Introducing: Luke Wright

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Back to perform with us is Luke Wright, 16:35-17:00; Saturday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Flamboyant, political and riotously funny, Luke Wright creates inventive poems with loads of heart. Part Essex wide boy, part dandy fop, he writes from the sidelines about small-town tragedies and national farce, then performs his work with snarl and spit.

“As well as his own tours Luke can be seen warming up for Peter Doherty and John Cooper Clarke. This year he celebrates twenty years in the business with a new double vinyl album called ’Twenty’ and a new pamphlet of poems from Rough Trade Books.”

Reviews:

“He must be on some kind of dope.” John Cooper Clarke

“Fierce, wistful, romantic and witty by turns, this is a sensational hour of poetry.” ★★★★★ The Stage

“One of the funniest and most brilliant poets of his generation” The Independent

“Cool poems.” Patti Smith

Fay’s words:

The first time I saw Luke perform was at a book launch for Ross Sutherland’s book (this would have been autumn 2009, so I’ve no recollection of what it was called) at Heffer’s Bookstore. I’d not long moved to Cambridge, knew approximately two people (neither of whom were there), and a friend from out of town wanted to network at the event, so I went along. Of the original “Aisle 16” group, I only knew Tim Clare, and then only slightly. I suck at networking, so managed to find another shy person who proclaimed themself “bad at networking” and we jabbered quietly to each other about what we might say if we knew what to say. When Luke Wright moved into the performance space, it was clear that this wasn’t something he had an issue with. Slickly blonde in what my memory insists was a three-piece, double-breasted suit, he outright gleamed, stood taller (literally and figuratively) than anyone else there, while the softness of the rhyming love story he told seemed almost at odds with this image. Two years later, I met him at the inevitable darkened bar at EdFringe while introducing my girlfriend to Tim. Tim introduced us to Luke, and that crushed and hurried handshake was the extent of our connection for the next while.

I interviewed him a few years later before reviewing his event at Cambridge Literary Festival (sadly I was too ill to write it up subsequently), discovering that the clipped, gleaming Luke I’d originally witnessed was a phase – he had since resurrected a more tenebrous vibe, all eyeliner and enormous hair, complete with rockstar entrance, dripping anecdotes, connections, and extensive gestures. He expanded to fit the space available, in short, whether it was in the green room or in the 100-seater space that was rammed to capacity with adoring audience, the Essex Lion personified.

Luke’s energy, on- or off-stage, seems relentless, whether you see him holding court in an auditorium, or run into him on the street. He is forever picking up nuances, spinning them into story, riccocheting onto the next topic like a raconteurish bagatelle of rhyme and cultural reference. Like Tony Walsh, his pieces often follow ballad patterns of rhythm and end-rhyme, and – again like Tony – it would be easy to dismiss their accessibility and overlook the sheer craft involved, and in Luke’s case the undisputable rage, the idealism masked by what looks like cynicism, the almost desperate longing for a world where he doesn’t have to rant about inequities large and small. He also has a gift for mining cultural memory, flinging his listeners into a particular place and time. Come see this grandiloquent dandy and immerse yourself in his world at the Poetry&Words stage!

Sneak preview:

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Introducing: Gecko

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Performing for the first time with us is Gecko, 15:35-16:00 Saturday; 14:45-15:10 Sunday. If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Gecko is a singer-storyteller, his playful lyrics cover the big things in life; think iPhones, Libraries & Guanabana fruit juice to name but a few. Gecko has performed across the world from Stockholm to Wellington, Paris to Crawley. His debut record ‘Volcano’ was made ‘Album of the year’ in the Morning Star. He has shared stages with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Robin Ince, Josie Long, John Hegley & Billy Bragg.”

