Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: Unity Words, 29 March 2017

Before we go any further, I will admit that this article is not a review of the whole event.  Two people performed, namely, Geneviève Walsh, and Steve Williams, whose performances were of particular interest to me.

The first act was Ric Neale, on electric piano and vocals.  What he does, he does very well.  What he did on the night, he did to the appreciation of the audience.  Not mi sart a riddim.  Not mi sart a lyric.

Steve Williams arrived on stage wearing a bow tie and 1970s shirt ruffles.  He was clearly going to make a statement.

He mentioned that his poem, ‘Swifts’ was about this relationship with his father.  He also said, “I had to come out to him, twice.”

‘Boy, Mid-flight’, is not a poem about the arbitrary murder of a young, gay man.  It is a poem about the emotional connection between the narrator, and a young, gay man who gets killed.

After delivering this tour de force, Steve seemed to gain confidence.  He took the microphone off the stand, in a Luke Wright stylee.  I think there might have even been a bit of flex-wrapping.  The audience was hooked.

Let’s get this clear: a predominantly straight man gave demonstrative fashion direction to a predominantly gay man.  In Wakefield, West Yorkshire.  That is my world.  That is the world that I will fight for.

I was in tears by the end of Steve’s performance.  This was a testament to Steve’s talent, and to his mentorship with Matt Abbott.  I understand that Matt contributed to the choice of shirt front.

The Impunity Words mentoring scheme goes from strength to strength.

The Pandemonium Poets began with Stan, from the Black Horse Poets.  He did, ‘Leaving Footprints in the Sand’, a poem about the terrorist attack in Tunisia, and, ‘Strangely Enough, McGough’, a pastiche of Roger McGough.

Stan was followed by Stewart from Featherstone.  His rhymed poem would have been more brilliant if he hadn’t forgotten the words, three-quarters of the way through.  I commend him for using sun-glasses in a way that actually was relevant to what he was reciting.

Geneviève Walsh arrived on stage, looking like a 32 year-old goth who was going to launch the hell out of a debut collection.  She has blurbs from Kate Fox, Louise Fazackerley, and Steve Nash, and an introduction from Henry Normal.

I don’t get a mention in the text, but I did get a mention in the intro to, ‘They Ain’t Heavy’.

The headliner was Jess Green, from Leicester.

I didn’t like her rap style.

I didn’t get her persona: who is speaking.

There were fast bits and slow bits.  The fast bits were too fast, and the slow bits were too slow.

My delivery style derives from W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Alan Bennett.  You may say it is antiquated, and that makes me out of touch with contemporary audiences.



Review: Simon Armitage at The Leeds Library, 22 March 2017

The event was sold out.  We got free wine.

There was a very short introduction from an official of the library whom I did not recognise, which shows how long it is since I was there.

Valerie and I were sitting next to David Coldwell, whom I remembered from a poetry reading in Marsden in 2013.  We bought a copy of his pamphlet, ‘Flowers by the Road’, published by http://www.templarpoetry.com.

The so-called New Room at The Leeds Library is about 137 years old.  It contains travel, biography, history, and poetry books, many of which are very old.  A small stage had been prepared.  All the lights were turned off, apart from two, white with a tinge of blue, which shone onto the stage.  Simon Armitage emerged like a  Dickensian ghost.

He read from his collection, ‘The Unaccompanied’.  He said he was going to read for about 35 minutes, then take questions, and then finish with a couple more poems.  This he proceeded to do.

Thank You For Waiting is a poem about social hierarchy and the human condition.  At a performance event featuring its author, it read beautifully.  After about 10 lines, I thought, ‘I wish I had written this.’  After about 40 lines, I wasn’t thinking anything, because I was too absorbed in enjoying the poem.

He read this piece immediately upon his arrival on stage.  All the subsequent pieces were preceded by what I would consider to be lengthy preambles.  It is a testament to Simon Armitage’s magnetism, and the quality and depth of his work, that these preambles were not irritating.  He observed the universal principle that the preamble must be recognisably shorter than the piece it accompanies, and he also observed the principle, in this era, attributable to Char March, that any preamble should have as much literary merit and human interest as the piece it accompanies.

