So, Saturday night I fancied checking out some performance poetry. I was thinking of an open mic venue staging beginners alongside professionals. It’s a skill I admire and love to watch but I don't think I'd ever have the nerve. Performance is just not my forte. Then again, if I found a venue with an easy atmosphere and I went along regularly, who knows, maybe one day I would have the courage to stand behind the mic... Well, I never made the open mic. Here’s what happened instead:
Googling ‘Performance Poetry London’ took me to TimeOut. TimeOut took me to WriteOutLoud. WriteOutLoud took me to Remi Kanazi & Guests: An Evening of Political Performance Poetry. Remi Kanazi is a poet, writer and activist for the Middle East. Great, I thought. I’m fascinated by the poetry of different cultures.
I got to The Tabernacle, w11 just before the gig started. So, with a glass of wine in hand, I headed straight upstairs. The room was small and intimate and as I weaved my way through the tables to find a seat I began to feel self-conscious about being on my own. Is that weird – that I went out by myself on a Saturday night? I just don’t know anyone who’d be interested in performance poetry and I didn’t want to drag someone along just to accompany me. I found a table at the back on a higher tier. I’ll just blend in here, I thought, setting up camp. But as soon as I settled in some people arrived, friends of the table next to me. I can move over, I offered, as they tried to cram chairs around the one table. Thanks so much, that’s very kind of you. No problem. I shifted to the far side of my table, feeling better now really as I was sharing, I wouldn’t stick out. Then more of the party arrived. Is it just the two of you? Would you mind moving over? It’s just the one of me. No, I don’t mind. It was like one of those movies when the insecurity gets exposed. What were the chances I’d pre-emptively crash a large group? Then more of them arrived. This time I folded my leaflet slowly before looking up. Ugh. I hate it when people tilt their head and smile no matter what they’re saying. I didn’t really mind moving again though. What difference would it make to me? Well, my forth seat was next to the camera and there was a wire hanging down from a balcony above, obscuring my view. After a few minutes of internal tutting about the whole thing I spotted individual seats along the side. There was still space in the front row. Once settled with a perfect view, a low bar in front of me for my drink and plenty of foot room, I willed the performance to start, cause people were chatting around me and I was reading the hell out of this leaflet.
And then it began. For two hours I sat in awe watching great poets race through their material to get as much of it in to their timeslot as possible. Every word straight from the belly. So intense and in-your-face that by the end I felt high, as if I had been on stage too. There was music intermingled with the poems. A little rap. A little reggae. A little audience participation. Every performance was so polished and smart and entertaining and shocking, it blew me away.
Remi Kanazi delivers anger and a desire for clear thinking with standup humour. And as a Palestinian-American he does a great impression of the Liberal attempt to intellectualise the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He darts about the stage ad-libing in between poems and it’s all raw and funny and poignant at the same time.
Earlier we had Zita Holbourne, a poet, artist and activist from East London. With an easy yet uncompromising delivery, to me, she's an inspiring woman who demonstrates the power of poetry. Here’s a video of her performing Multiculturalism - a response to David Cameron.
Towards the start of the evening we had Poetic Pilgrimage. I LOVE when women break stereotypes. It gives us all more air to breath.
We were rushed for time at the end, running over 10:30. It’s a shame. I would have loved to have heard more. Filtering out slowly, on the way to the bar and merchandise, the artists mingled with the audience. People swarmed around them with questions and a bit about themselves. As I stood in the queue to have Poetic Injustice signed by Remi, I heard the woman ahead of me say, ‘That was the best night out I've had in a long time.’ Inspired, humbled and exhilarated, I had to agree.