Fay’s words:

Here’s the weird thing: I know Gecko, but I’ve never seen him perform… He’s been part of Spoken Word @ PBH’s Free Fringe for a couple of years, and in 2018 was the show before mine. We’d talk briefly, wish each other well, and get on with the business of The Next Thing (this is how Fringe is, frankly!). So now I get the treat of not only previewing his work here but watching him live in a few weeks’ time. Let’s get stuck in…

For a start, unlike many of the other artists (shyer? fewer opportunities?), Gecko has a profusion of videos to choose from. And while his YouTube channel has a plethora of official videos (high production values, innovative presentation styles, and the odd familiar name from the world of south-east-England-spoken-word rap/ rap-inflected artists), it’s the live performances I find myself gravitating to. Here, not only does the beautiful musicianship and the slightly breathy, but incredibly flexible, vocal delivery shine through, but his stage craft and audience rapport dominates. Gecko focuses on a range of topics, mostly bedded in pop culture (iPhones, Instagram, the studied nonchalance of selfies), but some as old as humanity (the search for relevance, connection, autonomy – no matter how scary that is), and he manages to steer you into the profound via humour and whimsy, tight rhymes and plangent notes guiding audiences to revelation after revelation. His deep love for humanity rings through every line, and he is an absolute master of his craft. I’m really looking forward to seeing him win over yet another audience next month (and to finally get to experience this live for once!).

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Introducing: Scott Tyrrell, illustrator

scott Tyrrell
Back to perform with us is Scott Tyrrell, 15:05-15:30 Saturday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Scott has been a poet and performer since the turn of the century. An award-winning comedian, creative director and multiple slam-winning poet (including the BBC Slam and UK Anti- Slam), he has performed his work at Glastonbury, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Prague Fringe, STAnza, WOMAD, Larmer Tree and the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He has written for TV, radio and performed for Radio 4, Radio 3’s the Verb, Sky Atlantic, ITV, BBC4 and BBC Arts. His most recent poetry collection, Honest, is published by Burning Eye Books. He lives in Newcastle with his wife, son, a goldfish, a one-eyed cat and a small fluffy dog.”

Reviews:

“Scott Tyrrell is one of the best comic poets there is.” – Kate Fox, poet and presenter

“A writer who has always had a singular voice of resilience, humour and self-knowledge. Scott is a poet who understands what it is to be uncomfortable in your own skin, and how the gaze of others can compound that feeling, but he’s also a poet who can find the funny bone in anything and everything.” – Beccy Owen, Singer Songwriter

“Brilliant” – Phill Jupitus

“Scott has a weird kid’s cynicism and wonder, an artist’s eye for the telling detail, and a stand-up’s guts when it comes to stating the truth in all its ugly, miraculous glory.” – Tim Clare, Author

“Scott is one of those rare poets who can have you belly-laughing one moment before stunning you with some powerful poignancy the next. He is a super-engaging performer whose charismatic stage presence is backed up by a depth and diversity of high quality writing.” – Dan Simpson, Former Canterbury Poet Laureate

Fay’s words:

The first time I saw Scott performing was in Newcastle. I was nervously perched at the back of the auditorium, knowing no-one but the person who’d booked me, who’d had to leave early. I’d maybe met the host of the event once, in a darkened open mic at Edinburgh Fringe. I was doing that thing I do when I’m nervous, which is pick up bits of the poems I’ve seen through the night and weave them into a tribute for the performers. The format of the open mic was organised chaos, where the artists flung themselves onto the stage without order, setup, or introduction, and somehow it worked wonderfully. (Jibba Jabba was a wonderful night – a moment’s silence, please.) Then Scott, the other booked performer, came up and I nearly dropped my pen. In a self-deprecating but incredibly authoritative manner, he spun out some of the most gorgeous poetry I’d heard in possibly ever. And then had me rocking with laughter the next minute, before proceeding to have me dab surreptitiously at my eye. This was a man who turned every feeling – rage, dismay, love, pride, frustration, exasperation, embarrassment, and joy – into unforgettable imagery, so tightly crafted there was no room to slide so much as a sheet of paper between them. And then I saw him spank the BBC EdFringe Slam into submission as people cackled and cooed, and we had to somehow judge it. And then he toured Hammer & Tongue and held our often cynical Cambridge audience right in the palm of his hand and sold out of books quicker than I’ve ever seen anyone do there.