He read a piece about Robert Maudsley, the serial killer, imprisoned for at least part of his sentence in HMP Wakefield.

He read a piece called To-Do List, which features bullet points (and, in the title of which, I think the hyphen is significant).

I was too busily engaged in enjoying the reading to make notes about which pieces were read, and for what reason.

There is undoubtedly a schism between page poets and performance poets.  Within the confines of this sectarian rivalry, I am a performance poet.

Going by his publication and prize-winning record, you would say that Simon Armitage is a page poet.  He is published by Faber & Faber.

What I heard at The Leeds Library was a reading that transcended the difference between page poetry and performance poetry.  Simon Armitage demonstrated that, if you are in control of the language you use, if you have real insight into your subject matter, if you have mastered form and technique, then you can do just about anything you want.

While he was doing all this, he managed to sublimate the experiences he had while he was a probation officer in Manchester, and transcend the fact that he has a Kirklees accent.

Simon Armitage is twenty times a better poet than Ted Hughes.

Review: Unity Words 23 February 2017

Ralph introduced Geneviève, hair still blue, on the first anniversary of this bloody amazing event.  Nobody has explained to me why the compere has to be introduced by somebody else, but never mind.  Geneviève seemed to be able to cope on her own.  I got the impression she had done this kind of thing before, possibly more than once.  I felt safe in her hands.

Sitara Khan took the support slot, the equivalent of the slot that I took in December.  She took more trouble over her dress than I did.  She wore a dark, silk dress, with a Nehru collar, and dragon patterns on it.

There is virtually no equivalence between what Sitara Khan did, and what I did.

We both come from Leeds, and so, before we go any further, I consider Sitara to be my sister.

She talked about the war in Afghanistan.  She talked about the Chilcott report. She performed a piece, the chorus of which was, ‘Allah ‘akbar’.

Her poetry about the Iraq war contained the most graphic references to violence that I have ever heard in a spoken word performance.

Her last piece was called ‘The Bride of Andalucia’.  She expatiated about Moorish culture.  She didn’t mention that the Bradford and Barnsley Alhambras are the wrong colour.

The last line of this piece, was, “and casts her bouquet to Renaissance Florence.”

That was good.  Maybe not the sort of piece you hear once per decade.

The second mentored poet under the 2017 scheme was “Rhythmical Mike”.  He appeared with a flat cap on backwards.

The next act was Ralph Dartford and the Bleeding Obvious.  The Bleeding Obvious seems to be Jessica Rowbottom  playing synthesiser keyboard and “interacting” with an electric guitar and effect pedals.

Jessica Rowbottom is tall and blonde.  Ralph Dartford is average height and bald.

They put Ralph’s poems to backing tracks.  The best ones were dub reggae.  They would have been better if the dub reggae had been allowed to be mi sart a riddim through bass and volume.

Zena Edwards appeared in a red cardigan.

She began with a South African traditional song, which demonstrated that she is an amazing singer.  She has an instinctive relationship with the microphone that I have seldom seen.

Getting the audience to clap along did not, in my opinion, improve the experience.

She did a spoken piece which was in waltz 1-2-3 rhythm.  I have never heard that, before.

She did various stuff about activism, young people, and climate change.  She did a poem, part of which was done in a Southern African style with breath control, that I don’t have a name for, but it was brilliant.

Her weather report about the global situation was very good.  After all the stuff about the collapse of global systems, she finished with, “Back to you, Trevor”.

She used her own chest as a percussion instrument, in a way I have never seen before.

I didn’t sing along.  For all the brilliance of the performer, it felt cheesy. It felt like being back at school, when the beardy Christians arrived.

Her last piece was an impersonation of an elderly black homeless woman.  It is not for me to tell young black women how to impersonate an elderly black woman.

