The Verse’s Hannah Aston reviews the annual Brighton and Hove Arts Council Poetry Festival 2017, at Hove’s the Old Market on Saturday 18th November 2017.
Britain’s Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy.
Brighton’s own Punk Poet Attila the Stockbroker.
Slam Poets tearing down the Old Market, and the winners of the Student and Open poetry competitions.
The annual BHAC Poetry Festival 2017 brought us a riot of laughs, heartfelt poems, musical interludes by John Sampson, and an abundance of wordsmiths.
Ushered into the beautifully lit bar and foyer of the Old Market in Hove, this years’ Poetry Festival felt decadent and exciting, far removed from the chill settling outside. Live music in the Bar area from Ela Southgate and Matt Wall from the Jazz Agency set a sultry mood for the evening. And soon enough, at 4pm the event began with the epic poetry slam from Hammer and Tongue.
Kicking off the Poetry Festival, Michael Parker of UK poetry slam group Hammer and Tongue – described as ‘reinventing the medium for the hip-hop generation’ – hosted the Big Poetry Slam Competition. He geared the afternoon audience into wild poetry enthusiasts as they scored each performer out of 10 and cheered along to these pioneering performers.
Filing this lineup: A.P Staunton delivered a flawless poem celebrating his working-class roots. Jake Marmot sauntered onto the stage and blazed into blistering verse attacking ‘the Man’, while Shell Hugget enveloped us with a beautiful piece about regaining her mother from addiction. Bobby Capper also delivered lyrically sharp messages of the pain of losing someone dear. Robin Lawley yelled ‘No!’ at Dawkins. Emma Robdale transformed us into a she-wolf in the rebellion of men criticising female leg hair. Daniel Searle’s darkly humorous consideration of Southern Rail was gleeful and scathing. Alison Rumfitt seared our hearts with a search for love and identity. Connor Byrne, whilst unfortunately Chris Parkinson couldn’t be there, filled the stage with his presence and delivered another scintillating performance. Beautifully written and performed, each poem made us think about what we have and what we’ve lost. But there had to be a winner, and A.P Staunton was crowned the Slam Champion.
At 5.30pm: the runners-up and winners of the Student and Open Poetry Competitions. From the giddy exaltation of the slam poets, the atmosphere slowed into consideration for the everyday poet hiding in Sussex.
Competition judge and head lecturer of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Brighton, Dr Jess Moriarty stated the need for poetry ‘now more than ever’. Each poet who entered was congratulated for creating brave, honest and beautiful work in a true celebration of the craft. Each student winner was also presented with a prize from Carol Ann Duffy herself, assuredly ticking a few bucket-list boxes! The overall winner was Patricia Osborne from the University of Brighton.
Each of the seven shortlisted poets delivered their work to the almost full-capacity room, dim lights forgiving the occasional shaky hands. There was exquisite work about family, love, loss, Brexit and the Sussex countryside. Out of nearly 600 entries, these poems sang into the shortlist. Overall, it was the cultural commentary in ‘Brexit Blues’ that won the £1,000 prize, and a handshake from Carol Ann Duffy.
Attila the Stockbroker was next. True to his self-titled status as Brighton’s’ ‘Punk Poet’ he blistered the stage with witty, ‘in yer face’ poems and songs, which livened the audience into a riotous mood. Ripping into Brexit then celebrating the ‘spirit of life’ and singing songs for his wife, Attila was a crowd-pleaser and rebellion teaser. He brought fire to the Poetry Festival.
The creme de la creme, however, was Carol Ann Duffy’s performance. Accompanied by Edinburgh-based professional musician John Sampson, Britain’s Poet Laureate reminded us why she was just that. Christmas Truce took us to No Mans Land; Mrs Faust was considered being renamed The Third Mrs Trump. Mrs Tyresius gave us a feminist voice through a classics-inspired piece. Duffy performed work from The World’s Wife, and protested GSCE syllabus bans in deliciously scathing poetry. It was an hour of intelligent, emotive poetry which celebrated the power of words.
The evening championed public voice, poetry as a craft and our power to put forth messages with words. This years’ BHAC Poetry Festival reminded us that change happens one voice at a time. That poetry brings us together, in protest, compassion, fear, and love, and is needed now more than ever.
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