Friday, 11 April 2014

Wise Words Spoke N' Word

This is the third in my series of blog posts about the Wise Words Festival.  I was debating rolling this into the Dizraeli Poetry Slam post as it featured some of the same poets, but the entire experience was so different that it deserves a post of its own.

The morning after the Poetry Slam, I headed into town, via a tiny little coffee shop called Willows Secret Kitchen (post coming soon) and into the Greyfriars Garden.  The gardens are kinda hidden.  Right opposite the entrance to the Old Brewery Tavern there is an innocuous looking gate with a rickety, uneven pebble path leading past some quintessential English cottages, over the picture perfect river and into the gardens by the old Chapel.  Honestly, if you had lifted the scene from a biscuit box it could not have been more perfect.
You follow the breadcrumb trail of little cards that lie scattered in unexpected places around the gardens and grounds to make you ponder and think and enter into a wide open space, secluded from the rest of Canterbury with the glass structure of the Marlowe Theatre pointing towards the heavens in the distance.  Wooden benches line the grass which is sprouting with spring daisies and small rock lights litter the path, illuminating the borders at night.
The yurt is a brilliant structure that has been constructed purely for the Festival.  It has an opening in the ceiling to allow the sunlight to stream in and bathe the people who lie reclining on cushions that would not have been out of place in the desert, a feeling magnified by the fact that the Sahara was raining red sand on the vehicles of Canterbury.  Small and intimate, you can interact and banter with the poets, performers, writers and philosophers who all take their turn at the stage over the course of the weekend.  The atmosphere is relaxed and informal - creativity is encouraged, tea, coffee and croissants provided for nourishment and you can bring your knitting or needlepoint into the yurt if you so please.
On the Saturday morning I was at the Yurt for Spoke N' Word, listening to poetry from some of the same poets as the night before.  I took my place reclining on one of the cushions on the floor, iPad balanced precariously on one knee, camera and phone ready at my side. Wind rattled the canvas above our heads as we listened to Michael's poems of Glastonbury, a festival for a poem about a festival.  Comfortable laughter rained out as each poet drew us into his or hers lovingly created world.
Dan takes the stage, unceremoniously pushing Michael off and back into his seat.  You know that these poets are friends, they share looks and laughs that speak of a familiarity with each other.  He pulls out the smallest of small notebooks; a small book for a small poem.  These are short fire little poems, with short applause to match, a single, solitary clap following each poesy, the volume of the clap demonstrating the level of our appreciation.  We move from astute observations on life to twists on folk lore and nursery rhymes right back to existential and contemplative musings. It is clear that the darker and more twisted the observation, the greater the appreciation from the audience.
Emrys sings his ditties and the atmosphere is comfortable, warm and friendly.  It feels like being in an old friends living room with people you have known your entire life. The tent grows warmer, we sink into a relaxed reverie as the poetry hums like a bedside nursery rhyme in our ears.  Eyes close around the tent as people regress into the depths of their own psyche's, giving themselves permission to react emotionally to the words drifting in the air.
Sven comes to the stage and the atmosphere shift as he starts off with a poem about how ineffective careers advisers are in schools.  He is slightly taken aback when a man in the audience announces that he was one.  The audience are full of encouragement and he perseveres regardless, creating much mirth.   The man takes it all with good humour and the yurt rings out with cascading peals of laughter.
The previous evening Lucy had allowed us to choose between superheroes, zombies or love. We had chosen zombies then so this morning we got superhero's and her feeling of being a superhero in her alter-ego of standup comic, away from the classrooms that she teaches in by day.  So many of us have lives outside of work, aspects of our personality and characters that are hidden in the 9-5 grind and it made her poetry incredibly easy to relate to.
The final poet was one I had not heard before.  Joelle is a previous Slam Poetry winner from London and she spoke of her work with disadvantaged kids, of the girls in gangs, Rapunzel's locked away in their grey tower blocks and her plea to them to cut off their hair and free themselves.  She entreats them to not wait for Prince Charming to come and rescue them, as the Prince Charming who arrives is a viper who poisons and turns and twists them into shadows of their former selves.  She also speaks of the boys in gangs, trapped and dead eyed, twin poems that are sonnets to the lost youth of the inner city.  There were people openly weeping in the sun dappled yurt, a world away from the world she describes when she finished. 
The poetry was easily one of my favorite aspects of the Festival and one that I would be keen to track down more of.  I've not listened to much poetry before, having always assumed that it would be dry, stale and all too similar to the poetry I was forcefed as part of my English Literature A-Level.  I could not be more wrong, and this group of vibrant, talented and humourous poets have opened my eyes to an entirely new world of creativity, and for that I thank them.
The next day I would be lucky enough to go and listen to Julian Baggini, a philosopher discussing the virtues of the table, and also listen to a very different style of poetry recital, something far more traditional and rural in the Franciscan Chapel.  I'll tell you more about that next week....
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