Poetry,  Scotland

Words rule

It’s Edinburgh Festival time, and we know it because the buses take 45 minutes to go along Princes Street (1 mile), the locals moan “bloody Festival” but still go in masses to the shows and the population, now increased 10% by actors, acrobats and dancers, is noticeably better looking, better dressed and in better shape. As usual, everyone complains that the Fringe has gone corporate and expensive, it costs £10,000 to put on a show in a reasonable venue but then people come back with stories of going to a genuine Fringe show in a makeshift venue because their mate had a part, and what a bad experience that was.

Jem Rolls

So far I have been to one show, in the true and original spirit of the Fringe. That is, it was very good, and in a venue not really fit for purpose, The Banshee Labyrinth.

This was Jem Rolls‘ show. Jem is a performance poet and a livewire who set up a successful slam show in Edinburgh called Big Word. He’s been away from Edinburgh doing well on the Canadian festival circuit and it’s great to see him back.

The difference between performance poetry and just spouting poetry? Well, that’s like the difference between song lyrics and poetry – it’s blurred but it exists. Performance poetry or, more accurately, spoken word, shades into stand up, into story telling, into doggerel, into James Joycean word play, into haranguing. Jem’s delivery is pent up utterance pouring out and his material is anecdote, observation, fantasy (eg birds remembering when they were dinosaurs). He can do a clever piece of virtuosity where every 2 lines are spoonerisms. Two blokes go on a bad night out:-

so, amongst the movers and shakers
the shovers and makers
the chewed up and spat out
the spewed up and shat out
for the boozer he oozed breezily
and winless?
he bruised easily
for he had a dream upon a
prima donna
and went for the pretty girl
who looked slightly nutty
while the boozer he went for
the gritty pearl
who he said was nightly slutty

This piece is enjoyable performed but its cleverness can really only be admired on the page. (Full text here).

Jem Rolls on being ephemeral

Spoken word/performance poetry makes a virtue of the fact that it is ephemeral, like a gig or a happening rather than a poem on paper. Most of Jem’s pieces do work best performed, but a new one of his I wanted to read as a description of writng. This is called The World’s First Backstage Poem. The premise is that there are backstage musicals, i.e. where the musical is about people putting on a musical, and this is a poem about writing a poem. Anyone who writes beyond practical ends will know how the words will not do what you want to do but start pushing you somewhere else, like a kayak in an out-going tide.

when its hard to find a word you can trust
they fray at the edges
they blur
they arrive with all manner of baggage
and then they change their costume

And if one word alone is a bit of a handful
then when there’s a few of them
it quickly gets to be a nightmare
they gang up against you and start to
do their own thing
its like The Lord Of The Flies in there
and I’m hiding in the jungle from my own poem

Or they sashay into the
far reaches of
high pretension like an
existential French movie…
and come back to haunt you like
the Bastard Sons of the Mongol Bleedin’ Horde
and it’s like all the bits they’ll cut from the
next Tarantino because they’ll be
too violent
. .. .

Or they get an overly high opinion of themselves
and start claiming descent from the Latin or the Greek
and start adding extra syllables just to be poncy
Luck stands up one day and pronounces
from now on you can call me Serendipity
Complicated gets all Social Realist and says from now on its TOUGH

Then you come in one awful day to find they’ve got all
purist and earnest and Hemingway
and they’ve thrown out all the adjectives
who picket me
malevolently and
on the way in

And you know that in German the nouns are capitalized?
well my nouns suddenly do
because I was just saying
Go out there and do your best nouning…
When they say
German nouns are capitalized
why aren’t we?
We demand capitalization

But the verbs
are the verbs having it?
they say
We are the words of action
We are the workers
Down with the capitalist nouns
Verbs of the world unite and march to the front of the sentence

That is Jem – who is clever, witty, fantastical and brilliant in performance.

He’s on at the Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG up to 24th August at 08:40pm.. The show is free but he deserves a donation. He got a 4 star review in The Scotsman.

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