by Wendy Lennon
In the midst of the Comedy Festival, Upstairs at the Western – Leicester’s unique pub theatre venue – opened its doors to the monthly Find the Right Words poetry night that is considerately and meticulously organised by the wonderful host, brilliant poet & 2018 Slam Champion, Jess Green.
Each month, a poet volunteers to be the night’s speed poet, challenged with the task of writing a poem in an hour. The audience were asked for three themes for Rosa, this month’s poet. FTRW audience choice topics were: ‘Pop Corn’, ‘Lighter Nights’ and ‘Rosa Being Late’.
Whilst Rosa headed to the bar for a first half of furiously fast writing, the audience united in their rapturous applause for the raffle prizes which consisted of a Yeats collection, donated by a local book group; two free tickets to next month’s FTRW; free pies from the pop-up vegan kitchen and a Jeremy Corbyn tote bag.
Unfortunately, for Jess Green, who is a dedicated Labour supporter and has just released dates for a six-month tour of her show A Self Help Guide to Being in Love with Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party has just torn itself apart and the tote bag was possibly the least favourite prize. However, we were lucky enough to hear Jess read a brilliant piece from the show that revealed her sharp observations and humour. Furthermore, the show has received fantastic feedback in its early viewings, has been to the Edinburgh festival and is supported by the Arts Council so it’s well worth watching whatever happens in the forthcoming politically turbulent months ahead. Tour dates and tickets are available for us all to support the poet and playwright.
I was first up on the open mic slot and read two poems, Picture Postcard and Sunlight, from my collection Core.
The first headliner, Nadia Malik, whose collection Venus Shells published in 2018 by Burning Eye Books, shared her harrowing and healing poems. Malik is an English-Indonesian poet, art therapist and single mother whose work explores trauma, identity and home. Malik is at the early stage of her career and is an example of Burning Eye’s courage and brilliance as they support and publish emerging (in the true sense of the word) writers and performers. This is the ‘never knowingly mainstream’ approach that Clive Birnie, one of the publisher’s founding members, spoke of at the 2019 Verve Poetry Festival and has secured them a place on the shortlist for the inaugural Nibbies ‘Small Press of the Year’ award.
Malik’s first poem Home speaks of London and finding its ‘strangeness of strangers familiar’. In Crash, she observes the ‘roots through cracks’ on London’s streets and speaks of ‘boys’ who ‘bleed’ ‘willingly and unwillingly’ ‘like girls do’, whilst her second poem referred to an Indonesian creation myth intertwining images of nature with her grandparents.
Malik admits to feeling vulnerable in writing about trauma, however, her courageous and cathartic poems, such as Untouchable, where she ‘learnt’ ‘touch’ ‘is not always soft’ and her poem Colour in which ‘he’ ‘pours…grey’ ‘paint into me’ to which she turned ‘blue’ and the incident removed ‘organs she learned to live without’ may inspire others to be brave.
I look forward to reading more work from this poet as her career develops.
After raffle tickets had been purchased during the break – sold by Jess this month as her helpful husband and talented musician, Dave, was ill for the first time in years (get well soon!) – Jess opened the second half with another piece from her show. ‘Don’t let me down, Jeremy’ Jess and many in the party beg of the Labour leader.
Rosa came back with her funny Popcornality is the Thief of Time speed poem. One of the open micers, Charles Wheeler, delivered a powerful poem about Asperger’s. It’s a syndrome named after Hans Asperger who collaborated with the Nazis and ‘endorsed’ and ‘approved’ the despicable killing of children. The ‘solidarity’ Charles feels with other people like him is an ‘unlikely victory’. In the poem, Charles says ‘goodbye’ to the ‘two word starting point’, the ‘name I no longer need’. On the 5th June, Rosa and Charles will be performing their own poetry show at the same venue, so please go along to support these talented writers.
It was great to see new open micers at the event. Notable performances from Jemima, who flawlessly delivered a poem about mental health; the ever stylish Rubies and Duels shared a poem about getting older – ‘at 18 I knew everything’ on the night she offered ‘three tentative truths’; Loz, whose sense of humour and rhymes made everyone laugh; Paige, a university student who is ‘getting closer’ to the life she wants to live; John, warned millennials that their children may ‘save us’ alternatively ‘they’ll ** it up like we did’; Alan and Steve shared their rhymes about a holiday in Norfolk and a futuristic visitor respectively.
The final headliner of the night was the brilliant Tyrone Lewis! Roundhouse Slam Champion, Barbican Young Poet, film maker, photographer, he performs across the country and is a ‘Pop-Culture Powerhouse of a poet’. The themes in his collection Blackish, that will be published by Burning Eye books in July 2019, focus on race and identity.
As a teenager the music of Avril Lavigne was popular, however, Lewis now thinks that some of the lyrics are less than good. In a Cambridge writing workshop, he used Skater Boy to demonstrate this point. Music of Childish Gambino also inspired a poem he created for the R.A.P Party for which he was invited by the incredible Inua Ellams and brilliant Theresa Lola to perform. The poem, which links to the title of his collection, repeats ‘not black enough’ whilst deconstructing the stereotypes of the black identity.
During the collation of his collection, Lewis noted a common thread of ‘dad poems’ and read Dinner with Gary. Noting the irony of writing so much about someone that he hadn’t spoken to for years, he read a beautiful poem about his mum who loves ‘bigger than the love she receives’ and who ‘taught him sarcasm before [he] knew how to walk’. Lewis is another example of a young black boy raised by a ‘super hero’ mother and becoming a successful young man with an exciting career ahead of him.
Lewis’ final poems were about things that make him angry (mainly vegan poets) and, owing to the calibre of poets he is lucky enough to work with, his feelings of having imposter syndrome that’s lead him to being ‘intimate with doubt’ but ultimately spurs him on to ‘sharpen every letter’.
You can catch Lewis at his own Boomerang Club poetry night in Hammersmith, London on the 2nd Wednesday of every month, then you can go to FTRW on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at Upstairs at the Western in Leicester. Unfortunately, the clue is in the name and due to the nature of the building there isn’t a lift to the theatre. However, the helpful and accommodating staff do support people with mobility needs and will give early access to the auditorium. On 20th March Daniel Piper and Tina Sederholm will be the FTRW headliners. I keep returning to this brilliant poetry night for its wonderful host, variety of open micers and great atmosphere. Thanks, FTRW – another awesome night!