks uncannily like Mr Gum, himself.  It’s a combination of the beard, the cap, and the wild-eyed expression.  I have never yet seen Lee stick a picture of a scary shark on his beard to make himself look more frightening, but it would not surprise me if he did.

Lee started with ‘Ted, the Teabag’.  He then picked up a ukulele, which appeared to have been made out of a cigar box, with the bit of cord that Compo Simonite used to keep his trousers up with, instead of a strap.  The cord, and its unpredictable behaviour, were an unscripted contribution to the act.  He started a musical version of  ‘Jeremy Kyle Is A Wanker’.  I am familiar with the unaccompanied version, but not this one.  Lee can certainly play the ukulele, but he gave up on the instrument two verses from the end, because the unreliable trouser-cord was giving him gip.  He returned to reciting, unaccompanied, without any diminution of the effect or the audience enjoyment.

His last piece was announced as, ‘a hobby poem’, again set to the ukulele.  It was called, ‘I Like To Kill’.  The audience laughed out loud, though some people looked a bit uncertain at the injunction to “J O I N  I N !”

Whereas Lee did words with musical accompaniment, Louis James, who I mentioned in my last review, did guitar playing accompanied by singing.  Louis has a highly accomplished, complex finger-picking style, which includes a lot of moving his hands onto and off the strings, so that he can do things like strike the sound box, or play harmonics.  (If you don’t know what harmonics are, ask somebody.)

His first three pieces were his own compositions.  While his instrumental technique is breath-takingly sophisticated, I don’t really get his songs.  He is too young, too thin, and not sweaty enough for my taste.

Almost as if he were reading my mind, Louis finished with a cover version of ‘Ace of Spades’.  It was innovative, and it worked.

A late addition to the programme was Jasmine, from The Black Horse Poets.  She appeared under her pseudonym, which I didn’t catch.  She did a piece called ‘Spiderwoman’, which delighted the audience, including the bit where she stuck two fingers up.

As Geneviève Walsh was getting ready to go on, Helen Rhodes and Lee McHale had to go out into the cold, to travel to The Snooty Fox, for another benefit gig, a Christmas food drive.  “I’ll try not to take it personally,” exclaimed Geneviève, as they were leaving.

It was another effortlessly accomplished set from Geneviève.  Most of the pieces I had heard before, but I enjoyed them all the more for that.  The intro to ‘Contradiction’ (the piece about the beautiful woman in the library with the recalcitrant child, called Bradley) said that she was performing it in recognition of the casting of the new Doctor Who as a woman with a Yorkshire accent, and, so I was told, a male assistant, called Bradley.

The main thing I took from this performance of Geneviève’s was from the intro to ‘Dance Of A Thousand Losers’, and it was, “Life is about finding your kind of weirdo”.

The headline act was, of course, Jess Rowbottom in her guise as The Bleeding Obvious.

For those who have never yet enjoyed the blessing of visiting The Red Shed in Wakefield, it is, literally, a shed.  The – for want of a better word – “auditorium” is a room that has to be extended by opening a folding partition.  It tends to attract people who are looking for the bar and open the wrong door; it has 1970s-style, fireproof ceiling tiles, a self-assembly wardrobe in one corner, a granny carpet, and a laminate dancefloor and piles of stacked chairs, which give it the air of a low budget wedding reception.  Jess made it feel like Madison Square Garden.   Just about every seat was taken.

I am not going to go through the whole set list of 14 songs.  The performance began with some keyboard playing which reminded me of how Animal from The Muppets plays the drums.

One of my favourite pieces of unscripted banter was, “I didn’t used to be like this: I used to identify as a software engineer.”

I did not realise, the last time I heard Jess perform, that her instruments all have names.  I didn’t catch all of them, but the melodica is called Sven (which I always thought was the name of a Swedish hit man).  The gold keyboard with the shoulder strap is called Judith.  Don’t ask me why.

Louis James returned to the front, with his guitar, for a song called (I think) ‘Gender Babylon’.  They engaged in what I believe is known in some circles as, “getting down”.  It was very good.

The 13th song was ‘Keith Chegwin For A Day’, which Jess said she had written in 1991.  When Jess announced this as the last one, there were howls of protest, and so she finished with ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’.

The raffle was drawn, and I won the naff Christmas compilation LP (yes, a vinyl LP) that had recently been contributed after a trip to a charity shop.

As I was on my way home, there were two middle-aged lesbians in the taxi office. One of them asked me about the record. “I love vinyl, me. What’s that? Christmas songs? I wish I had that. I’d love that.” I gave her the record.

