sat 15/08/2020

Pop-Up Poetry, Udderbelly | reviews, news & interviews

Pop-Up Poetry, Udderbelly

Pop-Up Poetry, Udderbelly

Poetry as stand-up proves a mixed bag with a stand-out star

First up and MC-ing the evening was Luke Wright, who co-programmes the poetry arena at Latitude, is a poet in residence on Radio 4’s Saturday Live and has curated two Pop-Up Poetry evenings at Udderbelly (the second of which is next month). At 28, the Essex native is almost a veteran, having performed since his teens, and he is a very talented writer indeed. His prolific subject matter ranges from the serious to the silly, from love to politics and much in between. He performed an oldie, a favourite of mine, the Ballad of Fat Josh, which has the opening stanza:

Fat Josh – his forehead dripped with lard
his manner blunt as bricks
he led a gang of burly boys
with swear words on their lips
an appetite for violence
and a bigger one for chips

It's typical of Wright's work, a sideways look at an everyday subject, a little mean but very funny. Wright’s latest collection is called Cynical Ballads and he also performed an exquisite, moving tale from it, The Ballad of Chris and Ann’s Fish Bar, a fantastical creation that was prompted by seeing a broken shop sign near his home. The letters A, N, N and S had fallen off, but in Wright’s fertile mind they had been taken down by a deserted, bitter husband and he wove a moving tale of a relationship from first sighting to parting words in a few entrancing minutes.

Tim Key, winner of last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award, was next. I should say immediately that I’m not a fan; I find his whimsy wearing and his oh-so fey meanderings about nothing very much (peacocks, girlfriends, recipes) set my teeth on edge. His one-note, deadpan style grates, too, and kills many a good joke - those of his poems that have punchlines need, well, a little punch. I do, however, love his quickies and I laughed out loud at the only one he gave us: “Tanya Googled herself.... Still nothing”. It was perfectly delivered and made me wish I liked his shows more.

And then Laura Dockrill, of whom less would still be way too much. Her lengthy offerings were neither witty nor well written, and someone should tell her that shouting is not performing, and being wacky doesn’t make you interesting.

But best was to come last, in the form of Kate Tempest, who, ahem, stormed the room with three exquisite, passionate, heartfelt, beautifully written - and expertly performed - pieces. Tempest, who is a slam poet, rapper and musician, moulds words into rich, stinging metaphors but I cannot do her work justice by attempting to describe or analyse it. The south Londoner has a stunning talent and an understanding of the human psyche that belies her 24 years, as evidenced by End Times:

I can smell the thunder coming
I can smell the rain
Look you’re the only one I ever knew

Whose eyes could hold the flame without burning like the others burnt
She told me Hell was to blame
And I told her Hell’s a choice we make and Blake would tell the same....

Tempest's work is about love, life, her love of words and much else besides and, although she says her stuff is serious, it's frequently funny while having a big emotional punch. I urge you to seek her out.

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