Nevertheless, I would like two things to be understood:

  1. There is no human progress without female progress.
  2. There is no human progress other than multi-racial progress.


Doctor A

I meet them in The Head Of Steam, a pub next to the railway station in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, the stand-offish male friends whom I pursue via social media.  This was the third such.  He can’t have been all that stand-offish, because he arrived, first. 


We were at university together, in Liverpool, in the 1980s.  A is not the initial of any of his names.  I was studying chemistry.  He was studying Egyptology.  We were interested in what the BBC used to call, “various left wing causes”, and which would now be called – inaccurately –  “anti-globalisation”.   

I have stood outside a branch of McDonald’s with him, handing out leaflets.  

I have huddled in the back of a Transit van with no seats with him, and suffered under the rain of condensing breath in November as a group of 25 hunt saboteurs decided how best to disrupt the annual hunt ball in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire.   And the aftermath, in the service station.  I have never felt so cold.   

I have been left behind with him by the coach from Liverpool after we got held up on an anti-fascist demo in London.  While we were pursuing, and being pursued by, the National Front, along The Embankment, he jumped up onto the plinth of a statue, and translated the hieroglyphics.  Were we afraid of the National Front?  Well, that.  

He now occupies a responsible position at a hospital in West Yorkshire.  He had to work weekends in order to finance his medical training.   

He is one of those people who is on call, waiting to save your life.   

He talked about his wife.  He talked about reading to his children.  He is delighted by his children’s love for reading.   

He mentioned my novella, ‘Escape Kit’.  He said it was too short.  Everybody says it is too short.  

We talked about work, and that metamorphosed into a conversation about politics.  It is remarkable, not just how much our priorities have changed in the intervening 30 years, but how much they have stayed the same.     

Of all the people I have known for this long, Doctor A has matured the most, has learnt the most from experience, and is most able to articulate how he has changed.   

I can imagine his and my standing outside McDonald’s, handing out more leaflets, but the leaflets would say somewhat different things.  “Provide adequate funding for Mental Health services,” would be a new one.  “Stop demonising immigrants,” would be an old one, along with, “Wake up.  Question everything.  Trust no one in power. Stop voting for people who have been to Eton.”   

We recommended books to each other: children’s books, books on neurology and medicine.   

He complained about funding for various health services, mainly mental health.  Complaints about funding for his own service were conspicuously absent.  That doesn’t mean that his service is adequately funded: it means that he uses his genius to deal with the shortcomings.  It is possible that he doesn’t realise he is doing it.  This is a man who lives in the moment. 

I live in a certain city in West Yorkshire.  If I ever enjoy the luxury of knowing in advance if I am going to undergo a life-threatening episode, I may travel to a different district of West Yorkshire,  before it happens. 

Review: Unity Words 25 January 2017

I arrived at Unity Works after having a bad day at the dole office, and still suffering from the residual effects of the respiratory infection which has threatened to kill me throughout the month of January, and from which I am still dying on alternate days.

Ralph, darling, and Simon, darling, can you please not bollock me as soon as I step through the door?  I know you mean it in a laddishly affirmatory way, but we who like to pretend when it suits us that we have Asperger’s syndrome don’t take to that sort of thing.

The compere was Geneviève Walsh.  Whoever is compering is introduced by Ralph Dartford, one of the originators of the event, and The Compere-Finder General.  Ralph is very keen on obtaining an enthusiastic response from every audience, and so his arrival on stage sometimes has to be done twice, in order to reach the required decibel level.

Gen’s hair is still in its bouffant, blue period.  She conducted herself with her accustomed style and vigour.  Gen also hankers after an enthusiastic response from the audience, though in a more negotiated, rather than imperative, manner.  Information recently received via Facebook reveals that, “William does this amazingly deflated ‘yay’ at every single Unity Words.  I enjoy it so much, I want to set it as my text message tone.”

The programme for the evening was: support poet, Pandemonium Poets, the first of 2017’s mentored poets, headliner. There was no music slot, this evening, and I did not miss it.  Some of the musical performances in 2016 were great, but I believe that spoken word does not need music in order to provide a rich variety of entertainment.

