Alan Cunningham is a Glasgow based journalist currently studying at the University of the West of Scotland. This is part one in a four part series where Alan has attended his first poetry shows and will give his impression of Glasgow’s poetry scene.
It’s about half seven on a Wednesday night and I’m about to attend my first poetry show. I have no idea what to expect. After climbing six flights of stairs to get where I’m going, I reach a café-like room with a warm atmosphere, people selling books in the corner.
Slam poet Sam Small introduces the night. He starts us off with a “love poem”, dealing with a particularly harsh break up. It’s clear from the start that in this scene delivery is as important as the words themselves – he almost screams his poem and barely allows room for breathing with his speed. This way of reciting the poem creates a greater emotional impact than there would be if it was written or simply read out.
The first act proper is Doubtful Science, a three part “lecture” given by Leo Glaister and Kirsty Henderson which isn’t a poem but a piece of sci-fi comedy theatre. It takes the guise of a lecture about parallel universes based on decisions we make, given by someone from a somewhat questionable scientific organisation.
Leo recounts the negative experiences Doubtful Science’s subjects have had in living these parallel universes (until he’s stopped by Doubtful Science’s Kirsty)and it’s hilarious. The whole thing is, in fact. Doubtful Science manages to take a somewhat convoluted concept and turn it into comedy gold.
After this, there’s an impromptu appearance by Scottish Slam Champion Miko Berry, in a bear onesie, no less. Being unfamiliar with the poetry scene, I don’t know what I’m in for. Miko’s performance is intense and emotionally raw. I feel like I’m privy to everything going on inside his head with his stark accounts of Miko trying to find himself, growing up and dealing with depression. In amongst the emotion there’s a poem that he introduces as being about a bottle of water, a seemingly trivial premise. Miko masterfully turns this into a scathing critique of consumer capitalism and the living conditions in third world countries.
Next up is Heather Margaret St Clair. She offers something closer to what could be considered a traditional approach to poetry than Sam or Miko’s slam efforts. She reads out her work, filled with colourful and at times abstract and a metaphorical language. Her subject matter ranges from Brooklyn’s seedy underbelly, to the coming of Spring, to a journey to the Earth’s centre and seems to cover absolutely everything in between.
Sam returns again, but not to host. He recites a poem called “Time Travel”, in which he acts out a scenario where he has to kill several parallel versions of himself, after travelling through time to the Earth’s creation and “fucking everything up”. There’s another poem, “It’s Gotta Be Something”, in which Sam, after much deliberation, concludes that love (da-da-da-da-da) is the meaning of life.
Ewan Cruickshank’s is perhaps the oddest act of the night, opening with an ode to his love for scones. That’s it. He takes an idea similar to Miko’s bottle of water, a poem about something trivial, except he keeps it trivial and it works well. Then there’s an odd piece that seems like a send-up of hip-hop, followed by a somewhat unsettling a capella song. This ditty sees Ewan contemplating, in a light-hearted, comedic way, what would happen should he one day snap and murder all his friends.
Josephine Sillars is the first musical guest of the night. Her style of quirky piano pop fits in well with the poets, and takes its cues from Ben Folds Five, with a slightly nerdier approach to subject matter in places. She proves to be a talented piano player as well as a good songwriter and plays an enjoyable set.
After a short break, the final part of Doubtful Science opens with Leo telling us about some complex parallel universe timey-wimey stuff involving a dragon. He repeats this several times because he’s put himself into a loop, which is funny despite becoming grating after the third time he uses the same gag. Then there’s the second part of the lecture. The third part (which we’ve just seen), has been going on for six years because of the horrible atrocities that messing with parallel universes has caused. Leo talks about Doubtful Science’s subjects experiencing every single reality at once, enough to give anyone a headache. But as per, Leo peppers the sci-fi ridiculousness with enough comedy to bring it back down to earth.
I’m initially put off by Loki’s apparent misogyny, but ultimately won over by his last poem: a touching tale of love and loss set against a background of working class Pollok, and an aside about perceptions of privilege and class struggle that leads me to conclude that his earlier remarks were somewhat tongue-in-cheek. His style seems to lie somewhere between poetry and hip-hop, a combination that works. There’s a healthy dose of stand-up comedy to separate his pieces, a welcome addition.
The closing act is another musical one, Chrissy Barnacle. She seems to be the yin to Loki’s yang: well-spoken and self-conscious, she openly talks about her sexuality and associates herself with Stonewall. But this doesn’t mean she’s Loki’s opposite – there are several similarities, such as her interspersing her songs with comedy, and recounting tales of failed relationships.
Whether intentionally or not, I’ve noticed that love, and to a lesser extent sex and sexuality, are central themes tonight. Chrissy brings this to a head by baring all about wishing for love, finding love, losing love, and getting over love; then exploring her own sexuality.
Her music is fantastic as well, offering a pleasant, floaty brand of acoustic guitar pop. Her final song deals with the concept of imminent death on a sinking cruise liner and what she believes would happen: she would tell someone on the ship her darkest secrets and then have sex with them before they meet their watery grave. This ridiculous concept of sex and death, in my mind at least, brings closure to the themes of love and sex running through the night.
I feel like a wild-eyed child after seeing what Glasgow’s poetry scene has to offer. I am grateful that at the age of 20 I’m able to experience something as special as this for the first time, and look forward to attending several more shows like this in the future.