Words & pics by Ed King @edking2210
A while ago, after reading one of my reviews, someone called me ‘a poet’. I’m not. Aside from the occasional toe dip into verse (mostly ending up as scribbled early morning rage) I am a writer of prose and a journalist.
But in a colloquial sense this description was awarded due to my ‘use of language’, which was ‘poetical’ to the aforementioned reader. And not wanting to a) dismiss a compliment, b) open up a broad and diverse comparison, or c) sound like a total wanker, I shrugged off both the adulation and wider conversation with “… you know, I’m not sure what being a ‘poet’ means anymore.” I may have failed to avoid point ‘c’.
“It’s funny, I had this discussion with my friend Anthony recently,” admits Helen Calcutt – poet, and curator of Regional Voice’s Love Poetry event being held at The Dance Workshop in Moseley on Saturday 14th March.
“To me, a poet is someone who can filter their inspirations and the condition of the world around them as they see it, into incredibly heightened, visual and dramatic language. They have a particular kind of intelligence that other people can struggle to understand. And I’m not saying it’s all about editing, but you really have to think about what it is to write a poem. A poet knows everything starts with voice and finishes with it; but what happens in-between, to shape that voice, and to make the work the best that it can possibly be, can take years.” Helen pauses at her conclusion. “It’s a hard art forms for anyone to tackle; there’s the initial gift, then there’s learning your craft.”
I first met Helen Calcutt after reading ‘Dawn’, a poem she had written about the less than silent world of Goa – a place I was living in at the time and recognised in her verse despite the poem’s deliberate lack of obvious context. ‘And now, in animal red, from a tree of bones, the murmuring convicts start speaking’. Crows in the morning.
With one collection, Sudden rainfall, published by Perdika Press, and another in the pipeline, Helen is a jobbing poet – a working mum who is protective over her ‘craft’. And finding her confidence after winning a school competition as a young child, “I wrote a poem about a fox; I remember the ending being about paw prints in snow”, Helen found her voice in poetry over prose.
“Poetry is what I’ve always been drawn to the most. I’ve never been interested in reading prose or writing it, not that much. And after spending 10 years on the dance floor (Helen also trained as a dancer) I focused back on poetry when I was about 20, when I had my first proper boyfriend.” So did love ultimately inspire you? “Unfortunately, I think so; the soppy truth.”
But modern times are a maelstrom of artistic expression; the creative industries have created industries, the Internet has given bedroom recordings a global stage, whilst the tide of arts funding ensures a constant state of flux for those tenacious enough to apply. We live in interesting times, with enough coffee shop audiences to make a lot of it viable. Sometimes. But what about poetry?
“There is a feeling at the moment in poetry,” explains Helen, “there’s a divide; some poets feel it (the poetry scene) is going where it should be and it’s a golden age, whilst are others, like me, feel that it’s lost. Writers have lost connection with the centre of their work – i.e. the words, not the performance. The heart of it is being lost by a new wave, pop culture straddling, poetry performance that’s come about in the last ten years, maybe less, and is now at its peak. But even that’s starting to die; nothing is changing, nothing is evolving.”
It’s not been mentioned but I’m sensing a reaction to what I have penned ‘the recent Spoken Word Phenomenon’. “Yes, Love Poetry is about loving the poetry and not just the performance. Love Poetry is a theatre space for page poets who are powerful, who deliver the work with a voice that is theirs, not affected. I find a lot of Spoken Word performers and writers are very affected; it doesn’t have the ring of truth, to me, and this event is a counter to that.”
I sit on the fence with Spoken Word, a phrase I find oddly offensive, having seen it done both well and with an undue sense of pretension; I once heard someone refer to themselves, on camera, as ‘a word artist’. But the wide reception of it, creating an almost overnight army of coffee shop devotees, has arguably brought verbal expression back into popular culture. Even if it’s mainly Hipsters who read good it’s not uncommon to see a well attended midweek event.
“I think one of the positive things that Spoken Word has tried to do is to bring poetry to a wider audience,” agrees Helen, “but the lack of quality in the work is now starting to alienate some people.The audiences aren’t stupid; they can hear when something doesn’t have the ring of truth, they can hear the lack of integrity.