When you have been unemployed as long as I have, the opportunity to attend an event devoted to self-realisation, with well-crafted music and words, in the company of people who are mostly familiar, does you a power of good.  The things I took from this event are that we are who we are, and anyone who doesn’t like it can fuck off, and that the exercise of talent, especially in an atmosphere of human warmth and solidarity, can keep austerity and prejudice at bay.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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Review: Killing the Piano, by Joe Williams

ISBN 978-0-9957642-1-7

Half Moon Books

26 pages

http://www.halfmoonbooks.co.uk/index.php/jo-williams/

I heard Joe Williams performing his poetry, and I met him, before I read this.  I think it is his debut collection.

This review is particularly difficult to write, for two reasons.  The first is that Joe Williams does not come from Leeds, but lives in Leeds, whereas I do come from Leeds, but I now live in Wakefield.  Westgate Studios, in Wakefield, is one of the places I have heard Joe Williams perform.  Hyde Park Book Club, in Leeds, is another.  Matt Abbott recently observed that he himself chose to write about Blyth in Northumberland, rather than Wakefield, because he was too close to his place of origin to see it.  Matt has written some poems about Wakefield, but that is not the point.  Joe Williams writes not just about Leeds: he writes about my Leeds.  And that makes the review more difficult.

Many poets try to write about, or evoke, a sense of place.  When you make a reader feel conflicted or regretful about the way you have evoked that place, that means you are doing something right: at least you have engagement.  The way Joe Williams has evoked Leeds will not just appeal to people from Leeds: it will not just appeal to people who come from the industrial, university cities in the North of England: it will appeal to anyone who feels attached to a certain place – all the more, if that feeling of attachment is conflicted.

The second reason is that the subject matter of Joe Williams’s work is similar to my own.  I once had a rather unsatisfactory conversation with Kirsten Luckins in which she asked me to describe my poetry in one word.  I said, “urban”.  She said, “Does that mean you are a rapper?”  I said “No.”  She said, “If you describe your work as urban, that means you are a rapper.  Why do you describe your work as urban if you are not a rapper?”  I said, “I describe it as urban because it is more likely to be appreciated by people who live in cities.”  She said, “Name one poet that you would describe as urban, who is not a rapper.”  I said, “Brian Patten.”  She reluctantly admitted that I had a point.

Joe Williams’s work is urban, in the Brian Patten sense.

The three fundamental questions that I ask myself about the work of a new poet I encounter are: 1. Who is speaking?  2. What are they saying?  3. Why might it be important?  I already had the answers to these questions, from Joe Williams’s performances, before I began to read, ‘Killing the Piano’.  My reading of ‘Killing the Piano’ shows that Joe Williams has not just found his poetic voice, but has cultivated it to the point where he can use it to portray more than one persona.  In this collection, he depicts a wider range of voices than I did in ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’.  The furthest I get from my own ego in my debut collection is in ‘Eleven Colours of Loneliness’.  Joe Williams creates situations which are completely hypothetical, but very compelling, in ways that I haven’t, yet.

I hesitate to use the word, “surreal”, because it has become a neologism for “a bit unexpected”.  But some of Joe Williams’s work is surreal in the sense that it deliberately blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality, in such a way that sane people might appear mad, and mad people might appear sane.

My first reading of part of this collection was while I was in the telephone queue for a call centre.  Yes, I had the phone in one hand, and the book in the other.  It is a book which understands things like being on hold on the phone, but without clichés.  The hands we are in, in this collection, may be, at times, timid, or experimental, but they are safe.  Where Joe Williams deals with situations you have read about, before, he does so in a way that is new.

He is just about the only Western writer I know who writes haikus which don’t make me feel nauseous.  This is because of his mastery of tone: there are times when it is impossible to tell if he is being serious, or taking the piss.  But he knew what he was doing, when he wrote the piece.

There is exactly one poem in the collection that I didn’t like, but I am not going to tell you what it is.  You will have to read the collection, and work it out, for yourself.

Review: Catch A Falling Star at Cluntergate Centre, Horbury 13/10/2017

I arrived late, at about 5 past 7, when a young man with a guitar was singing and playing.  I took him to be Louis James.  He began a cover version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.  There was a fairly long and tinkly guitar intro, which led me to believe that this would be one from the  Jeff Buckley school.  And so it came to pass.  I am absolutely allergic to bad cover versions of ‘Hallelujah’, by Leonard Cohen.  They make me come out in terrible running sores, all over my bozzolikons.  This was a good cover version.  When he sang ‘All I ever learnt from love / was how to shoot at someone who outdrew yer’ the hair stood up on the back of my neck.  It sounded like an impersonation of Jeff Buckley, but it was a very good impersonation.  Louis James (if I have got your name right): why don’t you try a freer version?