And then it turns out that he’s a ridiculously talented illustrator, who’s literally mapped the UK & Ireland spoken word scene and several years of Glastonbury Poetry&Words. It’s going to be wonderful seeing that deadpan wit and wisdom shine at the Festival next month! In addition, he’ll be live illustrating each day’s performances.

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Introducing: Jonny Fluffypunk

Jonny Fluffypunk
Back to perform with us is Jonny Fluffypunk, 14:05-14:30 Saturday; 14:15-14:40 Sunday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Stand-up poet and lo-fi theatremaker Jonny Fluffypunk has been dragging his art around the spoken word, comedy and alternative cabaret circuits for over 20 years. His fusion of bittersweet autobiography and surreal whimsy has made him a firm headline favourite at gigs, festivals and housing benefit offices throughout the UK.”

Fay’s words:

I love telling the story of how I first met JFP – not at a slam or an open mic or a random festival, or even at a Rrrants gig, this was at a networking event for spoken word performers and organisers (more the latter than the former, from memory). I’d just started walking towards the venue, looking around, unsure, in this pre-satnav time, if I’d landed in the right place. Across the carpark stroll two figures – both tall, one completely bald, broad as a builder, and the other rake-thin, sporting a handlebar moustache and a beret. “I’m definitely in the right place for poets!” I call out (or something similar). As they get nearer I hold my hand out. “No!” exclaims Handlebar Moustache, “Poets hug!” and proceeded to envelope me in an embrace while the other looked on in gentle amusement. And that was the first time I met (now former) Young People’s Laureate Wales, Martin Daws, and host of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, Jonny Fluffypunk. He’s toured Hammer & Tongue a couple of times, so I’ve hosted him in Cambridge and seen him range rapidly around festival stages to boot. This is a man whose style can best be described as a kind of genial rage. His energy can’t be contained by a stage, so off he goes, burning through ergs and the soles of his boots, charging into the audience and involving them in his rants. He breaks the fourth wall repeatedly throughout his forays into every subject under the sun, pointing out good lines and clever rhymes, asking us what we think about this bit, should I keep it? Somewhere between stand-up comedy, poetry, punk-inflected anarchy, and something truly unique, he strides through observations of the world that put professional comics to shame and manage to startle, delight, and confound in nearly equal measure. Clever, passionate, memorable, and wise, it’s an experience to savour, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again, both off- and on-stage!

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Introducing: John Hegley, headliner

John Hegley
Back to perform with us is headliner John Hegley, 18:10-18:55 Friday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Songs and poems about fig rolls, potatoes (new and old), much singing joining in and a little bit of communal choreography.

“Mr Hegley was born in Newington Green, North London, and was educated in Luton, Bristol and Bradford University. His first public performance monies came from busking his songs, initially outside a shoeshop in Hull, in the late Seventies. He performed on the streets of London in the early Eighties, fronting the Popticians, with whom he also recorded two sessions for John Peel, and has since been a frequent performer of his words, sung and spoken, on both local and national radio.

“He has produced ten books of verse and prose pieces, two CDs and one mug, but his largest source of income is from stages on his native island. An Edinburgh Festival regular, he is noted for his exploration of such diverse topics as dog hair, potatoes, handkerchiefs and the misery of human existence. He is an occasional DJ, dancer and workshop leader, using drawing, poetry and gesture. He has been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Arts from what is now the University of Bedfordshire, and once performed in a women’s prison in Columbia.”