The support slot was performed by Kieren King.  Despite his long CV as both performer and compere, this was the first time I had heard him.  I enjoyed his lament about the subordinate cultural position that Salford has to put up with in relation to Manchester.  I enjoyed his piece, ‘She Talks To Pigeons’, which he wrote as an escape from the memory of when he was forced to take a job as a PPI cold-caller.  I was interested in two pieces he did which were pastiches: one about Alan Turing, which was a pastiche of computing terms, and another which was made of parts borrowed from fairy tales.  He recited a poem called ‘Party’s Over’, that had been written by his father, who used to be a spoken word performer.  He finished with a piece in which he addressed himself at various ages that he has passed through, not in chronological order.  This is the kind of confessional, consolatory subject that I write about.  I would have preferred it delivered with more swagger, and a bit less self-deprecation.

The sounds during the intervals were provided by DJ Sharon Shepherd.  It was all good.  I particularly enjoyed the brass band version of ‘Sexual Healing’.

The evening’s Pandemonium Poets were: Sarah Leah Cobham, Stephen Harrison, Darinka Radovanovic, Matt Tully, and Susan Wainwright.

Sarah Leah Cobham is someone I work with as part of the Writing Wrongs project.  She has only started performing spoken word recently.  She says she gets nervous, which I am sure will wear off, soon.  When Ralph Dartford returned to the stage to introduce the next performer, he was fanning his face with his notebook, as well he might.  It was filth, but it was subtle and erudite filth: not just filth for the sake of filth.

Stephen Harrison’s pieces were well-crafted, and one of them contained yet another gag about Matt Abbott’s recent TV advert.

Darinka Radovanovic gave what was billed as her first ever spoken word performance, a piece about her Balkan roots, called ‘My Father’s House’.  She delivered it very eloquently and movingly.

Matt Tully performed a piece about a dislikeable character watching porn on a train.  This contrasts with the other piece of his I have heard, so far, which is about finding peace and solace in a sex shop.

Susan Wainwright performed a piece entitled ‘Could Be Upsetting’.  It is about child sexual exploitation, and murder in self-defence.  She delivered it with gravitas enhanced by a touch of understatement.

Hannah Batley is one of 2016’s Pandemonium Poets.  This is a poetry and performance tuition scheme, run by Ralph Dartford, in which a number of emerging poets (usually five)  pay a fee of GBP 5 each, to have 2 hours of intensive training with members of A Firm Of Poets.  My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, was one of December 2016’s Pandemonium Poets, and she describes it as, ‘A proper shot of adrenalin’.  Ralph has decided to take this a stage further in 2017, and offer longer courses of one-to-one training.  This has been blessed with funding from the Arts Council.  Hannah Batley is the first beneficiary of this scheme.

She did a 15-minute slot, featuring four relatively long pieces.  The first three she delivered standing up, from memory (Hannah is a tall woman).  The last one, sitting down, read from a fragment of a recently-rediscovered notebook.

I wrote 4 pages of notes in preparation for this review.  As Hannah was getting up to go on stage, I wrote, ‘Hannah Batley’.  While she was giving a brief introduction, I wrote ‘4 pieces’.  That’s it.  I didn’t write anything else,  because I was too busy listening.  If you want to know what her work is like, go and listen to her perform.  If the event is ticketed, and you have to pay, then pay.

The headline act was J. B. Barrington.  From his name, I was expecting a nineteenth century explorer.  What arrived on stage was a bloke from Salford.  Another one.  The second of the evening.

He used a few props, as I did, when I did the support slot in December.  One was a genuine Woolworth’s record department bag.  You don’t see that every day.

I have somehow ended up with J. B. Barrington’s hand-written set list.  (And no, I did not steal it, you defamatory bastards.)  He did: ‘You Had Me’, Spanish ‘Things Me Mam Used To Say’, ‘Grapes of Wrath’, ‘Posh Nosh’, ‘Spanish Dolls’, ‘There’s A Reason’, ‘Don’t Look Down’, ‘The Bingo Queue’, ‘She Holds His Hand’, ‘Sunglasses’, ‘When I’m Gone’, ‘Motosave’, and ‘Shampoo, Cigs, and Shit Roll’.  He writes in partly joined-up block capitals.