A splendid build-up, in the Cluntergate Centre.  I get to walk to this place, from where I live.  I may be an outsider (I come from bloody Leeds) but this is my centre.

The next performer was Halima Mayat.  I know Halima from, among other things, the Black Horse Poets.  Halima is part of the spoken word scene in Wakefield.

She opened with a poem that she said had been written during a workshop with someone called ‘Gen’.  I have sent my spies out throughout the north of England, and the best they can come up with for a suspect called ‘Gen’, is Geneviève Walsh, of, among other things, Spoken Weird in Halifax.  It was a poem about bi-polar disorder, called, ‘Tin of Hot Dogs’.  It was a very good example of how to use an everyday object as a metaphor for mental states.

Halima’s next set of pieces were based on fairy tales: Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood.  These were modernist treatments of classic stories.

‘The Dark of The House’ was a chilling poem.  ‘Betrayal’ was an angry poem.

As a listener, I still find Halima’s poetic persona tantalising, but, from this performance, I learnt a great deal about her.  It was an excellent performance.  Halima held the room (there were 40+ people there – that is a serious room).  Her microphone technique was very good.  She got tumultuous applause, as well she deserved.

Stefan Grieve and Ralph Dartford appeared under the name ‘Specky & Specky’.

Stefan and Ralph performed 8 pieces.  Ralph did a piece about domestic violence, and relationship breakdown, which began, “There’s indentations in this chipboard wall…”  Stefan rhymed “Fill ya” with “thrill ya”, and “dyspraxic” with “sarcastic”.

Stefan also said, “Don’t let your pain be a stranger to those who can help,” which is a summary of the whole evening.

Ruby Macintosh wears spectacles and an A-line dress.  She evokes the 1950s.  She can really sing.  She plays an amplified acoustic guitar.  She has excellent technique in both hands.  That is not something that I say, often.

‘Raspberry, Strawberry, Gooseberry Jam’ was a tour de force.  Never mind the vocal and instrumental technique, in perfect unison.  The subject matter of the song is about life choices.  It is a kind of poetry that I would normally associate with Brian Patten, Roger McGough, or Stevie Smith.

Ruby Macintosh is as good as Eddi Reader.  Possibly, better, because she doesn’t have a backing band.

Nathan Birkinshaw did a routine that was partly about repetition.  He was telling a joke about a man who walks into a bar.  It involved a certain amount of lying on his back on a table, and shouting.  I am not keen on shouting.  There was a barmaid.

His funniest line, in my opinion, was, with reference to this chap in joke land, and the barmaid, “It’s later in the night, and they’re in bed.”

[There is an old 15 amp plug socket on the ceiling of the main hall in the Cluntergate Centre.  Don’t ask me how I know that.]

The last act on the bill was Jess Rowbottom, as The Bleeding Obvious.  She was, among other things, promoting her show, ‘Rainbow Heart’.  But this evening was all about the moment.

As a fan of Augustus Pablo, I am appalled at how Jess used the melodica.  To hell with that.  I am not appalled: I am encouraged.  There are new uses to which the melodica can be put, and The Bleeding Obvious is finding them.  More of that, please.

I am going to list some of the pieces that Jess performed, if for no other reason than I want her to know that I was listening:

  1. Life is Never As Straight as it Seems
  2. Not Dead, Yet
  3. Family Gathering
  4. Outside v Inside
  5. Wallflower
  6. Me, Myself, and I
  7. One Foot In Front Of The Other

It was #6 that did it, for me.  There was a sample from the old-fashioned speaking clock.  It went a bit Pet Shop Boys.  It went a bit Momus.  Jess briefly lost her place with the melodica, and had to count herself back in.  That was lovely.

If I have to crawl there on my hands and knees, I will put a blue plaque on the wall of Cluntergate Community Centre.  “13/10/2017 Jessica Rowbottom, rock star, performed here.”

It was partly about the keyboard playing.  It was partly about the vocals.  It was certainly about the hair.  But, mostly, it was about Jess.  With the playing, singing, and persona, she told us she was going to take us to a different place, and we acquiesced, and she did.

