For a while now I’ve had this thought that the South Devon poetry scene is one of the richest and most vibrant in the county, when you take into consideration the scarcity of the population in most of it, what with all them fields and things.
Torquay is a resort which has, admittedly, seen better days, but even here there are two vibrant performance poetry nights a month. Poetry Island is long established, first under Chris Brooks, and lately under Ian Beech, both of whom have done amazing things to bring big names down to the bay, and now there is a night at the Artizan Gallery, too. Exeter isn’t that far away and there are three regular monthly nights as well as an amazing array of one off events thanks to venues like the Phoenix and the Bike Shed. Plymouth has two regular nights, and even Totnes has events at the Kingsbridge Inn.
But it is the sheer variety of styles and performers which makes the scene so vibrant. It is impossible to come up with a definitive South Devon style, because there are so many different interpretations of what makes spoken word and performance poetry so engaging. Daniel Haynes is droll, funny, serious, human, everything which a Bard should be. Which is good, because he is the currently Bard of Exeter. Tim King is experimental, political, also very human. The most human of all humans is James Turner, who exiles literary excellence and a fantastic understanding of the importance of performance and voice, as did the late and very much missed Rodney Bowsher. Joanna Hatfull is impossible to categorise, fusing theatre and monologue, humor and reality into her poems which never stray too far into surrealism. And then there’s Ian Beech, whose poetry is heartfelt, honest, occasionally ranting, often fierce, always well meaning.
Add to this people like Jackie Juno, Ziggy Abd El Malak, Chris Brooks, Gavin McGrory, Morwenna Griffiths, Solomon Doornails . . .
So what flavor is there to this excellent scene? Are there any common traits? Most of the performers have developed parallel and each event serves to drive each participant on to find deeper modes of poetic expression and audience engagement. Yet there seems to be a willingness to perfect this individualism in a way that may not be the case somewhere like Bristol or London, where a similar style dominates. The rhythms are different from one poet to the next. You might get the excellent Marc Woodward with his fast paced calm delivery, followed by the enthusiasm of Chris Brooks, and then the calm, slow, assured delivery of Dan Haynes.
There’s a great thing going on down here in South Devon at the moment and it makes me glad to be a part of it. And now some of us are starting to get recognition from further afield, strange parts of the country who can only be intrigued by the creativity and art which seems so normal. When I first started performing at Poetry Island, Chris Brooks would end each evening with an appeal for performers. Yet now there are so many that there is a strict rota and waiting list! And that has got to be a very good thing.
For no reason whatsoever, here’s a couple of new poems.
You said you’d do a magic trick.
Is this your card?, you asked.
Or is this your card?
And then you reached into my pocket
And you announced,
This, this is your card!
And then you looked at it and saw
That it was my one day megarider bus ticket
And a tiny tear formed
In the corner of your eye.
In any case,
I hadn’t even picked a card.