And I’m not saying Spoken Word doesn’t have its place, when it’s good it’s really good,” Helen has booked a Spoken Word performer for Love Poetry, Birmingham born LD Henriquez, “but at the moment there’s not a lot of good Spoken Word and performance poetry out there. That is, in itself, becoming lost, and in the noise of all that, the good writing and poets are arguably becoming more and more isolated. If anything it feels like many of the events are just one thing heaped on top of another; some promoter saying, ‘I can’t think of anything to do with this poetry night. I know, let’s have a vintage dress code.’”
Love Poetry makes it event debut on Saturday March 14th, with Welsh poet Paul Henry reading alongside Scotland’s Janette Ayachi and local voices LD Henriquez and Samantha Hunt. Why have you chosen these poets to help shift the plates a little?
“I wanted to bring something new to Birmingham and not just draw on the same Birmingham voices. I chose Paul (Henry) because he’s a very gifted page poet; he’s also very worldly, he’s been writing for a long time and been published widely.” Paul Henry has nine books of verse already published and will be launching his latest, Boy Running, at the Love Poetry event.
“A further reason I chose Paul is because whilst an audience will have to think about his writing, it still draws you in slowly; it’s very warm. He’s quite quiet but his writing and his delivery are quite powerful. When Paul reads it’s not a huge ‘performance’, it’s a controlled, measured, strong delivery just about anyone can appreciate. Janette (Ayachi) is of the same ilk.”
And how about the more local contributions? “Samantha (Hunt) is a local poet I’ve worked with before who’s very accomplished; I wanted to give her a chance to read alongside poets like Paul and Janette. LD (Henriquez) is a performance poet who applied for a floor spot,” there were open spots at Love Poetry by selected submission only, “and the work she sent me took me back and made me think. I could hear that she’d thought about the language, and the performance she sent me (recorded on video) was really measured; there was a bit of music and it was quite experimental. I thought that would be a good introduction to the evening.”
Also performing at Love Poetry will be singer/songwriter Hannah Brown, who Helen booked to ‘broaden the audience’ and encourage attention with a wider scope than just poetry. “I just think she’s fabulous and in keeping with the tone of the evening. Hannah will open the night then we’ll go straight on with poetry all the way through. It used to be like that; Dylan Thomas would perform to a packed out house in New York, full of people who weren’t poets, they were artists and audiences from across the board.”
It’s a wonderful ambition – to revive the days of honey tongued writers with something considered to say. But I can be cynical about Birmingham’s event scene, having watched too many good intentions get shot down by friendly fire. I’m almost nervous to ask but has Love Poetry attracted many non-poets to Saturday’s debut?
“Yes, it’s been great. We’ve had uptake from the Universities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and many of the advance bookings aren’t people I know to be poets or writers. The idea of Love Poetry is to bring well crafted, controlled, worldly writing to a wider public – to broaden the audience and bring poetry out of this murky world of being just only for poets, or nobody at all. That’s always been the aim, for this event to be a starting point.”
Sounds like it’s working, for this Saturday at least. But whilst a new audience is certainly promising, why the lack of immediate peer support? “I’m not sure, but it could be because I haven’t asked them to read. Or perhaps people aren’t sure where to place something that’s not the same kind of coffee house gig or Spoken Word event. Maybe they’re not sure if they want to be involved.”
Hmmm. Poets not supporting a poetry night… there’s a line in there somewhere. But I’m writer of prose and a journalist; it’s my curse to be solitary and clever. I’ll leave cliques to the artistes.
Love Poetry will be held at The Dance Workshop in Moseley on Saturday March 14th, with readings from Paul Henry, Janette Ayachi, LD Henriquez & Samantha Hunt – alongside music from Hannah Brown. Doors open at 7:30pm, with tickets priced at £8 (advance) and £10 (on the door).
For online booking & event information, visit http://www.designmynight.com/birmingham/whats-on/experience/love-poetry
For more on Paul Henry, visit http://www.paulhenrypoet.co.uk/
For more on Janette Ayachi, visit http://janetteayachi.webs.com/
For more on Helen Calcutt, visit http://helencalcutt.org/