 

Review: The Ted Hughes Poetry Festival, evening, 24 June 2017, Mexborough Business Centre

Janine Booth had already started her set when we arrived.  Neither Valerie nor I had ever heard of her, before.  As we were entering the auditorium and faffing about with our tickets and trying to be as quiet as possible, I could tell that she was from London, and that she was reciting a poem that was political.  Political poetry usually makes me cringe, especially if it is rhymed, which this seemed to be.  I listened, and got ready to cringe.  But I didn’t cringe.  It was #1 delivered with controlled anger, not shouted or gone through like a times table.  #2 The poet sounded as if she knew what she was talking about.  #3 She had something to say that was not something I had heard said just that way, before.  It was engaging and lively and not the sort of thing you hear very often.

It turned out that Janine Booth might have been carved out of a slab of Valerie’s imagination.  She is from London.  She is vehemently anti-Tory.  (The poem we had walked in on was about hating Tories.)  She works on the London Underground.  She went on to do a poem about angry, middle-aged women, among other things.

Her final piece was a pastiche of ‘Hallelujah’, by Leonard Cohen, and, in my opinion, was a little step too far.  It didn’t have quite the same measure of craft and authority as the rest of the set.  Apart from that, Janine’s set was excellent, and I wish I had not missed the beginning.  Valerie bought two of her books.

Next was Tim Wells, another Londoner.  Valerie and I heard him for the first time at 7 Arts Centre in Leeds (near where I grew up) when he was supporting Kate Fox, earlier this year.  I had a chat with him, afterwards, about our shared passion for ska and reggae.  We had heard some of the same sound systems, in Leeds, though not at the same time.

Tim Wells has one of the most distinctive delivery styles I have ever heard.  His short pieces, which deliberately end before the audience expect, put me in mind of a Cockney version of Ivor Cutler.  I find his longer pieces fascinating.  I just want to hear what he is going to say next.  Tim Wells is one of the purest performance poets I have ever heard, in the sense that, for any given line or stanza, it is often not obvious what devices he is using: it usually isn’t rhyme, or metre, or repetition.  He just has a poetic voice –  an original, contemporary, poetic voice.  His speech is certainly Cockney, but it is also easy to understand to my middle class, West Yorkshire ear.

By the time Tim Wells finished his set, the atmosphere in the auditorium was already well on the way to healing the North-South divide.

Linton Kwesi Johnson looked much as I had imagined him.  I have seen images of him, before, on television, and in magazines such as ‘Black Music’ in the 1980s.  That was decades ago, of course, but his appearance was still in keeping with my expectations.  He wore an umber fedora, which he kept on before, during, and after his performance.  He wore a red tie,  a tailored jacket and trousers.  He was thin.  Despite the greyness of his beard, he doesn’t look old.  As many people used to say of my late father, he looks distinguished rather than old.

Linton Kwesi Johnson broke two of the basic rules of performance poetry.  He delivered long preambles, some of them as long as the pieces they preceded.  He also elided straight from the end of one poem into the preamble for the following poem, with hardly a second’s pause.  (This is what I call, “Doing a Gaia Holmes”.)  But there are mitigating circumstances in both cases.  The preambles were to do with the struggle for justice, both generally and with reference to specific campaigns, of black people in Britain, and he was talking mostly from first hand experience.  Also, the elision had the benefit of silencing all applause until the end, which was helpful to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the performance.  I strongly suspect that he did this deliberately.

I first started reading the Liverpool Poets in about 1983.  I have since heard the late Adrian Henri, and Roger McGough, live.  I first heard the recordings, and read the pamphlets, of Linton Kwesi Johnson in 1982 or 1983.  In all the time I have been reading and listening to poetry, this is the longest span of time between first encountering a poet’s work, and then hearing them, live.  About 35 years.

Most of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s set was from his early work: the work with which I am the most familiar.  Some of these pieces I have not listened to for 20 years, but I know parts of some of them by heart.  ‘Sonny’s Letter’, for example.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, more so than in just about any other live performance I have ever heard.  My vision became blurred.  I don’t know why: I wasn’t in tears, but I couldn’t see, properly.  All I could see was a thin, well-dressed West Indian man on the centre of a stage in a hall in Mexborough.  That man was the one and only Linton Kwesi Johnson.

I thank Steve Ely and the other organisers of this festival for bringing such an eminent performer to Mexborough.  It was an unforgettable experience.

Janine Booth and Tim Wells can both consider their reputations enhanced, because their sets supported and complemented LKJ’s set.  The common threads were: a sense of pride in one’s own identity, and the struggle for justice.

On the way out, Valerie shook LKJ’s hand.  He was having a cigarette.  As we left, he sounded as if he was hacking up a lung.