I have managed to get this far in a review of a programme that contained two contemporary Salfordian performance poets, before mentioning the John Cooper Clarke metrical machinegun.  Both Kieren King and J. B. Barrington used it.

The most remarkable thing about J. B. Barrington’s set was that the political poems were the best.  As I said when I reviewed Luke Wright’s performance at Unity Words, usually, when I hear political poetry, I just want it to stop.  I agreed with every word that J. B. Barrington said about the obscene fact that basic, humanitarian provision increasingly has to be funded by charity rather than from taxation.

It was a great pity that J. B. Barrington had had to drive to Wakefield, because I would have loved to take him on the traditional visit to the Inns of Court to have a few drinks and talk about poetry.  I would love to talk to him about every aspect of it: how he chooses what to write about, rhyme, metre, delivery, the relationship between poetry and social class, and how he justifies charging seven quid for a stapled pamphlet (Woodchip Anaglypta And Nicotined Artex Ceilings).  Yes, I know Suggs has read from it live on stage, but it is still stapled, not glued.

New hope for England

It is hereby recorded that, on this day, 25 January 2017, there was agreement between William Thirsk-Gaskill and Martin Edwards.

William Thirsk-Gaskill is a doctrinaire socialist of a kind that one seldom meets, nowadays. He believes in the diversion of resources towards the most basic requirements of humanity, particularly child health, infant nutrition, female literacy, general female education, and micro-finance.

One of the human development causes that William supports is Leeds United AFC, with its world-wide presence, and extensive youth development programmes.

Martin Edwards is some bloke that I first encountered in the high street in Chiselhurst. He supports Millwall. He buys meat for Sainsbury’s (a job I would quite happily swap with him). He has some improbably beautiful daughters.

But he is mean-spirited, including in ways that are contrary to his own interest.  You might want to stand next to him at a party, in case he said something offensive.  I still cherish the hope that, inside this carapace of right-wing clichés, there may be a glittering humming bird, ready to fly away in the most unexpected direction.  The evidence for this, so far, is not encouraging.

Nevertheless, at this point, we agreed that nobody knows what is going to happen next with regard to Brexit, and we blame Cameron.

We are not just arguing about football, ladies and gentlemen: we are healing the North-South divide. Believe me: if a Northerner can consciously live peaceably on the same island as Martin Edwards, then we are getting somewhere.

None of this would have been possible (or necessary) had it not been for Valerie Anderson.


I deliberately refrained from writing a review of S4E1 and S4E2 immediately after they were broadcast, because it took me a rather long time, and several viewings, to decide what I thought of them.  Now that Series 4 has finished, it is easier to write about all three episodes, taken together.  

The main, as it were, transactions of Series 4 are that Mary Morstan got killed, and Sherlock was told by Mycroft that they had another sibling.  The dramatic purpose of both of these was to enable the examination, more and more deeply, of the characters of Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft, and the relationships between them. 

 Throughout this adaptation, the writers have thought big, and tried, not just to rectify the obvious shortcomings of the original characters, but to take the whole narrative in directions that Conan Doyle could not have imagined.  This is only to be expected. 

 ·         Conan Doyle did not have a name for Sherlock’s weirdness.  Sherlock refers to it as being ‘a high-functioning sociopath’.  I call it hyperlexia (the addiction to symbol-based problem solving and a flow of coherent data).  Mycroft, one of the new characters, and, possibly, Moriarty, are also hyperlexic.  The differing degrees of this condition is one of the things at stake in S4E3. 

·         Making Moriarty an elderly mathematics professor was a non-starter. 

·         John Watson has to be his own man.  This has been fixed in just about every modern adaptation.  I don’t know which was the first.  A sycophantic and bumbling Watson was certainly a defect in the Basil Rathbone adaptations, but it had been fixed by the time of the Jeremy Brett adaptations. 

