And we’re off! pre-show act The Antipoet kick us off with their patented Glastonbury track We Are The Warm-Up to a surprisingly crowded tent for this time of the morning on the first day. People are already signing up for the slam and the open mic. The set collapses and they shrug. They bounce, gyrate, and greet the audience with words and gestures, beckoning grins and nods and cheers drom the assembly. Topics covered include: politics, proper tea, festivals (and their alternatives), an elegy for a friend, and hipster grammar. The tent feels properly warmed now!
Compere Rosy Carrick takes to the stage like a glamorous poetry beacon in shades of flames to introduce the next section, inducing the audience to cheer like they’re watching Bowie in 2000, making a Mexican Wave of sound.
Scott Tyrrell has set up his easel, supported by son Toby, here for the first time. He’ll be live-illustrating proceedings, fighting the high winds that are keeping us all cool in the tent and the stage set unfortunately so mobile!
Courtney Conrad takes to the stage after a rousing introduction, letting us know that she kicked off her poetry writing after a break-up. Her set covers the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, religion, migration, and always being Other. We’re plunged immediately into the intimacy of family and clothes-fitting. I’m sure people have rhapsodised ad nauseam about the liquid, hypnotic mellowness of her voice, but it’s hard not to when it manages to support the intense combination of gentle yet frustrated, determined, emotional, yet almost academic words with its constant ripple, an incredibly articulate storyteller in English and Jamaican dialect. She chooses to redo early piece One Love with a better rendition (and breaks my heart with smiles and sadness combined), and honestly I wish more poets had that confidence and commitment to quality. Call me a fan!
Rosy and Vanessa Kisuule exchange happy banter about matching shorts (“I hate to objectify, but mate, you look banging!”) Rosy manages to squeeze in a poem from her latest collection about trainspotting (Ferroequinology). It is a species of frankly uncomfortably erotic, difficult and unusual and textured with the kind of words that trigger my synaesthesia.
Toby Campion takes to the stage in fantastic dungarees to a rock ’n’ roll track and kicks off with what he describes as a poem written the last time he was here, after seeing Adele, describing it as his own Adele Moment. He captures the audience immediately, then exchanges Midlands banter with an enthusiastic section of the crowd before going on to read from his book about his childhood, dropping us into the middle of a series of intimate word portraits of growing up queer in Leicester. His skill has only grown in the time I’ve known him – both words and stagecraft, and the audience are enraptured as the sequence of sketches slots into place. After this more family intimacy, grief, and humour. It takes and keeps everyone who listens. After the poem about his father’s terminal illness, he gives the audience a moment to take them through some studied breaths. If more artists took the time to practise radical care of their audiences, thw world would be a better place. And then his drunken, unedited poem, breaking the fourth wall with wrist-bitingly hysterical images. Clever, heartfelt poetry competing with a brass band and some ground-vibrating bass beats? He wins.
Rosy borrows my £5 flannel shirt against the chill of the wind. I don’t blame her – it’s an excellent shirt.
Desree takes to the stage like an explosion, with a series of pugilistic poems about #MeToo, gentrification, relationships, gender, toxic/ fragile masculinity, body image, race, privilege, abuse of power (and complicity), and all the important things to get angry about. Anyone who can make a list poem (an overused and all-too-often rubbish form) sing and dance, with quick feet and lightning punches deserves as much love and admiration as we can give them! Her poetry manages rapid-fire rage, clever allusion, and a glorious use of language and compassion and observation. She also uses trigger warnings to bring us into her piece about R. Kelly – well-needed and reminds me why I’ve bought into TW and CW – it gives people the option to leave or stay (literally or metaphorically), and allows us to protect our bruises.
Rosy gives us an ode to Arnold Schwarzenegger, letting us know that she’s hoping to build her body in a similar fashion… More double-entendre and angry eroticism, this time combined with the frustration of PhD writing.