Review: The Price of Happiness by Kate Fox, s2 ep1, BBC Radio 4, 11:30 19 June 2017

You can listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer Radio for the next 29 days from today, or download it, if allowed in your territory:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08twgfv

Kate Fox is just about the best and most celebrated poet with whom I have a nodding acquaintance.  I have heard her perform live at Unity Works in Wakefield, and at 7 Arts in Leeds, and I had the pleasure of having a bit of a chat with her on both occasions.  She has national coverage (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about her on the BBC) and is one of the most effective campaigners in England for the belief that contemporary poetry can be relevant – sometimes, even, vital – to everyday life, and is worth paying to hear.

Like Matt Abbott, Ian McMillan, Kate Tempest, and some others, Kate Fox mixes her spoken word career with other art forms: in her case, stand-up comedy.  Today’s programme also had some musical accompaniment.  There were elements of audience participation which, to my great relief, worked very well, and were not at all an embarrassing mess.

The subject of the programme, entitled, ‘The Perfect Body’, is the amount of money that people – mainly women, but men, as well – spend on their appearance, and whether it is worth the expense and effort.  As regards hardly caring at all about what other people think of my appearance, I enjoy some advantages that Kate Fox doesn’t.  I’m male, and, although I did spend a long time in childhood being regularly taunted about my appearance and voice (I went through an artificial puberty at the age of 7) my circumstances were such that it never got to me.  All it did was to give me a rational fear of the mob mentality.

Despite the fact that this is not my kind of subject, I found the programme engaging and well worth listening to.  The most engaging parts were when she was talking about her own, idiosyncratic experiences, rather than talking generally.  But even the statistics about how much people spend on what items and procedures I found interesting. (There aren’t many statistics that I don’t find interesting, as long as they are derived from reputable sources).  She even mentioned the subject of cosmetic surgery (which, if I ever see it mentioned in a TV programme, causes me to change channels immediately).  Kate, if you are reading this, I know someone who may be getting in touch with you about your experiences.  The parts about being <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> and having large breasts provoked the most masculine reaction in me.  I find <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> women much more attractive than thin women.  I like women with big bosoms.  I know lots of men who are the same, but I unreservedly admit that this aesthetic does not fit the mainstream in this era (though it would have done in many previous eras – probably every era at least until Elizabethan times).  Even I get it that breasts beyond a certain size can not only be a problem socially, and psychologically, but can cause other problems, not the least of which is chronic backache.

A female comedian doing a live performance about women’s relationships with their own bodies, from a point of view which is socially mainstream (or working class, if you will allow) but personally quirky and idiosyncratic, invites comparison with Victoria Wood.  The fact that Kate Fox’s accent and outlook are also unmistakably Northern makes the comparison even more irresistible.  I am delighted to say that Kate Fox’s use of self-deprecation and trying to make a virtue out of one’s own ignorance or alienation is much less than Victoria Wood’s.  Even where Kate Fox uses these devices, the way she uses them is, in my opinion, more subtle and better-crafted than Victoria Wood’s.  This may or may not have something to do with the fact that Victoria Wood was from the North West, and Kate Fox is from the North East.  She now lives in North Yorkshire, but her accent is North Eastern.

This is the first time I have listened to one of Kate Fox’s BBC Radio programmes.  I will certainly be looking up the others on iPlayer Radio, including a short extract from The Verb on BBC Radio 3 about swearing.  Based on one hearing of this one episode of The Price of Happiness, the Kate Fox persona I perceived was different from the one I have heard live.   Live Kate is freer, quicker, expects the audience to keep up with her in more of a lively fashion, expects the audience to be more imaginative and unshockable.  BBC Kate sounds very slightly inhibited (duh – almost as if she were appearing on the BBC).  One of the reasons I will be listening to more of her programmes is to try to detect moments where BBC Kate tips over into Live Kate.

On the subject of performance poets on the radio, there is a rumour that I may be re-appearing on Phoenix FM, broadcast from Halifax, in July.

 

Review: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Mark Gatiss gave us an episode of Sherlock in the original, Victorian setting, but only a fool would not have expected him to weave it into the end of the last episode of the modern adaptation.

After a selection of scenes from previous episodes, the story is introduced by John Watson, in his army uniform, being showered by debris from an exploding shell in the Second Afghan War. This is straight off page 1 of the original version of Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study In Scarlet’. (If you have never read this, then do so, as soon as possible.)