Fay’s words:

It’s hard to know where to start with Mr. Hegley. He’s one of the first poets I ever came across after nursery rhymes and Roald Dahl. He was almost certainly the first poet I witnessed mixing it with music as well. And he was near-revered in my family household of mostly purblind geeks as being someone who wrote excellent verse about being a glasses wearer. Like, I suspect, many of us, he was the person (those of us who didn’t witness John Cooper Clarke until much later) looked up to as the image of Famous Living Poet Who Is Relevant To Me, alongside Michael Rosen and Roger McGough*.

It’s going to be difficult to do him proper service but let’s assume you’ve never heard of John Hegley, that he was never read out to you in school or turned up in nearly every anthology you read as a child. Imagine an expression veering between worried and diffident around a set of heavy spectacles. Imagine a ukelele grasped familiarly and made to do things you didn’t know they could do – made to sound serious, made to sing with deceptive simplicity. Imagine a drawl over the top of the cunning plink-plunk that, again, uses words that seem simple, bordering on foolish, until you listen harder, look a bit deeper. Then you hear the virtuosity in the playing, the experimenting in the combinations, the subversion in the words. Then you notice that the diffidence is anger or sorrow or amusement at the inevitable unfairness of the world, or joy in the things that make us happy, and that he’s inviting you to join in. Often literally.

(And then imagine you’ve been invited to perform on the same stage, in the poet’s hometown, and you’re bricking it in front of a packed-out audience, and afterwards he just wanders up to talk to you, offering sincere and interested compliments on your performance, buys a CD with you and one of the other poets on it, and strolls off, and how that doesn’t quite leave you, and certainly never leaves your CV. Imagine that you see him a few years later, backstage while one of your mates’ bands play, and he starts harmonising effortlessly and beautifully, leant up against the tent, strumming and humming quietly, and you realise that this is someone who just likes good stuff, loves music, celebrates words, and just, well, does that. An articulate and generous human. Imagine that…)

The tent is going to be rammed while he’s on, I expect, but I’ll be right there, singing along.

(*Brief, political sidebar: I love these poets, but I also love how Successful Poet no longer means Middle-Aged, White Man these days.)

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Introducing: Tony Walsh

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Back to perform with us is Tony Walsh, 17:35-18:05 Friday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In other people’s words (official bio):

“Now a national hero” (The Guardian) having “stunned millions of people” (Huffington Post) with his iconic performance after the Manchester bomb in May 2017, delighted audiences are now discovering what has been an open secret for well over a decade: a Tony Walsh show is a rip-roaring rock and roller-coaster ride from a profoundly inspiring artist at the very top of his game. Forget what you imagined a poetry set could be and expect belly-laughs, tears and everything in between from this stunning, big-hearted performer who often leaves audiences on their feet, dazzled and breathless. “Astounding” @BAFTA “Seriously amazing!” BBC.com “… stirring… stunning…” TIME magazine

Fay’s words:

I’ve seen Tony (“Longfella”) perform live a few times, but not for ages, back when he was still doing ten minute sets in line-ups one or two steps up from open mics. And even then, his generosity, good heart, and good sense shone through, cutting short sets if a show was running late, for example, acknowledging the host and folk who’d gone on before him, performing heartfelt, soul-enriching stuff in a warm, direct way that made everyone in the room feel seen. Now Tony’s a bit rock’n’roll these days, and it could not have happened to a nicer poet! I suspect I don’t know anyone who’s not seen his anthemic performance of “This Is The Place, his ode to Manchester in the wake of the arena bombing, and I hope you’ve all seen that clip of him performing it on the rammed Metrolink while those around him hush each other and chime in and cheer. Yeah, my eyes got suspiciously moist there too – you’re not alone.

He excels in reaching into memories and identities, summoning up something richer and more constructive than mere nostalgia. His work is deceptively simple and heartstring-tugging, but falling into that assumption would only prove that you’re not listening to the intricacy of the wordplay, the craft behind the construction (because tight, elegant rhyme that doesn’t mangle the meaning is ridiculously hard to do, and Tony makes it sound easy), and you’re not looking to see the genuine passion behind his eyes. In short, his work can make you want to be a better poet, and a better person, and believe that possible. That’s a hell of a record! I’m looking forward to seeing him charm and enliven the massive crowd he deserves at Glastonbury next month.