·         Mary Morstan makes a lot more sense as a secret assassin than she did as the wife of a provincial GP.  Val McDermid protested when she became narratively challenged.  That protest happened to be before Mary Morstan continued to appear in the story. 

·         Mrs Hudson makes more sense when she is telling people who want a cup of tea, ‘The kettle’s over there,’ and, ‘I am not your housekeeper’. 

·         Conan Doyle was a fool to deal with Irene Adler in a single story.  The best characters beat on the door and demand to be let in, or, better still, pick the lock and just appear on your sofa. 

·         Molly Hooper is a work of genius.  The only material in the original stories that informs Molly’s character at all are the times when Watson censures Sherlock for taking drugs, and when Sherlock relies on Watson for medical expertise.  Putting this, and many other things, into a character who is an intelligent and highly-qualified woman is brilliant. 

·         Mark Gatiss has allowed his own creative ego to speak through the character of Mycroft, which is all to the good.  The more we get of Mycroft, the more we get of Sherlock.  In this adaptation, it is also possible for Mycroft to interact with Watson without Sherlock’s presence.  The more properly-developed characters there are, the more inter-relationships there are.  This has vastly enriched the narrative. 

 From S1 to S4, Sherlock has progressively become less of a deduction machine, and more of a fallible human being.  Fallibility has not merely been limited to addiction to hard drugs.  Those Who Ask Those Sorts of questions have, during S4, asked when all the weird stuff was going to stop, and Sherlock was going to get back to solving the usual sort of case, based on a conversation with a client sitting in a chair in 221B. 

 This adaptation has made it quite clear that Sherlock regards the chair in 221B as a nuisance.  He doesn’t want humanity: he just wants the facts, the full facts.  Kurt Vonnegut said that every character must want something, even if it is only a glass of water.  Wanting just the facts is a dramatically very productive thing for Sherlock to want, because there is no way he is ever going to get it.  If you are as hyperlexic as Sherlock, you either do what Mycroft does, and live in an oak-panelled, insulated bubble at the heart of a hypothetical British government, or you do what Sherlock does, and collect blood samples and cigar ash and memorise the map of inner London.  But, in Sherlock’s case, your data will be forever contaminated with mumbling, rambling, irrelevance, repetition, and lies. 

Kurt Vonnegut also said that a writer must be cruel to his characters.  That has certainly been tried in this adaptation.  What we have found is that the Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is a warmer, more empathetic character than we were first led to believe.  Personally, I find that mildly disappointing.  Nevertheless, I am compensated by the extraordinary development of the relationships between Sherlock and Mycroft, and Sherlock and Watson, and Sherlock and Molly Hooper. 

These writers are stronger than I am.  By now, I would have had Sherlock and Molly in bed together, naked, even if they didn’t do anything.  Contriving reasons for why this would have to happen, other than because of love or sexual desire, is one of the things I think about when I go to sleep.   

This adaptation is to Conan Doyle’s original what Sleaford Mods are to Lonnie Donegan.  Conan Doyle’s genius created the concept of the consulting detective.  It takes genius of equal magnitude to give that a life of its own in the digital age.  My mother considered that Basil Rathbone was the finest piece of type-casting she had ever seen.  I think Benedict Cumberbatch is better.  He is my favourite Sherlock.  Martin Freeman is my favourite Watson.  Una Stubbs is my favourite Mrs Hudson.  Mark Gatiss is my favourite Mycroft.  Amanda Abbington is my favourite Mary Morstan.  Andrew Scott is my favourite Moriarty.  Rupert Graves is my favourite Lestrade.  There has never been a Molly Hooper before, but Louise Brealey has to be the best Molly Hooper there will ever be.   

A set of S4 awards may follow, once sufficient time has passed to permit plot spoilers. 