Everybody wants to know the resolution to the apparent suicide of Moriarty at the end of the last mini-series. The programme started by giving us a story which apparently had nothing to do with Moriarty, and then it did have something to do with Moriarty, but not in the way we were expecting, and then we did get some development of the story in the previous episode, but not a resolution, and then we got another cliff-hanger.

It is a testament to Gatiss’s skill as a story-teller and constructor of plot that he manages to dazzle the audience in this way, and maintain the tension, without ever degenerating into “one damned thing after another” (as happens in ‘24’, for example).
All the characters were rigorously played by the same actors as their modern counterpart, right down to the chap who says, “He is always like that” (Dr Stamford).

Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the pathologist who never appears in the Conan Doyle original, looks great in a moustache. I wish I could say the same for John Watson. It was obvious how a masculine disguise would have been necessary for a woman to be a pathologist in Victorian times, but even I did not supsect that this would turn out to be a key part of the plot. The same goes for John Watson’s petulant exchange with the housemaid over his breakfast.

When Gatiss is not inventing new characters, he is setting up relationships and axes of tension between existing ones, chiefly between Mary Morstan (spy) and Mycroft (spymaster), between Holmes & Watson (subjects) and Mary Morstan (investigator). Not only is Watson his own man (as all modern Watsons have to be), but Molly Hooper, Mary Morstan, and Mrs Hudson are their own women. The subtle and unintentional homo-eroticism of the original stories has been replaced by deliberate and blatant homo-eroticism between Sherlock and Moriarty. Under the layers of physical and psychological evidence and plot, under the raising of social and philosophical questions, against the settings and characters and the subtext-laden dialogue, we always get back to the same issue: the never-ending struggle of Sherlock and Moriarty to alleviate their own boredom. Sherlock and Mycroft are both fellow-sufferers from hyperlexia. Moriarty’s condidtion may resemble hyperlexia, but I suspect him of being merely a vulgar adrenaline-addict, rather than being addicted to the assimilation and analysis of coherent data.

The wait for this was too long. “So that Martin Freeman could portray Bilbo Baggins” is, in my opinion, one of the worst imaginable reasons for the delay, but it can’t be helped. I cannot wait for the next one. In ‘The Abominable Bride’, Mark Gatiss has succeeded in writing an ultra-promiscuous adaptation of a set of Victorian stories, and producing something which is better-thought-out, more plausible, and more gripping than the original. He has even managed to create a story which ends with “and then it was all a dream” without it seeming to be a cliche. Good writers avoid cliches. Great writers use cliches in new ways.

Finally, I come to the awards section.

Coolest Man On The Planet: Benedict Cumberbatch, for the way he delivers the line, ‘The name is Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B, Baker Street.’
Most Unlikely Person: Jane (Stephanie Hyam – ?) the housemaid, who just wins it ahead of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) in men’s clothes.
Best Editorial Decision: making Mycroft fat again, but making him the subject of a tontine with Sherlock, and addicted to plum pudding.
Best Line Other Than Sherlock’s: ‘He didn’t want a drink: he needed one’, or ‘You’re Sherlock Holmes – wear the damned hat.’ (both John Watson). The latter is narrowly the winner.
Best sideburns: Lestrade (Rupert Graves).

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http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/html/collections.html#ThrowingMotherintheSkip

Review: A Firm Of Poets at Unity Works, Wakefield 26/11/2015

This is the first time I have paid to see A Firm Of Poets. The evening was worth every penny.

The music was provided by a band whose name I didn’t catch. Their line-up was: electric piano, guitar, and violin. The violin playing and backing vocals were provided by Matt Abbott’s girlfriend, Lucy Relins.

The format was the same one that A Firm Of Poets always use. They line up five chairs. They line up five poets. Each poet does a single poem and then it moves on to the next one. Sometimes there is a preamble or banter about the previous piece, but it is always kept to a merciful minimum. They all recite from memory. I don’t know how they do it.

The compere was Geneviève Walsh. Her performance was the best I have seen. A Firm Of Poets are accessible and alternative at the same time. Geneviève is the embodiment of this. I heard her poetic voice more clearly than I have in any previous performance. She is maturing in her presentation, and staying crazy and uncategorisable at the same time. If Geneviève Walsh ever enters the same room as Alan Bennett, there will probably be a thermonuclear explosion.

Matt Abbott is only 26 years old. Like Geneviève, in this performance he spoke with the clearest voice I have ever heard him use. Part of his patter was the comparison and contrast between audiences that expect rhymed pieces (music crowds) and those that expect unrhymed (lit crowds). Matt has mastered both. He also does pieces that leave the listener wondering if they were rhymed or unrhymed. His last three pieces were political. He can do political poetry that has a mixed-aged, mixed-gender audience stamping their feet, clapping, and shouting. I have lost count of the number of failed attempts at political poetry I have heard.

