by Eli Lambe

The Poetry Collective’s bi-monthly poetry open-mic has been running for three years, hosted in a variety of venues across Norwich. Yet it’s the trendy hub, The Birdcage that has become a favourite platform for both new and established performers.  Described by one of the performers (Johnny Raspin) as “The best poetry night in Norwich”, it’s easy to see how this endorsement was earned. The hosts, Freddie and Jodie, are enthusiastic and lovely, the venue filled up very quickly, despite the weirdly autumnal weather, and the casual back and forth between host, performers and audience created an atmosphere of community and support.

The night began with an endearingly honest set by one of the hosts, Jodie Santer, who moved through topics including politics, coming-of age and love. She shared a poem written for her younger sister, bringing together fears about growing up with social expectations and misogyny; a powerful and relatable piece. Eoghan Lavery followed with a vividly Shakespearean monologue about ageing, technology and remorse entitled “Winter”, which was masterfully and dynamically delivered. He performed the poem as its narrator, bringing the audience through the reflections of an old man viewing his childhood on a projector.  

Next up, was Zach Lambert, a musician, who performed spoken word for the first time, and managed to capture and critique the unhealthy expectation that a relationship would mean salvation, and that women exist to make men into their best selves, in a grandiose and vulnerable piece. He had a good grasp of rhythm and flow, although some of the lines were questionable – in the poem “White Grass Mobster” for example, there was a line about “kissing transvestite policemen” which made me wince.

Thankfully, Hazel Thomas came to the rescue with brilliantly witty poetry about Brexit, homesickness and death. “Misplaced” joined the Brexit-literature canon with biting lines such as “the story is bigger than you” and “Give up control / It was never ours to take back”. Her second poem, “My Country Yene Hagere” was affectionate, with heavy nostalgia embedded in the repetition of “My country, yene hagere, is miles away from me.” The final poem in her set, “Contagious Life” was warmly funny, and dealt with cultural fear of death in a genuine and solid way, beginning what was to be a recurring theme for the rest of the evening.  

Bringing humour and narrative to the stage, Patrick Widdess started with a meditation on temporality and ephemerality in “Snowman”, following it with a fantastically funny collection of limericks about wild animals. I wasn’t sure what to make of the poems “Hollywood actress” and “Feeding the Spacemen”, but “Umbrellas” had a real narrative strength and humour. Next up, was Luke Murgatroyd who thanked Jodie and Fred for their support, describing them as a “sounding board for everything I’ve been practising” before moving into a set that explored possessiveness, insecurity and self-sabotage in relationships with a solid grasp of rhythm and flow. Luke is working on producing music over poetry, and invited collaborators to join the project, “Billy Pilgrim and the Heartsease Kid” in blending the two forms together.

Olly Watson’s very energetic set began with “My Crisis Poem”, a touching, narrative poem about trying to find a crisis in a carvery and ended with an excerpt from his upcoming hour-long epic  that he’ll be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. The poem, “A Thatcher’s Guide to Dogging” is wonderfully eclectic, and explores long-term relationships honestly and sweetly, taking a refreshingly non-judgemental look at kink and romance as complementary. He has been collaborating with a local artist, Flora Mol, to raise money for his Edinburgh show with this collection of deliciously rude postcards.

I’m struggling with Ryan McIntosh’s performance – whilst I am able to forgive a lot of a first-time stand-up comedy routines, I felt that he relied far too heavily on tired, clichéd jokes at the expense of marginalised communities, and ended up working through a checklist of “edgy” white guy humour tropes. His delivery was confident and well-timed, but the content was just offensive for the sake of being offensive, and didn’t deliver any humour, which was a shame. Were he to try again with some material from this decade, he might have a great act.

He was followed by Piers Harrison-Reid, a local NHS nurse who delivered beautiful verse about relationships and death. His first poem was interspersed with excerpts from a song, and his singing voice was astonishing. It was honest, loving and heartfelt. His second poem, a response to the first patient-death he witnessed as a young nursing student was deeply emotional, rhythmically perfect, and covered the cyclicity of birth and death with an original intensity drawn from deep personal experience.

Johnny Raspin ended the night with a set that began with a response to a loved-one’s suicide, and honestly this is the first of Raspin’s performances that I have genuinely connected with and enjoyed. The poem was mournful, angry, unpretentious, and delivered with passion and vulnerability. It was full of striking lines about the state of mental health services in the UK, such as “They’re gaining wealth whilst I’m losing friends.” The rest of his set was energetically delivered. “Salt and Light Girl”, dedicated to his wife, was sweet-if-tropey, but the other two poems he performed were heavily referential and might have benefitted more from an effort to subvert the cliches he was employing so liberally.

Even with the occasional hiccup – which, for an open-mic poetry night were surprisingly few and far between – the night was hugely enjoyable. The atmosphere created by the hosts was a perfect example of the warmth involved in the Norwich poetry scene, and encouraged a solid mix of emerging and established artists. I’m looking forward to attending, and performing at, the next Poetry Collective Open Mic in September.

If you missed this one, luckily much of the night is filmed, and you can check out the performances on both their YouTube and Facebook channels.

Featured image provided by The Poetry Collective

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