Sunday, 28 November 2010

Poetry at the Blue Walnut

Last night was Poetry Island night at the Blue Walnut Cafe hosted by storyteller and performance poet Chris Brooks and with Matt Harvey as headline, support from Liv Torc and a host of poets from the Exeter, Torquay and surrounding scenes including Clive Pig, Jon Freeman, James Turner, and Tim King from Taking the Mic. The cafe was packed, and cold as it was outside (it was sleeting at one point), the venue got so hot, that windows had to be opened! Everyone was on flying form, although it was hard not be biased in the view that the Taking the Mic crew were really pulling out the stops (although I'm sure poetry isn't really like having football teams...?!). James' poem about God and the Devil, Clive's singing, Jon's love poem and Tim King's letter based Bob Cobbing style piece were all very memorable. Liv was just before Matt Harvey (there were two intervals as so many were performing), and mastered the space at once with her usual show-womanship, doing poems contrasting lust with love to great effect, before Matt Harvey did his set. - And really, however many times one hears some of his pieces, they just get better. He also broke into a hilarious comic 'true story' about Torquay vs. Totnes 'hooligans' which had the audience rolling in the aisles, and as well as doing many favourites, he did recent ones such as poems written for his residency at Wimbledon Tennis Championships, and as well as being funny, charming and full of a very humane empathy (suited to the creator of 'Empath Man'! his Radio 4 series from which he did a brilliant sketch), they were also clever with language and rhyme/rhythm/assonance and quietly subtle in the deeper points which many of them make.
   All in all it was a really good evening, Chris and his sidekick 'Clipboard' doing the honours, and getting everyone involved with the clapping for his 'The cow is the mother of the milk' opener which most of the audience knew or quickly picked up, and a wacky competition for the Poetry Island advent calendar - which involved everyone writing a preferably rhyming short sentence to fill the empty days, of the festive variety. Incredibly, my rather obvious spur-of-the-moment entry (sitting on the holly is an act of folly) drew the most laughs, and I won a kid's advent calendar from Poundland, plus some Belgian chocolates! I was startled (never having been one to win raffles etc.), but it certainly added some extra laughs and audience participation to the evening.
   It was an excellently put together evening, and I was interested in the contrasts and similarities between it and Taking the Mic...both having committed and energetic hosts, both having an emphasis on performance (rather than just read) poetry, having other acts (eg; comedy, music, etc.) and which are intended to be an evening's entertainment selling itself to people who want a good cheap night out rather than a writer's circle or poetry group/open mike for readers. But the Blue Walnut perhaps has a little more of an emphasis on comedy/comic poetry? Just an impression. It was certainly a big hit with the audience, and while there were poets there who I recognized as previous headliners etc., a lot of the audience seemed to be just that - audience rather than poets. And, just as with Taking the Mic, that's a really good sign of a night that really reaches out to people!
   The Blue Walnut itself as a venue is a charming cafe (if small when coping with larger audiences!) with a tiny nickleodeon cinema at the back with delightful vintage upholstered seating. They serve excellent fairtrade coffee ('Origins') complete with star shaped shortbread biscuits!

   Thanks to Chris for organizing it and putting everything together so well and making things go with such a bang, to Matt Harvey for a great performance, and to Liv and all the supporting poets too, for making up a high quality night of performance poetry. 

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