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Introducing: Eve Piper

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Performing for the first time with us is Eve Piper, 17:05-17:30 Friday; 12:35-13:00 Saturday . If she’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In her own words:

“Rising urban narrator for the millennial generation, Eve Piper is a Mancunian poet making her mark on Bristol’s poetry scene.

“Upon moving south, she was selected to take part in the Words First project run by BBC 1Xtra and the Roundhouse, wherein she was mentored by Chris Redmond (Tongue Fu) Harry Baker and received guidance from Kate Tempest.

“She has since performed all around Bristol, at events such as Raise the Bar, Hammer & Tongue and Milk Poetry, where she supported Hollie McNish at the Tobacco Factory Theatres.

“Having frequented Manchester collective Young Identity in her youth, Eve’s voice rings true to her Mancunian roots while connecting to the Bristolian underground.

“With influences ranging from Drum & Bass to John Donne, her poetry merges the personal and political, tracing the sharp angles of young womanhood and relaying rhythmic urban narratives with a beguilingly subtle approach.”

Reviews:

‘Eve first graced the microphone with an authentic and located style which many poets take years to develop. Always a breath of fresh air to see her illuminate audiences, coupling raw storytelling with arresting and technical language.’ – Danny Pandolfi

Fay’s words:

Eve’s another new voice for me. I’ve found three YouTube videos so far, all reasonably recent, part of scenes I immediately know carry a cachet of “here lies quality work”. This instinct’s not wrong, certainly borne out when I watch Eve’s pieces – she’s one of those poets that has the gift of stillness – you can hear the entire room leaning forward to catch what she lets drop. And it’s quiet, but it absolutely shouts. Each of the well-crafted, intense, frankly eerie pieces I’ve seen are about broken souls, in media res stories of how systems fail people, how obsession is a hook, how we can get poisoned by other people’s hideous decisions. Eve Piper is one to watch and I’ll be glued to whatever she brings us at the P&W stage next month.

Sneak preview:

CW: assault.

Erin Fornoff

Introducing: Erin Fornoff

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Back to perform with us is Erin Fornoff, 16:35-17:00 Friday; 17:10-17:35 Saturday . If she’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In her own words:

“Erin Fornoff is a ‘story-telling poet’ hailing from the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and a new Irish citizen. She has performed her poetry twice at Glastonbury and at dozens of festivals across the UK and Ireland, and opened for two Irish tours with Hollie McNish. Her first full poetry book, published by Dedalus Press, came out in October 2017 and was shortlisted for the Shine/Strong Award for best first collection in Ireland, and her chapbook ‘Folk Heroes’ came out with Stewed Rhubarb Press in 2015. She has featured on BBC3 The Verb, at Hozier and James Taylor concerts, and in a years-long collaboration with street artist Joe Caslin as well as commissions for numerous charities and causes. Her poems have been included in Best New English and Irish Poets 2016, won the StAnza Digital Slam, and have been commissioned by RTE on the theme of ‘cultural revitalization of Ireland’ for national broadcast and live performance at Dublin Castle. Her poem ‘Hymn to the Reckless’ featured on posters and curriculum nationwide for Ireland’s National Poetry Day. She was co-founder and programme director of Lingo, Ireland’s first ever spoken word festival. Her video poem ‘Home’ was featured in film festivals around the world and won its category at Berlin Underground Film Festival in 2019. In her other life she runs a nonprofit and worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign.”

Fay’s words:

I keep listening to Erin Fornoff’s “Home” like I can’t help myself. She’s absolutely captured what it means to live far from where you’re from and, while I am technically physically closer to my family in South Wales than she is to hers in North Carolina, hiraeth is hiraeth, and that mingled guilt and stretched-heart feeling with the knowledge that you’re truly home in your new place while retaining another far away is so beautifully expressed I want to press it in a book. She has a real talent for capturing family and the liquid nature of relationships and belonging, awkwardness nestling alongside familiarity in a flow of complex language delivered so simply and sincerely it’s like being read a story by your favourite aunt. I may have got a bit immersed; do excuse me… Anyway, I really want to experience this live, and luckily I soon will!