John Darwin’s work has a depth and breadth that defies description. The man himself is quitely-spoken, philosophical, and introspective. His work is inventive and profound. His performances are crafted, to the extent of being like those of an old-time music hall performer. He reminds me faintly of Eric Morecambe. It is impossible to tell whether everything is rehearsed to the nth degree, or if is improvised. I guess that the truth is somewhere in between. He is also a Manc, which helps to diversify what might otherwise have become the contemporary poetry equivalent of Last Of The Summer Wine.

If A Firm Of Poets were a set of spice jars, then Victoria Garbutt would be the chilli powder. Apart from the three years I spent at Liverpool University, I do not get Toria’s drug references, but I do get her anger and the stylishness of her delivery. I heard five poets this evening. I preferred some of them to others. The fact that there was a range of voices is something I would never change. Toria keeps the preamble down to virtually zero, which is greatly to be applauded. She also met most of the evening’s quota of swearing, which is also a thing to be encouraged. This was commendably augmented by the representatives from A Republic Of Poetry, particularly with regard to the word, “wanker” by a gentleman from Featherstone.

Ralph Dartford’s voice also came through more clearly in this performance. He added touches of comedy and pathos, as well as delivering his blockbuster, ‘Safe Home’, with topical variation.

Jacqui Wicks produced the performance. As a production, it could not have been bettered.

If I had to think of one word to describe the whole event, it would be: Shakespearian. We had everything: characters, voices, stories, love, sex, death, substance abuse, childhood, old age, madness, familiarity, strangeness.

The auditorium of Floor 4 at Unity Works was packed. Everybody in that auditorium apart from the performers had paid ten quid to get in. This is A Firm Of Poets. This is the People’s Republic Of Poetry. The next performance is at the Barnsley Civic on Saturday 28 November. I won free tickets.

Review by A Firm Of Poets

I am delighted to have received the following review from my friends at A Firm Of Poets:

http://www.afirmofpoets.com/#!William-ThirskGaskill-Throwing-Mother-in-the-Skip/c183f/55f5b5c90cf23d0ff002cfb0

The Firm is about to embark on a nationwide tour. The dates are here:

http://www.afirmofpoets.com/

I have just bought tickets for their performance at Unity Works in Wakefield. I would be going to others, but some of the local ones clash with performances I am giving.

I think The Firm is really starting to get somewhere. I wish them every success with the tour.

Review: Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times: a collection by Firm Of Poets

56 pages

Paperback

ISBN 978 0 9930192 0 3

Published by Ossett Observer Presents, 2014

This chapbook features poems by Ralph Dartford, Matthew Headley Stoppard, Geneviève L. Walsh, John Darwin, and Matt Abbott.  I know all these people.  I have been given very generous lifts in the car belonging to Ralph and his wife, Jacqui.  I have interviewed Matthew Headley Stoppard on my radio programme, and shared a stage with him during the promotion of the Grist poetry anthology.  I have headlined and done open mic at Spoken Weird, run by Geneviève Walsh.  I have read a poem at Write Out Loud in Sale, run by John Darwin (where Ralph and Matthew also performed) and I have heard Matt Abbott perform many times, in Wakefield and Sheffield.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is the production quality.  As a manufactured object, it is a thing of craft, beauty, and durability.  It is held together with red stitching which reminded me of the seams on a pair of stockings.  The cover design is distinctive but minimal.  There is an endpaper made of textured black paper which looks almost as if it has been retrieved from a bonfire without being broken.  The text uses two colours, black and red, which appealed to my anarcho-syndicalist background, and two fonts (the maximum number permissible in a single document which doesn’t contain equations or scientific notation).  The poems are divided by author, and appear in the order I listed the names previously.

If you happen to live near Wakefield, the nicest way to obtain this book is to visit Rickaro Books in Horbury, where it is currently in stock (http://www.rickarobooks.co.uk/).  (While you are there, you might also like to have a look at a copy of ‘Escape Kit’.)

Ralph Dartford’s work is free verse, mostly with short lines, and uses rhyme, rhythm, and stanzas, but not in a regular form.  His subjects are marginal lives, relationships, and the passing of time – all good stuff.  His last poem is political and is that rarest of objects: a political poem that sounds as if it was written by a grown-up and which actually works.  Ralph achieves this by observing one of the simplest rules, which is to write from the personal, the detailed, and the practical, rather than the impersonal, the abstract, and the hypothetical.

