Having ineptly triple-booked myself I was only able to make the first 90 mins of yesterday’s Saboteur awards. This meant I missed a great line-up of printed poets that I really wanted to hear (not to mention the evening awards ceremony), but did at least catch the afternoon Spoken Word session.
I don’t have much time for the “page vs stage” Punch & Judy divide – in part because it’s less a divide than a continuum, but also because anyone who’d write off large chunks of poetry in either direction on grounds of genre (or any criterion other than quality) is an idiot. Poetry is made of sound and the good stuff is pretty much all a kind of spoken music, regardless of the tradition or form it inhabits.
Yesterday’s session was great, with the brilliantly energizing James Webster MC’ing a strong (and varied) line-up. I loved the atmosphere: well-attended, warm and generous, with the book fair and performances both radiating a sense of genuine, vibrant community. This is how poetry ought to be, and hats off to the Sabotage editors for making it happen.
As someone who comes from the “page” side of the non-existent divide, I’m often struck by how formal a lot of the best performance poetry is. Rhythm and rhyme are unashamedly important and unashamedly structural. When Florence O’Mahoney declaims
I met you with all your shit together
a well-prepared commuter’s umbrella
for the weather
the rhyme (accompanied by strong stresses) holds the thing together in a way that’s not a million miles away from
dies ire, dies illa
solvit saeclum in favilla
teste David cum Sybilla.
Granted, the two are eight hundred years apart, unrecognizably different in their content, context and tone, but in both the stressed triple rhyme is not only alive but the pulse (and in many ways the point) of the poem. Yes, strong rhyme can be repetitive and conventional and predictable and just plain bad – reminiscent of countless poems sewn together from the body-parts of other poems with no chance of even artificial life – but when it works it can be fabulous and energizing.
Likewise for rhythm. At a time when a lot of printed poetry is straining to be conversational and rhythmically understated, it’s important to remember that in many ways poetry is rhythm. The best performance poetry is an urgent reminder of this, regardless of where we sit on the continuum or in which branch of the same tree we choose to make our songs. Hence part of the joy of having page, stage and even (whisper it) prose all mingling and bouncing off each other at the Saboteur awards.
Thanks to the Sabotage team for a great 90 minutes of what I’m sure was a continuingly great day. Next year I’ll be sure to keep better control of my diary and attend the whole thing.