(Erin also reached out to offer advice and support for this blogging role, which she’s done herself before, and I was unspeakably grateful for that – thanks so much!)

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Introducing: Brian McMahon Gallagher

Brian McMahon Gallaher from thejournal.ie

Photo courtesy of thejournal.ie

Performing for the first time with us is Brian McMahon Gallagher, 16:05-16:30 Friday; hosting slam 17:00-19:00 Sunday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Brian McMahon Gallagher is a Dublin Based poet and Slam Sunday co-host. As a poet, Brian has performed at the First Fortnight, Electric Picnic, Latitude, and Cuirt International Literary Festivals, and has performed with the Arts Group ‘Outstraight’ at festivals and shows throughout Britain and Ireland. He is also the host of LemmeTalk, a monthly open mic that takes place in ‘Poetry Ireland’.”

Fay’s words:

Another new poet to me, so back to the magic ot the internet to track down the sparse few examples of his wordcraft, YouTube doing me fewer favours than the Near FM Podcast. And it’s through this that I’ve discovered a gloriously sweary, young, Irish poet with pieces that take on some of the more egregious elements of Irish/ Dublin culture, from the personal to the political (and where that intersects, naturally). He rams a machine-gun clatter of words into short spaces, and none of them wasted. And he’s sweary as hell, which I loved (sometimes you only get to see/ hear the most sanitised, expurgated versions of people online); his passion is undeniable, and it’s wonderful to see it in service to some of the most important issues facing Ireland (and humanity), from the small to the crushingly broad. I’m really looking forward to see that febrile energy let loose in the Poetry&Words tent next month!

He’ll also be hosting the slam on Sunday with Thunderclap Murphy, about which more later.

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Introducing: Paula Varjack

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Back to perform with us is Paula Varjack, 15:35-16:00 Friday . If she’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In her own words:

“Paula Varjack is an artist working in video, performance and participation. Her work explores identity, community, and making the invisible visible. Her latest show ‘The Cult of K*NZO’, a playful critique of consumer culture and high fashion is currently touring. She is also in early stages of developing #thebabyquestion with performers Luca Rutherford & Catriona James & dramaturg Maddy Costa, exploring the inevitability of ‘the baby question’ on women, regardless of age. Born in Washington D.C. to a Ghanaian mother and a British father, out of many cities she has lived she considers east London to be ‘home’.”

Fay’s words:

Like many of the artists I know, the first time I saw Paula perform was at Edinburgh Fringe, taking part in the BBC EdFringe Slam and competing with her now-classic “Dear Straight Girl” piece. Since then I’ve shared a few stages with her, from Other Voices, pretty much every year we’ve had it, to her glorious import from Germany – notorious competition/ showcase/ much-needed balm for the soul and uniter of spoken word scenes: The Anti-Slam, where the worst poet “wins”. Paula has a talent for bringing the cringe, the things people think but don’t want to say, the horrible anecdotes of microaggression, and leaning right into that discomfort. I’m probably not explaining this very well. Okay. She uses incredible delivery and stagecraft along with a wicked precision of language to simultaneously lampoon and decry power structures in our society. I’ve seen her take on racism, sexism, homophobia, the complex nuances of chosen and bestowed identity, and the way art is valued and devalued in one breath by those with the money. Everything that is wrong with our consumerist kyriarchy gets ruthlessly highlighted and deconstructed, and she’s still managing to make you laugh even as you have one profound revelation after another. And she’s one of the most burlesque poets I know, still, using costume and prop and music and pose with finesse to highlight all of this. Will this encapsulation suffice? For the moment, it will have to…

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