Matthew Headley Stoppard uses longer lines which are harder to enunciate than Ralph’s.  His subject matter defies categorisation, but the poems all have a clear narrative voice.  The vocabulary contains a lot of words, and goes near to the point of becoming poetic, e.g. with ‘ellipsis’ and ‘dovetailed’, but the language feels free and experimental rather than pretentious or over-written.  I am fascinated to see how MHS’s already mature-sounding style will develop as he approaches the age of thirty.

Geneviève’s first poem has the same narrative mode as some of the passages in ‘The Damned United’, by David Peace – the ones in which the voice of Brian Clough is narrating.  In other words, there is an unreliable, first person narrator, who addresses himself (herself, in Geneviève’s case) in the second person.  The effect in both places is to make the narrator sound unhinged.  Her poems use a lot of figurative comparisons, but still manage to sound contemporary.

John Darwin’s two main themes are a sense of place, and mortality, sometimes with both in the same poem.  One of the poems is set in Turkey, but for a reason related to the subject, not for the sake of sounding exotic.  John uses rhyme and rhythm, in a manner which is more regular than most of the other work, but he doesn’t use standard forms.  As I implied earlier, all these poems are written for performance, by seasoned performers.  Matt and Geneviève are loud performers.  Ralph, MHS, and John are clear but quiet performers.

Matt Abott’s poems are about a sense of place, romantic longing, and a review he once received via a posting on the Channel 4 website.  ‘This One’s For Tim’ is the only poem in the book which is about writing poetry.  It is also the most regular in form (five quartets, each with a rhyme scheme AABB).  ‘Drunken Culinary Kingdom’ is about one of The Forbidden Subjects For Contemporary Poetry – going for a drunken night out.  It is also regular in form, apart from a variant middle stanza.  Matt does this kind of thing much better than most of his contemporaries, but I think it reads less well on the page than some of his other work.

The collection is fairly well-balanced (in the artistic rather than the mental health sense).  It contains a lot of craft, some guile, a mixture of emotions, and it will try to hit you over the head with a tyre-iron in places.  If you are interested in poetry which is urban, contemporary and unpretentious (like mine is) then buy it.  If you have any affection for books as manufactured objects, then buy it whatever your opinion of poetry is.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (content warning: rude words)

Stewart Lee reached new heights in the last episode of ‘Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle’ on Saturday 8 March 2014 on BBC 2.  However, he missed at least one trick.

And what about the Battle of Britain eh?  Those bloody Poles, and bloody Czechs, and bloody French pilots COMIN’ OVER ‘ ERE and taking jobs from our fighter pilots, those that hadn’t been killed.  COMIN’ OVER ‘ ERE and talking Polish, and Czech, and French all the time, and being told off by Air Marshal Dowding for not speaking the fucking language.  And then, when the struggle was at its most bitter and intense, those bloody Poles, shooting down more enemy planes per capita than any other Allied nation in the conflict, and taking more casualties.  They bloody CAME OVER ‘ ERE and took jobs from our pilots that we didn’t have in sufficient numbers but that’s not the point and they didn’t speak the fucking language and then, while they were being all Polish, and all foreign, they CAME OVER ‘ ERE and they  LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR OUR CAUSE WITHOUT QUESTION OR HESITATION.  Bloody Poles, and bloody Czechs, and bloody French, COMIN’ OVER ‘ ERE, pitting everything they had to try to save Western civilisation from the otherwise inevitable downfall of humanity that was Adolf Hitler’s ultimate goal.  COMIN’ OVER ‘ ERE and, bloody succeeding.   And for what, eh?  For what?  They CAME  OVER ‘ ERE just so that we could have this bloody conversation, against a background of civil government which, no matter what its specific shortcomings with regard, for example, to recent events surrounding the Stephen Lawrence investigation and creeping privatisation of the NHS, still preserves independent institutions which hold the potential for a rejuvenated, modern democracy if only members of the public, empowered as they are by new and widely-available forms of mass communication,  could be encouraged to ask more questions, put those institutions to work, and engage with them.   Bloody foreigners.  COMIN’ OVER ‘ERE.  We’ll fight our own battles in future, and instead of filling vital shortages of personnel, skill, and morale with fanatically-motivated people who regard themselves as our natural allies, we’ll fall back on a sclerotic class hierarchy, xenophobia, and a mythologised and grotesquely-misplaced belief in our own self-sufficiency.