Made-up tutor 4*

Murray Breen was born in Prescott, Merseyside in 1991*.  He won the poetry prize at his school, Saint Mary’s Of The Endless Tears Of Suffering.  His winning piece was called, ‘I Want Some More Beans’.  He adapted it into a novel, entitled, ‘I Really Really Want Some More Beans’.  This was favourably reviewed in the Liverpool Echo, which described it as “Dickensian”.  The paper became the subject of litigation by Breen, on the grounds that he did not have a beard, had never been on a lecturing tour of England, and was not horrible to his wife, all the more so, because he was not married.

Breen took a degree in creative writing at Leigh Creative Academy.  In spite of going on to graduate with a 2:1, while still a student, he attempted to sue his personal tutor, two of his lecturers, the dean of the faculty, the Crown, and four of the authors of his textbooks.  Most observers agree that these cases would never have merited a writ had they not been represented pro bono by his mother’s firm, Bent & Co.

Beside his lecturing career at Chorley University Metropolitan (CUM) Breen works evenings as what he chooses to call a “thermo-lipid immersion technician” at the Victoria Road Fisheries.  He still maintains that this is to inform his writing.  So far, the ratio of the number of portions he has served to pieces he has had published is approaching 5000:1.

It is rumoured that Breen is about to go on sabbatical at the University of Kentucky, after an incident in which a patron at the fish shop is alleged to have said to him, “I want some more beans.  I really, really want some more beans.”  The article which covered this incident in the Liverpool Echo began, “The fat was really in the fire, the night a Prescott fish fryer decided to batter one of his customers.”  Litigation is still pending.


*None of this is true.

Review: Unity Words 26 October 2016

The musical support was provided by Ichabod, who is from Chesterfield.  When he took to the stage, I thought, ‘Oh, bloody hell.  Here we go.  Another person who strums a guitar and sings.  Possibly another person who strums the guitar and sings VERY LOUDLY for emphasis.’ 


I have decided where the boring strummers go wrong: weak or clichéd vocals, weak right-hand technique (assuming that the player is right-handed), hackneyed subject matter. 


Ichabod is a master of the acoustic guitar.  Without any electronic trickery, he makes an acoustic guitar sound as strident as an electric guitar, but with control.  He made the guitar speak with both hands: the left hand fretting a rich variety of chords, with some pagan magic techniques that normal people should not have anything to do with, and the right hand varying from plectrum to finger-picking. 


Ichabod’s voice is 20 per cent slow-tempo Elvis, 20 per cent Willard Grant Conspiracy, 10 per cent Herman Munster, and the rest, his own.  He made a big mouth shape, almost as if he was going to swallow the microphone.  The guitar fretboard looked like a lollipop stick.  The soundboard looked like your mother’s/grandmother’s/great grandmother’s embroidery tin. 


Like all great performance artists, he kept the preambles to a minimum.  “If you have liked any of my stuff, it is available nowhere.”  That kind of nihilistic style works well. 


I didn’t get most of the subject matter of his songs, but his guitar technique, and his vocal style deserve not just to be heard more widely, but to be rammed down the throat of every “dink-ding-a-ding-dink-dink-ding – I wrote this song when I met some guys from Trieste” abuser who has ever tried to take to the stage.


Geneviève Walsh appeared with a larger-than-usual bouffant hair style, which was coloured blue.  That is not sexist.  Geneviève Walsh is a full-time goth, and so it is reasonable to comment on her hair.  To say nothing of her taffeta skirt, 18-hole Doc Marten boots, and corset.  Even by Gen’s standards, she looked dressed to impress. 


The poems she did were something like:  1. Why Are We Wearing Clothes?  2. The Woman In The Library.  3. You Sometimes Fall Off Chairs.  4. There’s Always One.  5.  Run, Dickhead.  6.  When The Last Of The Ink Runs Dry. 


She went from one piece to the next, effortlessly.  She was her usual, brilliant, self.  She has a voice, and it is her own. I am older than she is.  I’m a bloke.  Mi av a diffren’ sart a riddim.  But she speaks to me.


Geneviève has a collection coming out, soon.  It will be called, ‘Dance Of A Thousand Losers’. 


Next came the Pandemonium Poets, of which there were three, rather than the usual five.


