by Wendy Lennon
A delicious smell enticed us into the bar area of Leicester’s unique pub theatre, Upstairs at the Western, as Veg ‘AN’ Love hosted a vegan pop up kitchen, serving naan bread pizzas, vegan pies – a raffle prize from last month’s poetry night – and vegan mash topped pies, such as ‘The Shepherd-less’.
After a tasty start to March’s Find the Right Words, there was an almost unpalatable pause as the night began without a speed poet, due to a last-minute cancellation. Jess Green, the wonderful host, brilliant poet & 2018 Slam Champion, gave the audience 15 seconds to produce a volunteer or the night would be without its key slot.
Fortunately, poet Stuart came to the rescue. Superhero Stuart challenged with the task of writing a poem in an hour, was given three audience selected themes. The first theme: Dogs in pubs (in honour of visiting dog Ralph, pet of headliner Tina Sederholm); the second theme ‘the first day of spring’ (owing to the beautiful day we’d had) and I contributed the third topic ‘peer pressure’ (for the speed poet’s ‘volunteer’ process!). Stewart headed back to the bar to write during the first half. Any willing volunteers for future months should get in touch with Jess to put your speed poetry writing to the test.
Jess Green, who is currently touring her show A Self Help Guide to Being in Love with Jeremy Corbyn, which has received fantastic feedback from her first few shows, flawlessly delivered a poem about the moment she ‘decided to become a poet’. Who knew ‘there is so much to pay for as an adult?’ Then again, ‘who needs a mortgage or savings’ when you have ‘feelings and means to express them through the power of art and a well-crafted poem’. A few days later, Jess visited a school and encouraged young writers to dream big in an ‘inspiring’ assembly about her career as a writer.
Charles Wheeler, who has a gig on 5th June at Upstairs at the Western, read a poem about being angry at newspapers. Wheeler asked them to take a ‘look at what you’ve become/are you poison?’ Unfortunately, the answer that hung in the air of the auditorium to Wheeler’s frustrated rhetorical questions was ‘YES’.
Second open micer of the night, Alan, shared a poem about his son’s school life and friendships, followed by the first headliner, Daniel Piper.
Piper, a Scottish National Slam Champion 2017 who won second place in a worldwide slam competition, opened his set by giving the audience a choice of three poems about drugs, vegetarianism or drink. The loudest audience member won the vote and selected drugs, so Piper performed a poem about an experience of taking an E. Reassuring the audience that it would be ‘the last like that poem’, he proceeded to introduce his collection Arbitrary and Unnecessary published by Unbound. The reading of his hilarious, self-indulgent, satirical foreword, complete with ‘Piperian wordplay’, had the entire audience erupting into laughter. Piper has a brilliant sense of humour and we all appreciated his comedic poetry.
In many of his poems, Piper reveals his decision to make the most of life. He will ‘live each day like [his] last’, ‘work on [his] muscles’ and even accepted a dare to be a vegetarian. After several vegetable wraps, unfortunately, he realised he’d made a mistake. It was like ‘smoking a cigarette not lit’. In another bid to live life to the fullest, Piper’s final poem is an extract from his Edinburgh set that mocks consumerism and society’s misguided cure of buying anything and everything, even pointless purchases such as ‘a new phone case…new coat…lip balm’. In his attempt to be positive he’ll get more done before eight a.m, he’ll ‘stop being self-conscious [and] start listening to Keane again’. Hopefully he won’t delete Instagram though, as he regularly posts short stories – which can be found at danielpiperwords – and are enjoyed by his 12,000+ followers, some of his adoring fans were in the FTRW audience.
Our host began the second half with a poem she’d read on her wedding day to her husband who ‘always finds good in people’. Ending with heartfelt gratitude: ‘so pleased you’re still listening’. Although it was a message to Dave, it was also a universal reminder to let the special people in our lives know how much we love, and we appreciate them.
Speed poet Stuart returned with an impressive poem about the environment. ‘Companies don’t make water, they make plastic’ his poem persuaded us to be conscientious consumers and he skilfully weaved in the three audience choice themes. Jess very kindly bought him a pint, although this isn’t a usual perk for speed poets, Stuart certainly deserved it for successfully stepping up to the challenge.
Neil, the next open micer, shared his swan song to poetry. Before reading her beautiful poem I can See Colour with ‘rainbow plastered walls of support’ and her final poem addressed to her daughter, Abena thanked Jess for her time at FTRW during the course of her studies in Leicester and reminded us that Jess Green’s night is a ‘good place to find’ yourself as a poet and a poetry lover.
Asim the poet, a regular on the London poetry scene, shared a poem about bullying, in which the victim found the strength to ‘stand up’ and relied on his ‘loyal brother…the pen’.
A foot stomping, lap clapping drum roll introduced the raffle winners. This month’s prizes were free tickets to April’s FTRW, a poetry collection, an exclusive Daniel Piper quote print and the collection from the final headliner of the night, the brilliant, Tina Sederholm.
Sederholm, who has won twenty poetry slams and received a 5* review at the Edinburgh festival, launched her reading with advice to parents who had just given birth to a poet. There’s a ‘history of poetry in the family’ the speaker identifies the source of this ‘common mutation’. ‘Poets are an idle lot’ the parents are warned; the poet will end up as a ‘creative writing teacher teaching other poets to be…creative writing teachers’.
Everything Wrong with You is Beautiful, the empowering title of Sederholm’s collection, is funny, endearing and urges us to embrace ourselves as we are and to have courage. Well, what would happen ‘if we put on our red dresses, what could we do?’ She asks us to consider.
In the lead up to Mother’s Day, Sederholm read a ‘Memo to Mothers’ that was initially written for her friends who are miracle working mothers that ‘the world would stop’ without, now Sederholm widely shares the poem as an important daily reminder that mothers ‘never let the department down’.
For a long time, Sederholm had a range of jobs and avoided being a poet, thankfully, she finally became a poet but then found herself apologising for it. In her quest to stop worrying and by giving herself permission to be the brilliant poet she was born to be, Sederholm encourages and empowers us to ‘be more dog’. ‘Please don’t be good’ she begs, instead ‘love like a dog/play like a dog’. And if Ralph is anything to go by, that means love to the fullest, listen to your instincts and live a life of joy, happiness and curiosity. Tina’s collection Everything Wrong with You is Beautiful was published in 2017 by Burning Eye Books.
The beginning of this month’s FTRW was touch and go, however, the atmosphere that Jess creates, and therefore magnetises to Upstairs at the Western, is another example of the poetry community pulling together, supporting each other and urging each other to live and write courageously and boldly.
Find the Right Words returns to Upstairs at the Western on 17th April with headliners Imogen Stirling and Joshua Seigal. Book your tickets here
I keep returning to this brilliant poetry night for its wonderful host, variety of open micers and highly acclaimed headliners. Thanks, FTRW – another fantastic night!