Review of the Poetry and Musical Duo.
The little, cosy room at the heart of Exeter University was to be the setting of last evenings event. Fitted with soft black leather sofas and stools: textured paintings of seascapes hung on the walls, framing the conversing wine sippers.
I was glad I had arrived early, as the room quickly filled. The audience was diverse in both ages and professions, with students studying majors in finance attending. Marc Woodward had just today arrived home from New England, where he had been teaching music; quickly he and Andy Brown set up what was to be the stage, in a warm, illuminated corner of the room, occasionally plucking at an instrument or two.
The pair encouraged us to talk as they worked away, and I soon realised what an interesting audience the Duo had attracted. Many were writers themselves, and certainly lovers of poetry. “Can you write in shorthand?” I was asked, by the gentleman sitting next to me, as a hurriedly scribbled my thoughts on the atmosphere. “No,” I laughed, “but I have become a master at reading illegible handwriting!”, as the night progressed, I began to wish I could in fact write in short hand as there was just so much to soak up.
Andy began the readings, he held in his hand his new collection “Watersong” (Shearsman 2015). “Many of these poems are set in the Victorian era.” he said, “focusing particularly on the Cholera outbreak in Exeter.” He told us in his on-line interview that “Increasingly, [he is] interested in poems that engage with issues that touch upon our lives.” which he explained lead him to write poems focusing on this topic.
At first, he read his poem “Flying toilets of Kibera“ (Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya.) The poem here focused on the lives of of the inhabitants of the slums, particularly on children. He translated the meanings of the characters names into our English understanding which made the stories all the more powerful and lifelike. “Around 2,000 children under five die per day due to diarrhoeal diseases.” he says, just before he begins to read.
Personally, the most emotive line for me was when he defined a child’s name to mean “born in the rain” only to follow it with “washes his face in the tainted water.” Rain water creates connotations of purity and cleanliness, however this is destroyed by the “tainted water” of Kibera.
He followed “Flying toilets of Kibera” with works that were just as compelling and thought provoking, such as the rather amusing “The Unnameable Taxonomy.”, where he used puns and euphemisms to portray the many ways our society disguises that they are off to the W.C. He also read of “city leaders riding for country” away from Exeter, where a total of four hundred men, women and children died during the Cholera Outbreak of 1832. The amount of detailed research and unique themes used within this chapbook just goes to show how much Andy strives to interact with controversial but important issues in the lives of people today and those in the past. Additionally, the contrast of time frames and countries explains a lot about how the world has developed at very different rates. The state of Victorian Exeter very much alludes to the abhorrent and unacceptable conditions of modern day slums. The use of the uncomfortable themes of water hygiene and bowl movements strips us all down to our bare humanity, and reminded us, the audience, that we are all in fact one in the same.
Next up were Marc’s chosen readings from his new collection “A Fright of Jays.” (Maquette). “A lot of the inspiration for this chapbook came from my time working in farming/agriculture in North Devon.” said Marc, holding his book beautifully depicting Gabrielle Funk’s “Fighting Jays”. The first poem he read to us was called “Inheritance”, it quickly set the tone for a collection of poems that Marc himself described as some of his “darker bucolic, lyric poetry“. The traumatic tale told of the many overwhelming duties the agricultural industry demands of farmers and their families, ending, eerily with “John hangs lifeless from the rafters, waiting, turning, for Fred to find.”
Marc introduced his second reading “Eel Catching” (a poem containing clever word play that Marc was particularly pleased with as he told us in his on-line interview), telling us of how in “November…along the Taw, late at night” he would stand waiting for eels.
I really enjoyed the use of sibilance and other similar linguistic devices within this poem. The fact that the poem was performed, for me, only enhanced its effect as the eel is described as “One long, shiny, slimy, twisting muscle.” The harsh, lisping sounds made almost anthropomorphised the vulgarity of the eel; giving the creature a voice, and in-keeping with his dark theme, the poem goes into graphic detail of the eel’s prolonged and bloody death.
These two poems in succession left the audience feeling rather raw, so in order to lighten the mood, Marc read from his poem “Crisis” in which he explores how liberating destroying one’s mobile can be. His triumphant and excitable tone once the deed was done left the audience laughing and nodding in agreement. After this lighter piece, Marc read from others including a new piece he wrote whilst in New England, focusing on this year’s National Poetry Day’s theme of light.
As the poetry readings drew to an end, the pair invited us once more to top up and have a natter as they ensured everything was ready for the musical counterpart to the evening. I took this opportunity to discuss with other audience members what they love about poetry, which is what I think is so enjoyable about Exeter Poetry Festival – the chance to converse with like-minded people and share opposing views. Many wrote scribbles of poetry themselves and enjoyed this form of creativity, as it allowed the subjective to become objective, subjectively!
“I think we are both drawn to strong lyrics.” Marc said, introducing the musical performance, which from last night I believe to be true of their preference in poetry, for they are, I suppose, one in the same. They performed mainly covers, playing songs by the likes of The Wood Brothers, with earthly, blues themes. During this, they asked us to continue our conversations, listening to them in the background, in the “relaxing” way music was intended.
The Poetry and Musical Due, performed by Marc Woodward and Andy Brown, skilfully incorporated and evening of music and poetry readings. The lyrical tones of both their recently published chapbooks meant that it allowed for beautiful listening, along with the delicate craftsmanship put into the constructing of such wonderful works. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night!
Photographs from the evening are to come. Thank you to all those who attended. Follow us @exeterpoetry on twitter to tell us your thoughts.
Article: Elsbeth Beard.