Wordly wise

Nov 11 2013 | By More

Words Spoken, or Poetry Performed?

No one quite knows where Spoken Word fits in with the rest of theatre. But it is certainly theatrical and deserves its place on All Edinburgh Theatre’s pages. Occasional Æ reviewer and poetry performer J. A. Sutherland casts an eye over the week ahead, from Monday 11 November 2013.

What defines ‘Spoken Word’? Some writers reject the description itself, regarding themselves as ‘performance poets’. But not all spoken word is poetry, nor is it restricted to words alone: music, pictures, and other props may be included.

Sometimes, there are no words even.

It seems this strange territory has very fuzzy edges that defy straight-forward definition. So instead, I will try to draw up a rough map and let people find their own route.

Anyone who thinks that a poetry-recital would be a dull affair, with scruffy, bearded men mumbling through pages of pentameters is misdirected. At last week’s Tricolour event at the National Library we had words, music and images, stories, duets, and fast-paced thought-provoking fun. Yes, fun! Stirling Makar, Anita Govan, in her opening ‘poetry manifesto’ that evening, said that the Greeks turned it into theatre, the Beats put in on the road.

This week’s journey begins and ends with a launch. On Monday 11th, Kevin Cadwallender (Scottish commissioning editor for Red Squirrel Press) launches his new book of poetry, Making Buildings out of God’s and Glue at McDonald Road Library. The road to publication is, for any writer, long and winding. But there are plenty of opportunities, such as pamphlets, in collections and self-publishing which, in poetry, is no cause for shame.

Performing poetry in public is, in a real sense, publishing – whether in a library, bookshop, pub or club. The Blind Poetics group go one step further. Besides providing a monthly Open Mic evening (Monday 11 November, 8pm at the Blind Poet pub, Nicholson St), they invite anyone who has performed to send a poem or flash-fiction piece for inclusion in a Blind Poetics Collection. They published the third of these, Noise Bones, in August, and all are available online, in the Scottish Poetry Library and the National Library of Scotland.

Comedian, Jo Caulfield, has given her own slant to spoken word performance with Jo Caulfield Presents…. The Speakeasy, held at the Netherbow Theatre each month. With storytellers, comics, writers (including the odd poet) and musicians, often with a wee drama sketch thrown in, this is an eclectic mix which hangs together on a thin thread of allegedly ‘true’ stories, driven by Jo’s anarchic humour. This Tuesday, 8pm.

The rally-car version of spoken word

Another form of poetry performance that may be unfamiliar to some is the ‘Poetry Slam.’ If this sounds like the rally-car version of spoken word, it may be close. Over three rounds, poets perform to a strict time-limit, and are marked by a panel of erudite judges according to the quality of the writing, the performance, and the reaction of the audience. That last rather nebulous criteria shows that this is about being entertained by the written word spoken well.

Keen on collaboration, the Inky Fingers group often team up with organisations to run poetry slams. Last month they hosted the Luminate Poetry Slam, won by Graham Hawley (who runs Tricolour) and earlier in the year they staged a Bicycle Poetry Slam in collaboration with the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, won by… the writer of this article. Later this month, dead poets will feature – if that’s not too spooky – in the Dead Poets Slam on November 30.

The poetry slam is particularly well-suited to the student environment, and this week’s slammery is provided by the University Lit Soc on Thursday evening at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar with their inventively titled November Poetry Slam. It isn’t, however, restricted to students, and draws performers from the wide pool of local poets.

Of course, poetry is not restricted to indoors. This Friday, to celebrate the Quincentenary of the epic poem Eneados by Gavin Douglas (c.1476-1522), an inscribed flagstone honouring the great makar will be unveiled in Makars Court. A free event, lasting around 20 minutes, this is the first of three events that day. See the Gavin Douglas Day pages on the Scottish Poetry Library website for details.

The week concludes with another local launch. The Antisocial Writers Club are, ironically, holding a Social Event. Their first anti-zine, titled Monster was one of the best launch-parties I have attended. This year’s theme is Circus, and they promise music, spoken-word performance, a trapeze act, fortune-telling and more. Those who miss the circus can buy the limited-edition, hand-stitched zine – if you can locate this elusive bunch.

Spoken Word, for want of a better expression, is all about getting written word ‘out there.’ Next week, I will talk about some practitioners who are very much off the beaten track.

Listings Monday 11 – Saturday 16 November 2013:

Making Buildings out of God’s and Glue: Mon 11, 6pm, McDonald Road Library, 2 McDonald Road, EH7 4LU
Anti-Hoot Open Stage: Every Monday. 8pm, Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16 Morrison St, EH3 8BJ
Blind Poetics Open Mic Mon 11, 8pm, the Blind Poet, 32 W Nicolson St, EH8 9DD
Jo Caulfield Presents…. The Speakeasy Tue 12, 8pm, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
November Poetry Slam Thurs 14, 7.30pm,Pleasance Cabaret Bar, The Pleasance, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ
Gavin Douglas Day Fri 15, 11am,Makars Court, Lawnmarket, off the High Stree, EH1 2PA
Antisocial Writers Club Sat 16, 2pm, Summerhall, Summerhall, EH9 1PL



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