Phil Pearce from Leeds delivered a poem called, ‘Fuck You, Cancer.’  It was an excellent start to a career in writing poetry.


Joy Bruce, from the Portobello estate in Wakefield, recited a piece called, ‘A Daughter’s Prayer’.  The controlling idea of the poem was brilliant. 


Simon Widdop, my friend from the Black Horse Poets, gave the best performance I have seen of him, yet.  He had a hammer in his last line, and it knocked everybody’s teeth out. 


Ralph Dartford, the compere, did two poems: Mr Samson, and Oxford Blue Shirt, both with bite in the last line. 


And so we now come to Luke Wright.  It is late, and you might expect me to gloss over this part and just try to get to the end.  Well, I’m not going to.


I saw him before he was due to go on.  I know enough about live performance to know what that feels like.  He had travelled a long way. 


He looked like a work-shy fop.  His hair was cut to a number 2 or 3 down the sides, with a kind of collapsed Mohican, and a hair-band holding part of it, down the middle.  It was blond.  It looked in very good condition.  It made you want to run your fingers through it, and caress it. 


He looked like a different person from the one I saw at the Theatre Royal, supporting John Cooper Clarke, about 4 years ago.


He wore a cravat, which he ostentatiously undid and put on the microphone stand.  He wore a grey morning coat, skinny-jeans, and slip-on Doc Martens.   


He took the mic off the stand, and wrapped the flex around his hand.  This was about the point that I started to fall in love with him.  I had put up a stout resistance until then. 


His first poem was called, ‘England, Heal My Hackneyed Heart’. 


He then delivered an exposition about Georgian history, during which certain things, not the least of which was his dress, slotted into place.  Anybody who is interested in, and really gets, Georgian history is all right, in my book. 


I unreservedly admit that my impartiality as a reviewer may, from this point onwards, be called into question. 


This led into a poem about Edward Dando.  They buried him in Clerkenwell, beneath St James’s bells.  My late mother used to live in Clerkenwell, near St James’s Walk. 


He said, “cunt” four times.  ‘I make that Hilary Mantel look like a right cunt.’ 


His next piece was called, ‘Let’s All Go To Grammar School’.  I usually hate political poetry.  When I hear political poetry, I usually think, “Please, make it stop.”  I wanted this to go on and on.  It was controlled.  It was eloquent.  It was brilliant.  The voice (in the vocal sense) he used reminded me at times of Johnny Rotten, and again of Rik Mayall.


Next, ‘This is IDS’ (as in Iain Duncan Smith) in a Georges Perec stylee, using only the vowel, ‘i’. 


[Mildly disparaging remarks concerning, and impersonations of, Kate Tempest.] 


‘One Trick Bishop’.  ‘Who rings the landline at midnight?’  [Mildly disparaging remarks about Seamus Heaney, Gillian Clarke, and Carol Ann Duffy.] 


‘Burt Up Pub’.  An entire, narrative poem, using only one vowel: U.  Including explicit references to anal sex.  This was a lexical and inventive tour de force that few other writers, living or dead, could equal, and none could exceed. 


His final piece in his scheduled set was entitled, ‘The Houses That Used To Be Boozers’, and took his stage persona towards the Jack Sparrow direction. 


He was entreated to do an encore, of course. 


This was a performance by a relatively well-known artist who has, in my estimation, matured and developed very positively since the last time I saw him. 


What I saw from Luke Wright this time was genuine virtuosity, the right kind of combination of subtlety and power, the right blend of preamble with directness.  This was a spoken word performance that particularly delighted spoken work performers, but delighted everybody else, as well. 


As I felt after seeing Louise Fazackerley, I hate Luke Wright, because my having seen his performance means that I have to rethink my entire approach to spoken word. 


But I will rethink it. 

‘The Data Quality Analyst’s Lot’ by Hilaire

I am not entirely sure about the ending, but this is a well-crafted piece about a very difficult subject. It is worth not just reading for enjoyment, but studying as to its technique, as well.