Hit The Ode – 29.3.2012

Last Thursday saw the March-edition of ‘Hit The Ode’, the last of this triptych (don’t worry, though, they’ll be back later this month, and the publicity bandwagon will be rolled when all the acts have been finalised).

Although only my third ‘Hit The Ode’, the night has immediately rocketed up to among my favourite regular events. In fact, it was February’s ‘…Ode’ that inspired me to create this site, such was the rare, finite and e(c)lect(r)ic chemistry of that evening. Jon Sands and Ken Arkind were utterly breathtaking as the final headlining pair, following very contrasting but no less enjoyable sets from travelling singer-songwriter Paul Murphy and Bristol-based slam champion Vanessa Kisuule.

We got 4 headliners for the price of 3 that night, which went only some of the way to make-up for the notable absence, this time around, of Luanda Casella, the international act on the bill. The Brazilian spoken-word artist had apparently been prevented from entering the country, which says a lot about the power of her poetry, but unfortunately said nothing to us!

That logistical and ethical nightmare aside, the evening was still full of great spoken-word, with sets from Leicester b-boy John Berkavitch and Norwich’s Molly Naylor.

But first, some highlights from the open-mic:

> Jack Blume performed his piece ‘Small Birds’ (heard at the Slam vs. Edinburgh) with similarly disconcerting aplomb (video available in previous post).

> I did a little set (I’m not reviewing myself, so that’s that I’m afraid! (The videos of the evening are not playing ball, hence the delay, so I’ve decided to do a ‘read-only’ review of last Thursday!)).

> Hannah-Rose Owen-Wright, another fellow UoB Writers’ Bloc stalwart, performed a short but energetic set which whizzed ‘like a fucking pinball’ (that’s from her first piece, about buses; I’m not just swearing gratuitously!) between public transport, claustrophobia, exhaustion (‘my legs are full of twitches that don’t quite happen’ – what an exquisite line), travelling, jazz vocals and sex. She was engaging and appreciably aware of the performance-aspect of her poetry. At times a little vague and conceptual, and consequently difficult to instantly engage with, this was nonetheless a very enjoyable and coherent 5 minutes from the New Zealand open-mic-er.

> Once she was flowing, Lorna Meehan had me absolutely captivated. A slightly shaky start and a few forgotten lines didn’t throw her off a rhythm that was ultimately lucid and dexterous. It’s very rare that I remember in-tact lines a week on from a reading, but her description of a shy teenage girl shuffling her feet at some boy’s ‘subtle abundance of eyelashes’ has been branded on my mind ever since.

> A woman whose name escapes me (utterly unprofessional, I know, but until you pay me to do this, I’m allowed to be!) performed, and she was either a Divorce Lawyer, or pretending to be a Divorce Lawyer. All her poems were about divorce. At different points in its long and gruelling process. It was black comedy gold, if that’s not too weird an image to digest. So cold and calculated, and therefore so funny. So utterly, cynically, disconcertingly hilarious. The absolute emotional removal with which she delivered her poems – all titled with generic legal objectivity – made for a markedly different atmosphere, at once unnerving and very refreshing.

> Jess Green has performed at 2 of the three ‘Hit The Ode’s I’ve been to, and both times she has been a force to be reckoned with. Humble and honest she may be, but her poems don’t lack punch; each a genuine, heart-felt roller-coaster; tumultuous, but in the best possible sense. When she finished performing, having heroically abandoned a failing microphone, I wanted to stand-up and cheer. You can check out her stuff at http://www.jessgreen.org/p/audio.html

So, to the headliners:

> John Berkavitch was the epitome of friendliness, in a baggy plain T-shirt and dungarees, sporting a massive endearing grin. He took his bag on stage with him (because ‘I’m from Leicester and that means I take my shit with me’) and performed one piece; a kind of narrative poem about his family life in childhood that managed to effortlessly encounter all sorts of other issues along the way. The lack of artistic pretence was such that it felt like I was sitting in a chippy listening to him tell a story, which happened to occasionally rhyme; a wonderfully intimate thing. This meant that sometimes he stumbled or had to go back on himself, but this wasn’t an issue; in fact it was barely noticeable – the goal wasn’t some slick and infallible masterpiece but a touching portrait of his quite unique experiences of growing up. It was a pleasure to listen.

> Molly Naylor is a rising star on the performance scene (you could say risen, but her already-impressive CV is rapidly inflating, so only expect more): Ross Sutherland is directing her play – ‘My Robot Heart’ – at the Eddie Fringe this August, and she’s working on several other big projects, including a sitcom pilot, and other work for the stage. Her set at The Victoria showed off her tremendous versatility; Like Vanessa Kisuule at the last ‘…Ode’, she can make an audience laugh with consummate ease, then, a metaphorical flick of the wrist later, she’ll have you empathising and emoting like your life depends on it. When you saturate yourself with anything, it becomes a little difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, or at least the mediocre, even in your own life (as I’ve found recently with poetry and my writing in particular), but Naylor cast some much needed light on this for me. Her poems are both instantly satisfying and also offer a great return if you invest some more thought. I left the pub walking, if not ‘like the nineties’, as she described the gait of an old school acquaintance, then at least with a revitalised spring in my step.

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