Demi Anter takes to the stage in a teeshirt made by her father of her at the age of two. She warns the audience that they may hear things that upset them, but that the teeshirt will hopefully make them happy. She has a very specific stage presence I associate with American spoken word poets – crafted and confessional, borrowing from theatre and standup – but without that staleness and fake intimacy that I also preemptively associate with it (like a massive snob? probably), if that makes sense. She tackles love (self- and others), mental health, eating disorders, confidence, art-making, and family, and has longer intros than any of the other poets so far. The explicitness of the language sneaks up on you, broadsides of orgasms and trebuchets of sweary rage among the gentle intimacy. Her final piece lampoons Californian artist culture and DIY culture and Valley Girl speech, while at the same time being deeply personal and factual like a terrifying dating profile.
Liv Torc takes to the stage and we’re straight into family intimacy, and immediately afterwards the graphic, terrifying realities of childbirth, name-checking fictional, kick-arse heroines and bombarding us with visceral imagery and glorious wordplay, followed up by the lubricous romance of the damp patch. The ugly-beautiful realities of family life continue with a Kennings-laden piece about sharing a family bed that you can frankly smell! Family is the theme overall – connection and love and the physical texture of it. (She further wins my heart with a piece about hair and hands and genetic and cultural heritage, even though, for me, I’m the end of that particular line of curl and strength and stubbornness.) She ends, of course, with That Poem – the one about three generations and the legacy of a cluttered Earth – which still has the power to bring tears to the eye and throat (including her own). The arrival at the far entrance of people who are litter-picking is one of those Festival Magic moment.
Scott is still battling the wind, sketching Demi while Liv performs.
Somehow, despite this being a) a Festival, b) a stage of poets, we’re running under time. So Rosy yanks Luke Wright up to the stage. This is the most dressed-down I’ve ever seen the dandy wordsmith, but he grabs the opportunity to strut out an excessively impressive univocalism about North-South cultural differences.
Ana Paz takes to the stage with an abundance of energy, plunging into the intimacy of the audience with mic in hand, demanding that we exchange passion with a refrain of “I continue to fight”. After Luke and The Antipoet, she’s the most physically dynamic of the performers so far, combining lyricism and wild, wide, high imagery with the pace and punchiness of hip-hop. The performance is like dance – and, unlike many poets, especially those who use fast-paced urban rhythms, she lets the flow breathe. She isn’t afraid of pauses, floating silences louder than the (utterly unremitting) clamour outside the tent. She repeatedly thanks the audience for their energy and attention. It’s the quietest part of the day so far for the stage – an unfortunate period for someone who’s so very dynamic. But she switches pace down to one about grief and despair, the kind of helplessness that can lead to an end. She tells us that performance (and all art?) is about finding a mirror in each other. I’m totally stealing that phrase. Random people hug each other to her words, overwhelmed as she finishes talking about why she writes (and much of that appears to be to fill the gaps and inequities in our current cultural models of “truth”). Fabulous stuff, and I’m hoping she has a larger audience (and at least as equally enthused!) for her next performance with us.
Thunderclap Murphy takes to the stage, bringing looping equipment with a maze of cables, instruments, and buttons. I take the opportunity (while Rosy conducts a quiz and Liv covers my gear – thanks, Liv!) to grab a quick dash to the toilet and my packed lunch and return exactly in time to see him start his loop of musical layers to underlay a farewell poem by war poet Alun Lewis (Goodbye, published in 1944) – guitar, flute, song, handclaps and vocal percussion. He decides to go with a hip-hop, drum ’n’ bass vibe for the next one (after teaching us a beatboxing shortcut – “born to be clever, too clever to be too clever”, if you’re interested), Match of the Day, the persistent ice cream van theme in Dublin. The guitar is dark and the flute sounds like that place where Middle-Eastern/ Spanish music meet in liquid ripples and curves. He ends with an a cappella blessing, having us all chorus Sláinte!