Josh Neicho, 27 January 2013

Session was convened jointly by Pete Cant and Josh Neicho

Attendees: Fergus, K Honowski, Aliki Chapple, George Mann, Ellis Kerkhaven, Nayda,

Sasha Brooks, Steve

The session related to a forthcoming project by Pete Cant involving bringing to the

stage the poetry of Cavafy, Greek poet living in Alexandria in the early 20th century

(died c.1930), writing richly evocative queer poetry and only felt he produced his best

work after the age of 40. Pete wanted to explore wider issues of how to portray poetry

on stage, which led into questions of what makes performance poetry and poems and

theatre as traditionally understood distinct. Josh as a spoken word performer with an

interest in theatre wanted to discuss the differences between the two forms and the

extent they are compatible.

Pete posed questions about different experiences people had had with poetry on

stage, how it was used, the successes and the horror stories. Fergus, a theatre maker

and spoken word artist, mentioned Polarbear, Kate Tempest, Hannah Walker and Inua

Ellams as spoken word artists who also make theatre, and a show by Penultimate,

putting on stage the work of five different spoken word artists in Manchester. He raised

the contrasting examples of poetry that contains realistic dialogue and plays that can

be read as poetry.

Fergus cited the least successful example of poetry on stage he had seen as a show

by producer Julia Bird (other work by whom he praised) getting actors to convey the

work of page poets who do not normally perform, which he described as “muddled,

incoherent and distracting” even though the poetry itself was strong. He mentioned as

a highly successful example Salena Godden's contribution to 66 Books at the Bush, a

piece using family stories to engage with the issue of library closures.

Pete described his work on Unleashed at the Barbican, directed by Walter

Meierjohann, involving young people who were drummers, dancers, musicians and

poets to tell a story about their lives in east London - the poetry (like the music)

helping a non-narrative story come to life and adding a power which the work

otherwise would not have had.

The group discussed The Architects by Shunt. Fergus thought it was good and the

reviews unfair but thought the weakest point where it was trying to impose a narrative

about the Minotaur, seemingly at the last minute, and the best part was the manifesto

at the start. He picked up on the protestations of the characters in the show about not

making something beautiful and the fact that in reality they had created something

beautiful. Other members of the group raised the idea of poetry being about beauty,

and a thing of beauty in itself.

George Mann, who has devised and performed on a one man version of the Odyssey,

drew a distinction between performance poetry where the appearance and physicality

of the poet is not necessarily important and theatre which is a visual way of presenting

a text.

Fergus mentioned the contrasting cases of spoken word performers presenting their

own work, and performers presenting other people's work and wondered whether the

latter could be as successful. Josh and other members of the group discussed the

honesty and integrity but also the self-centredness of spoken word artists performing

their own work and not that by others.

Ellis Kerkhaven is a playwright who writes plays that happen to poems - he gave one

example where the characters speak in different forms of verse which reflect their

personality and mood, but they are ordinary people not poets. He says he has found a

sniffiness and lack of comprehension among other playwrights and big theatre

institutions about plays which consist of poetry. He is frustrated at the fact he has to go

to spoken word events to perform his work, when they are intended for a theatre.

George Mann suggested it was a way it was presented and mentioned Sarah Kane as

an example of someone whose plays consist of lines of poetry. Josh mentioned the

fact that over half of Shakespeare is verse.

Steve mentioned that the Staying Alive poetry anthology trilogy had been performed in

2012 . Someone mentioned the Telegraph Hill festival. The contrast between a spoken

word event where performance by the writer of the work of his own work is considered

crucial (and someone performing someone else's poems looked down on) and a play

where the playwright does not have to be there was raised. Josh mentioned the

appeal of getting another performer of contrasting appearance to the poet performing

that poet's work and also mentioned playwright Elfriede Jelinek appearing in her own

Sports Play, on tour in 2012.

George suggested the best approach for Ellis and other playwrights doing work which

met with scepticism because it clashed with expectations about form was to go ahead

and do it, and that would be more persuasive to the unconvinced than talking about it.


Elfriede Jelinek, Queer, 66 Books, Belgrade Theatre, Walter Meierjohann, spoken

word, barbican, queer, Salena Godden, shunt, Shunt, Cavafy, poetry, Kate Tempest,

beauty, Sarah Kane, Barbican, The Architects, Bush Theatre