Matt Magill explores the fascinating new exhibition at the Ikon Gallery, which pushes artistic boundaries and challenges our understanding of artWritten by Matthew Magill on 21st February 2017
Review: ‘Howl’, a Spoken Word Event
Naomi Simpson's view of the spoken word is transformed for the better, having attended 'Howl' at The Dark Horse in Moseley
“the evening for me was love at first rhyme
I have to admit, up until 7:45pm on the 8th of February, I was a spoken word sceptic. By 8:00pm, I was a fan. By 9:00pm, I was enthralled. Calling a spoken word event Howl is a risky business: promoting an inevitable comparison with the poetic powerhouse that is Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem of the same name, you run the risk of having your event be a little underwhelming. This is not a fear that the organisers and performers need have, as the evening swept the audience up in the intimacy of shared, public poetry. A romance of audience and performer, the evening for me was love at first rhyme.
“A spectacular departure from the emotionally charged works which had come before, this poem sounded more like the secretive scribblings on a school friend’s chemistry textbook than highbrow literature
Taking place at the quirky and almost too hipster to handle Moseley venue The Dark Horse, the event was kicked off by open-mic volunteers, each of whom brought something deeply individual to the stage. From the profound to the profane, the audience heard tales of loss –heart, voice, virginity, you name it – all underlined with the clear sense of regaining control of these moments through poetry. An undeniable highlight of these open-mic slots was a collaboration of two performers. Prompted to write a poem based on the theme ‘elements,’ they giggled their ways through an unabashedly awkward tale of desire told through the names of the chemical elements, which as it happens is a surprisingly rich hunting ground for innuendo. A spectacular departure from the emotionally charged works which had come before, this poem sounded more like the secretive scribblings on a school friend’s chemistry textbook than highbrow literature, and was all the more welcome for it.
“Anxious in demeanour but dominant in delivery, Luke Kennard's poetry was heavily metaphorical, taking everyday moments and giving them a cutting, soulful or hilarious twist as the subject dictated
The three headlining acts of the night, Bethany Slinn, and UoB’s own Sean Colletti and Luke Kennard, delivered sets which pushed spoken word in many different directions. As the first scheduled performer, Slinn was particularly powerful in her performance of a poem which took the simple act of washing sheets and drew the audience into the pain of a relationship lost. She may have requested her mum leave the room for the performance, but what was produced was an artistry to take absolute pride in. Honest and shattering, she was a joy to watch as she mourned lost intimacy with a rawness that came the closest to a howl of any of the poems. Sean Colletti took a vastly different approach to loss as his poetry incorporated music from the game The Legend of Zelda and lyrics by Chance the Rapper into an interactive exploration of grief. The poem’s emotional intensity hit its climax as he asked the audience to stand up and shout the names of people close to them who had died. The result of this collaborative stanza was a deeply moving ode to those lost by all in the room. Finally, the much-anticipated Luke Kennard came to the stage. Anxious in demeanour but dominant in delivery, his poetry was heavily metaphorical, taking everyday moments and giving them a cutting, soulful or hilarious twist as the subject dictated. To the audience’s surprise, the loudest howls of laughter came from Kennard’s ode to the viciousness of the payday loans company Wonga. Taking the image of a fly landing on a steak, Kennard explored exploitation, snowballing damage and unlikely comedy, to the audience’s delight. It may not have been hygienic, but it was humorous.
Proving that poetry’s place is outside the lecture hall and on the stage, Howl lived up to its name in its level of energy and emotion. By 10:30pm I had a new perspective: poetry is made to be spoken, yelled, whispered and howled.
Article by Naomi Simpson