by Wendy Lennon
With Brexit and May surviving her vote of no confidence, as the backdrop to the first FTRW of 2019, the wonderful host, brilliant poet and 2018 Slam Champion, Jess Green, opened the evening by encouraging the audience to share some much-needed good news.
Katie, one of the night’s open micers who shared a poem about religious trauma and homophobia in which the narrator felt ‘numb’ and ‘stifled’, shared that funding has been approved for a new project – well deserved for such a talented writer and performer. The awesome FTRW audience were delighted to share this fantastic news.
Jess Green performed ‘National Average’ an important, honest and skilfully delivered poem about education that the teacher/poet headliners and I surely recognise as an issue in schools.
I was the first open mic performer of the night and shared two poems: Mother and I Am = To She from my collection Core. Next up, a poet who is also a dab hand at a Rubik’s Cube, delivered a poem about self-deprecated love with ‘trust’ that ‘tied in knots’, followed by a political poem.
Abena-Essah Bediako’s poem about mental health, was hopeful as she encouraged ‘compassionate me’ to prevail. Her poem, Birthday Song negotiated childhood memories, Magic FM hits and Ghanaian songs to beautifully speak and sing her own ‘cultural navigation’.
The first headliner of the night has been named as one of Birmingham’s 30 under 30, has two collections Waiting at Bloomsbury Park and Adjusted, is a teacher, senior leader and has recently completed an RSC residency to write a play, the very busy and very brilliant Casey Bailey.
Casey’s flawless conversational style puts the audience at ease allowing him to deliver his carefully crafted poems about grief, abuse and mental health. Casey’s care and compassion shines through in Skater Girl as he speaks of the need to ‘listen’ to those abused and allow them to ‘scream’ or ‘talk’. Soup is a beautiful poem about Casey’s gorgeous son with subtle observations of family life. Whilst his poem about National Trust properties comments on the hypocrisy of signs saying: ‘Do Not Touch’ when items in these properties have often been ‘stolen’. Casey was equally baffled that some items on his recent visit had been ‘built to look broken’ to replicate ancient ruins. Casey ended his set with Multiple Choice, a poignant poem about suicide. I admire Casey’s courage to speak his truth which never fails to have an impact on his audience. I urge you to buy his collection Adjusted published by Verve Poetry Press, then see him live for a funny, thought-provoking and accomplished performance.
Jess Green opened the second half with Restart a poem she has shared with students as part of a project in rural Derbyshire. Charged with the task of motivating disengaged students her poem reflected their disillusionment, punctuated with advice from hindsight, that time passes, restarts aren’t always possible and there are girls in the world who are desperately trying to get an education. Another insightful performance from our host.
Cynthia Rodíguez was next on the open mic slot and read a poem to ‘deliver’ her from the memory of someone she’d hoped to forget and a new poem about liminality. Followed by the stylish speed poet, Rubies and Duels, who was given three topics at the start of the first half and she returned with an impressive and funny poem in the second half about ‘being eighteen’, ‘a dog’s birthday party’ and ‘a cat’.
Then came the drum roll for THE raffle. The front row winning tickets did well to be picked to win book bundles and free tickets.
The funny, relatable and wildly talented poet, 2018 Coach SLAM winner, teacher and artist, Hannah Swings, ended the evening with a set reading from her brilliantly titled collection: This Dress Has Pockets. Not only did I love Hannah’s delivery of her poems, her conversational tangents gave context to her poetry and connection to the audience, two of the many reasons to see poets live at this fantastic monthly event. Hannah plays with form, style and structure on the page as she turned the book on its side to read. It’s Hannah’s exciting creativity that made me want to buy her collection, furthermore, it makes me want to explore her artwork.
Snobs could be described as a Brum poem, however, with sticky carpets, ‘girls’ and ‘lads/who think they’re men’ in every town, to me, this is a national club anthem, complete with playlist running down the page. I appreciated the nineties nostalgia and enjoyed reminiscing with Hannah. Another awesome Verve Poetry Press success to buy, read, love and laugh with.
Thank you to Burning Eye Books for supporting the event, Upstairs at the Western for a unique theatre space, and thanks to Jess Green for running FTRW. It’s such a great night and a good atmosphere to share the eclectic mix of poetry, poets and speed poem topics.