New Year, new Wordly Wisdom

Jan 12 2014 | By More

Spoken Word hits the 2014 ground running

Richard Medrington and Elspeth Murray, appearing at Rally & Broad, Friday 17.

Richard Medrington and Elspeth Murray, appearing at Rally & Broad, Friday 17.

New words and new wisdom from poet J. A. Sutherland with a Wordly Wise column inspired by last week’s Accelerator at the The Canons’ Gait.

If there was a word to describe spoken word, it could be pace. I don’t mean ‘speed’ – although ‘rapid-fire’ defines many a poetry-performance. Pace could mean ‘evenly-spaced’ but again, that doesn’t nail it.

If pace is also ‘racy’, plenty of poets fit that description. As performance poet, Jem Rolls says in Is it just me or is the whole world speeding up?: “Even the gradual has gone off the speedo/even the slow is fast compared to the past”.

The Edinburgh spoken word scene hit the ground running this year, starting with Inky Fingers announcing a regular Open Mic slot (to add to my wrapped-up regulars here) every first Tuesday. This is a perfect vehicle for up-and-coming writers of poetry and prose, and the Inky team have suggested a ‘no repeats’ rule to encourage writers to try out new material.

Last Tuesday’s featured writer was the 50-word storysmith, Stephen Barnaby, whose mini-epics are best described as ‘zany’ – although given their brevity, ‘pacey’ works as well.

The following evening, poetry stepped on the gas. The second outing for The Accelerator featured a fine quartet from the best of our spoken word scene, and a floor-spot for one of the Loud Poets, Kevin Mclean. It seems pace, volume, and tone are three keywords and, as the evening sped by, it was not with a lack of variation in each of those aspects. Hosted by Jem Rolls (who first brought Poetry Slamming to Scotland) and Bram E. Gieben (Scotland’s first Hip-hop poet, he claims) we began with a ‘manifesto’ from Jem.

A verbal contortionist who twists and writhes as he reads

One of the evening’s performers, McGuire, has a similar idea that attempts to define spoken word. You can hear it here: McGuire Podcast. McGuire is a daring word-mangler, a verbal contortionist who twists and writhes as he reads, and who squeezes poetic images that make you wince and laugh simultaneously. Racey: you bet. Andrew Blair (fellow tour-bus poet) used an amusing mix of deadpan performance and nervous energy to deliver half-read, half-written, half-memorised diatribes on a semi-fictitious character who may, or may not, be Robert Pattinson. A perfectly-paced piece to fit the tempo of the evening.

The other two performers are more-than familiar to Edinburgh audiences: J. L. Williams (of the Scottish Poetry Library) and Michael Pederson (of Neu Reekie). Both poets performed from both memory and page (or screen) and while the pace slowed with J. L. Williams, the images came so thick and fast, any lover of language would be drawn to read Jennifer’s words. Luckily, she has another book, Locust and Marlin, coming out very soon. Finally, Michael began with an apology; feeling that, compared to the first acts, he was not so much ‘animated’ as ‘awkward.’

Spoken word doesn’t have to be punchy, raunchy, quick-fire, revved-up; constantly tripping on syllables, spilling out similes, or (my least-favourite word) visceral. Something that Michael Pederson often does when performing is close his eyes. Perhaps to help memorise, or maybe, internalise the images and allow the audience to do the same. Or he is inviting us to share in the deep centre of his own imagination, from where all good poetry comes, that still, small voice.

And there, the word ‘pace’ reverts to its Latin root: peace.

Listings Sunday 12 – Sunday 19 January 2014 (keep up if you can!)

Sunday 12
Musselburgh Hot Pot Hosted by Stephen Barnaby. Stagg’s Arms, 7.30, open floor. 81 North High Street, Musselburgh, EH21 6JE.

Monday 13
Antihoot (words and music) Henry’s Cellar Bar, sign up 7.30, cash prizes to be won! 16 Morrison Street, EH3 8BJ
Blind Poetics (ft Ash Dickinson) The Blind Poet, 8pm, open-mic slots available. 36 West Nicolson St, EH8 9DD.

Tuesday 14
Speakeasy (hosted by Fiona Herbert) Netherbow, 8pm, £6. Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR.

Wednesday 15
Percy Poets Intercommunity poetry group. The Persevere, 8pm. Open mic. 398 Easter Road, Edinburgh, EH6 8HT.

Thursday 16
Soap Box (Edinburgh Lit Soc, ft Jem Rolls) Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 8pm, Open-mic. The Pleasance, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ.

Friday 17
Rally & Broad (hosted by Rally & Broad!) The Counting House, 7.30pm, £5. 36 West Nicolson Street, EH8 9DD.

Saturday 18
The Living Room Collective: Session 3, The Meadow Bar, informal open-floor, 8pm. 42-44 Buccleuch Street, Southside, Edinburgh, EH8 9LP.

J. A. Sutherland also has his own blog at:


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