Saturday night.... Just back from ‘Lit Up’ – 3 day showcase/conference in Kendal for anyone and everyone with a passion for poetry performance and spoken-word. Here’s the stats: 21 events, more than 120 delegates, over 70 artists and performers – the biggest showcase of contemporary ‘live literature’ in the UK ever.
The aim was to show the range of work around, from trad performance poetry through storytelling and story-reading to poetry-led drama – with, of course, nightly poetry slams. All this in the superb venue (& with the top class organisation) of The Brewery in Kendal. As a Londoner I’m not a fan of North, and have to admit I didn’t even know where I was headed as my train journey tacked across country, simply assuming I'd arrive in a place of chill and darkness, and packing jumpers accordingly. Emerging at Kendal I find sun like apricot bloom on soft hillsides and a trafficky but beautiful town, with tiny alleys and archways and interesting charity shops… and a K shoe outlet with amazing bargains…
Back to the event. And to begin at the beginning: Aisle 16, bringing EDUTAINMENT to the people. The portraits in the attics may be losing their grip a bit, except for Luke (“Not streetwise, more cul-de-sac cunning”) Wright, but these guys are still a brilliant intro to Why Poetry Is Not Shit.
After supper with the other South-west delegates, we rush into the Being Alive event, where actors read the words of poems from this popular Bloodaxe anthology. For me there’s a slight Jack-factor (as in Will & Grace) in this representation of authentic personal experience through actors voices and timing, but I can see this might well widen the appeal of the Live-Lit genre, which is what we all want.
I’m wiped after the journey, and so is my friend Grace from Salisbury Poetry Café, so we go back to our B&B to redefine rocknroll as watching telly in bed with a cuppa….
Next day starts with a discussion session, and then stifled sobs throughout The Journey, a mix of storytelling and music which brings a Kurdish emigrant's journey close to that of every human heart. For contrast, there’s Rob Gee with The Brighter Side’s poignancy through humour, and then thought-provoking scratch performances from four of the Apples and Snakes stable of poets. Straight into the World Poets Tour – translations from African and Mexican poems – then just about time to grab a sandwich & a glass of wine before Patrick Gale’s crisp but ghoulish short story Wig, followed by the late night Poetry Slam which is slickly compered by that incomparable duo Marcus Moore & Sarah-Jane Arbury. Grace & I are judges of ‘audience reaction’ and the winner is Morag Reid, Apples & Snakes outreach worker. She's as surprised as she is chuffed.
Friday, and 10 more events lined up. I managed to see all the shows except one which clashed with a marketing talk - & which turned out to be the fave-event of just about everyone I spoke to: Four Fathers, one of whom is poet James Nash:
Part of the appeal, as well as excellence of writing, was agreed to be the simplicity of delivery – ironic, really, as nearly every other event bragged lighting, music, and state-of-the-art technology. It’s a fine line: Tell Tales, 5 writers reading their short stories, struggled to present words against the distraction of soundtrack – but I Hear Voices, 3 rap poets using sound and movement to create tales of alienation, was stunning - a real high-spot of the event.
But if poetry is a way to engage with feelings of displacement and isolation, let’s not forget it’s sexy too. Till Death Us Do Part didn’t. The Brewery Arts home team created a theatrical piece which has us all tingling, reminding us that words aren't the only, or even the most essential, communication.
The evening - and the whole Lit Up event - ends sensationally with the hi-energy of Mark Gwynne Jones & the Psychicbread, poetry you can dance to, and the final Slam, won jointly by Rob Gee and Ben Mellor.
And then we party…
Overall evaluation? A brilliant, inspirational event - tick-box 'excellent' for nearly every presentation. Discussions were useful too. It may be true that 'Live Literature is a genre that needs a kick-start', but there's a lot of dynamic people out here ready to put the boot in.
Me and Grace with poets Lucy English, Rob Gee, and Marcus Moore (he's the one with the ciggy)