Edinburgh is exploding at the moment. It appears that not a week goes by without at least two or three poetry or literary events to attend. There are four regular monthly readings nights which I know of, several writers groups and evening courses, one literary salon and what almost feels like a constant range of book, pamphlet and magazine launches, not to mention various festivals. Who can tell what will emerge from all this activity.
One thing that has emerged recently, is another, hopefully soon-to-be regular poetry night is TraVerses. What makes TraVerses, held at the Traverse Theater Bar/Cafe on Lothian Road, different is the fact that it specialises in poetry in collaboration. The collaboration could be as simple as poetry in several voice, or people from different disciplines coming together to create a work of poetry. I have written before on how interesting I find collaborative pieces, as when they work well the result is always greater than the sum of its parts.
The night also introduced me to several new poets who I had never seen before. The first was JoAnne McKay who grew up in Romford, but now lives in Scotland. Her poetry was mainly narrative, but also honest, funny, sad and compelling – in other words, realistic. No magical realism here, JoAnne gives you life as it is lived in all it’s shame and glory. Second was Simon Jackson, who again I had not seen before and amazed me with some technical looping thingy he did with musical instruments, to provide a background to his comic poems. Colin Donati then performed some of his own, and some others poetry set to music. It was all poignant and lovely and well performed, apart from the bit where I mistakenly heard him singing that we all needed Morissey, which it turns out isn’t true, and what we actually need is mercy. Who’d have thought.
Elspeth Murray and Richard Medrington did not disappoint, but watching them I get the feeling they rarely do. Their double act is given more spark by the cute role play they undertake on stage with Richard as the straight man asking Elspeth questions “Now, why Elspeth, do we perform this poem this way” and Elspeth playing the slightly flustered and comic wife “Well, it’s because we ah, practice the poem in bed, and, I lie on this side and him on that, and so we have to perform it this way round, or, it doesn’t work” she answers dazzling most of the audience with 1000 watt smile.
The last collaboration was Labyrinth of Wings. I must say that I rarely relish hearing the phrase “people may want to move about in the space in front of you” and this was no exception. It really wasn’t my cup of tea. There were two musicians, working their music on laptops at the back dressed in boiler suits and masks, three dancers, in masks, leather skirts, skin tight leotards, bra tops, fishnets and with body pain smeared on their skin, one puppeteer who made masks throughout the performance and sellotaped them to the poets head. I found it derivative and the set up of the group with men all playing the important or technical parts and the women scantily glad and dancing, therefore being reduced to voiceless objects, just a recreation of the sexism that has been rife in mainstream music for decades. I am more than fully aware that this is many people’s cup of tea, and that these performers really were trying to stretch boundaries and explore what poetry and performance are. The sad thing about it, for me, was that much of the poetry was swamped and washed away by the spectacle of the performance, before it could be properly heard or digested by the audience.
I’m really excited to see what will be on at the next TraVerses on the 13 December. It’s organiser Jennifer Williams will be looking for funding and hoping to extend the series into next year if they are successful, so please come along if you can.