Wordly Wise in Book Week Scotland

Nov 25 2013 | By More

Spoken Word – the Final Frontiers

There are more than a few spoken word events on offer during Book Week Scotland. Resident poet J. A. Sutherland checks some out and finds the odd hangover from the weekend’s Dr Who celebrations.

You never know what to expect with poetry, prose, or spoken word; whether recited, performed or presented. It can crop up anywhere, creep up on you, and comprise many diverse, different forms.

Anyone who has experienced poet Kevin Cadwallender perform his Dalek-poems will know that spoken word can be far-from staid. With his rasping stentorian delivery, it’s wise not to sit in the front row of the audience. It’s inevitable, then, that Monday’s Doctor Who Open Mic Night at the Blind Poet will feature Mr Cadwallender.

Last week I spoke about spoken words unspoken. The theme of ‘narrative’ is central to an exhibition of art-books at Ocean Terminal Octavo Fika (Nov 25 – Dec 2). Curated by Kalopsia Collective, they present a week of performance and workshops alongside the featured artworks. My contribution to this project – part of Book Week Scotland – is a pamphlet of poems based on photographs of the Antony Gormley sculptures along the Water of Leith. I have performed this as a sequence several times, incorporating images and Gregorian plainchant. Memorable… but in a different way to a Dalek impersonation.

Doctor Who Open Mic Monday 25, 7.30pm. The Blind Poet, 32 West Nicolson Street,  EH8 9DDElsewhere in deepest Leith, another evening of poetry performance has popped up in yet another bar. Talking Heids, at Sofi’s Bar, Henderson Street doubles as a feature/open mic poetry event, with familiar Edinburgh poets such as Rachel Amey who performed memorably at last Friday’s Rally & Broad. I’ll stick my neck out here and say that with her theatrical delivery, linguistic skill, and probing incite, Rachel is one of the best spoken word performers on the Edinburgh scene. Her words, spoken mostly from memory, do not appear on a page, but most certainly stick in the heads of the audience.

Where this blog relates to other parts of this website is in the theatrical practise of script-in-hand readings. Poets are more likely to perform from memory than other writers, so evenings that focus on prose tend to present writers reading their words from the page. Sometimes they add a bit of flair with a hint of costume, and some do perform from memory. Personally, I am fond of using props, pictures, and other voices or actors when I perform my own writing, usually from memory.

One of the groups that I have performed with has taken this idea onto another level, and radically raised the stakes. Illicit Ink showcases entertaining stories, experiment with new ideas, and provide a supportive environment for writers. Their next evening takes place on Sunday at the Bongo Club. This is Illicit Ink: Underground, and the theme is Toy Stories.

A change to the Bongo Club venue inspired them to consider a new direction, and to split their enterprise into two, using the Netherbow Theatre on alternate months. Where Underground celebrates its roots and plays in the dark, the new strand: Illicit Ink: Skyground, showcases shiny new narratives.

The new part of the enterprise  ventured into unchartered territory last month. Titled Apocalypse New, it was easy to surmise the theme and genre. But the approach was more creative and, dare I say, theatrical. Each contributor had to link their writing to an overarching theme, so that the whole evening formed a cohesive, dramatic arc. Every writer was challenged to ingeniously avoid simply reading their piece, and the elements were tied together by a radio-style voice-over (off-stage), provided by the show’s producer, Ariadne Cass-Maran. The highlight of the evening, technically, artistically and performance-wise, came from writer, Emily Dodd.

Unable to attend the event in person, Emily sent a chillingly realistic video recorded from a hidden bunker, in which her character warned the audience of the disturbing disappearance of people since the alien invasion that had taken over Edinburgh. While some writers took a humorous or sideways swipe at the futuristic element of the theme, Emily tackled head-on the challenging Darwinian concept that, in times of crisis, only the fittest will survive. This dark video can be found on her vibrant and positive website.

From natural selection to nature poetry, this week sees the culmination of Walking with Poets. Earlier this year Mandy Haggith, poet and self-confessed tree-lover, spent a month in residence at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Her programme of events was based on the Gaelic tree-alphabet, and included workshops, walks, readings, wine tastings and, naturally, tree-hugging. This week all four resident poets, Sue Butler, Mandy Haggith, Jean Atkin, and Gerry Loose, come together at the Botanics. There will be wine, Mandy’s new book will be launched, and I’m sure there will be some poet-tree love.

Having mentioned that this is Scottish Book Week, I am aware of the limitations in my attempt to round up our city’s literary goings-on. I can only direct the reader to the Scottish Book Trust, the City of Literature and the Scottish Poetry Library events pages. In weeks like this, I envy Doctor Who’s Tardis. Having said that, if Inky Fingers can bring poets alive in their Dead Poets Slam on Saturday, anything can happen in spoken word.

Listings Monday 25 November – Sunday 1 December 2013:

Anti-Hoot Open Stage: Every Monday, 8pm. Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16 Morrison St, EH3 8BJ
Doctor Who Open Mic Monday 25, 7.30pm. The Blind Poet, 32 West Nicolson Street,  EH8 9DD
Octavo Fika Tuesday 26 November -Monday 2 December, 10am-5pm. 1st Foor, Ocean Terminal, Leith, EH6 6JJ
Talking Heids Tuesday 26, 7pm. Sofi’s Bar, 63-65 Henderson St, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6ED
Walking with Poets. Thursday 28, 6.30pm. The Botanics, entry by 20A Inverleith Row (look out for the flags!), EH3 5LR.
Inky Fingers Dead Poets Slam. Saturday 30, 7pm. The Bongo Club, 66 Cowgate, EH1 1JX
Illicit Ink: Underground, Sunday 1, 8pm. The Bongo Club, 66 Cowgate, EH1 1JX
Neu! Reekie Sunday 1, 7.30pm. Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL,

Details of Book Week Scotland events on the events pages of:
Scottish Book Trust
City of Literature
Scottish Poetry Library


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