It seems that in recent years, performance poetry has moved on from the baring-of-pretentious-self captured so perfectly in the musical Rent. If it hadn't, I don’t believe Edinburgh’s favourite purple farm animal would have hosted not one, but two poetry readings on the Southbank. I know, I know, the Southbank is the home of that onomatopoeic closed-eyes and swaying group; but the Udderbelly is just that little bit too 2010, too hip and stylish and y’know ‘cool’ to allow any performances from the old school.
Certainly there was a different flavour to the two evenings. The first offered a fully loaded menu of poets and, like an Extra Large Double Bacon Cheeseburger, it was a mixed bag, liable to make you feel little queasy by the end. Some of that queasiness was from laughter – Tim Key is a personal favourite of mine, storming the Edinburgh Fringe last year and perfecting the art of deadpan stand-up crossover. He was, as ever, hilarious. The gherkin in the middle was Laura Dockrill, whose debut collection Mistakes in the Background is gorgeous, stylish, quirky and right on-the-money when it comes to character studies. Her performance, however, was over-rehearsed and squawking – a bit new-style-old-style. She needs a hug and someone to tell her to calm down; she’s embarrassing the audience, and no-one likes to be disappointed.
Our burger bap (if that can be said without being insulting) must be the MC and organiser Luke Wright, who was steadfast and solid, with the ever-enthusiastic manner of the compere. But he was a pretty great poet in his own right; not of the chequered-shirt, new-indie set, but suited and booted with a pocket full of ballads. The last poet he introduced was Kate Tempest, who, of all the poets taking part in the two evenings, was the only one to bare her soul in that scary, rather uncomfortable way that is so raw and heartfelt it makes you leave feeling a little guilty.
I felt even more guilty when, a month later, I headed back to the Udderbelly to see Byron Vincent and the debut poetic performance of Chris Addison, and found the audience teeming. Obviously, appearances on Mock the Week and The Thick of It can boost your poetry pulling power. I watched Luke Wright (again) and Byron Vincent – excellent, in a Tim Key way, sweet and funny and bullied at school; most poets are. But I watched them through the screen of the video recorder the woman in front of me was holding up. The woman who had been flashing her iPad, her iPhone and flicking through her friend’s Blackberry. The joys of our connected age.
Which is why I was especially happy when Chris Addison pointed out the offending red light, leaped across the front two rows and commandeered the flashing device. If anything can endear you to someone, that will. Then he launched into his Cautionary Tales, inspired by Hillaire Belloc and reminding me of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Claiming that he only re-read the four-year-old verses on the train, Addison has obviously been trained in winging it, but the poetry was well written and well crafted and well...amusing (though a little far-fetched at times and a little too close to home with rants against smokers and those with tattoos...he forgot the poetic audience.) But what a performance – if only we could all be so calm (if a little shaky) at our debuts.
But thanks Udderbelly, Luke Wright, poets of London, but most of all Chris Addison, for improving the viewing experience and quashing that technology victim for half an hour.