Nymphs and Thugs, an independent Spoken Word label, took a dreary Leeds night and injected it with optimism, colour and tenacity with their latest show ‘Live Wire’. Suitably hosted at the Hyde Park Book Club, it was a complete testament to the potentials of Spoken Word. Dancing between amateur Open-Mics, and world-class poets, the show displayed the raw potential of the poetic verse. As the audience was reminded, this show was going to make you question what you perceive to be a poetry night. Fuelled by political turmoil, universal tribulations, and the struggle of the individual, you were left in awe but felt uncannily familiar.
Matt Abbott, one of the founders of Nymphs and Thugs, teased the audience as he shared some of his own verse before welcoming in the Open Mic acts. A handful of Open-Mic acts were to follow. Sally Ann, began with her universal realisation in the poem ‘No Regrets’, reminding us that we all stand at a different vantage point but are all inherently equal. Clair Crossdale was to then continue with a startling lament on humanity. Crossdale fluctuated pleasingly between pieces such as ‘Shared Threads’ which highlighted the conflict between materialism and sentiment, and war-time terrors.
It was Nafeesa Hamid who then sharked our attention. Her presence on the stage was refreshing, and her performance confirmed Matt’s introduction to her as an incredibly accomplished artist. Hamid seamlessly tackled issues of identity in the Punjabi-British culture, danced with feminine issues and delivered a collection of poems which seemed to slot perfectly into the moment. Her words grew more pertinent as her set went on, beginning with ‘B8 Branded’ (referring to the impact of growing up in a deprived area – B8), she incorporated not only the English Spoken Word but the Bari-Punjabi dialect too. ‘We are not terrorists, we are love’, she repeats in her opening performance, ‘this poem isn’t afraid, it is petrified’ she continued. As the narrative veered inwards, she discussed the experience of Punjabi girls growing up in Birmingham. She teared away boundaries in the poem ‘In-between Date’ in which she described a failed sexual encounter as a teenager. Hamid appeared vulnerable on stage but simultaneously in complete control, no toil of womanhood was left unmentioned, from tasting ‘semen and sin’ the morning after, to being ‘as shaved as a newborn’.
The second half began again with Matt Abbott. As the audience filtered back in, Abbott performed a poem he wrote off the back of the Calais Migrant Crisis. Abbott seemed to have the ability to jolt the audience from a frenzy of interval-wine into complete silent awe. Again, we were reminded by him that ‘we are all fellow human beings on this Earth’ and were left wanting much more from Matt.
‘Live Wire’ then reopened the floor to Open-Mic acts (anyone can do it, just contact Live Wire). Tyra Ramen opened with meticulous and descriptive poetic verse, followed by other local performers. Undeniably however, Open-Mic act Joe Williams injected an infectious energy and power into the atmosphere. Performing two poems, ‘the Deluded Busker’, and ‘Stick Your Brexit Up Your Arsehole’ (aptly named), Williams was a tour de force. Tackling the lack of nuance in our current Brexit debate, Williams succeeded in being completely hilarious and politically spot on. His presentation and performance could not have appeared more removed from political debate in its profanity and bluntness, (there were a lot of ‘fuck you’s and ‘bastards’ in there), however by doing so Williams so cleverly presented the dichotomy between the political establishment and the citizens whom these ‘bastards’ claim to represent. I think it is fair to say the whole audience was captivated, angry and ready to protest against the ‘fascists’ in charge of our country.
However, Live Wire still had one more trick up its sleeve, the ‘fucking phenomenal’ Salena Godden. Godden, who has been headlining literary festivals for over 25 years, elevated Spoken Word to a completely different experience. No longer were we merely listening to words, we were witnessing feeling, passion and anger in a startlingly physical way. Though Godden made it look seamless, the audience were left in awe of her literary talent. Her opening poem ‘Soup’, (she said she was going to begin soft…) masterfully compared the experience of eating soup to the human experience. ‘Don’t ruin the soup’, she insisted, ‘fuck war, make soup’. She then ventured into the ever present climate change debate with her poem ‘Sun Cream in February’, followed by ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Wife’.
What sets Godden apart is her equal dedication to performance and verse. The verse is so well controlled, articulated and structured but amplified by her stage presence. Godden is, in many ways, incredibly theatrical as she incorporates character monologues, accents and tone into her work. In the 4 piece narrative poem, ‘Wife’, the audience can imagine precisely where she is and who she has momentarily become. Her use of voice can take you from a crude, cartoonish style character to a dreamy Hollywood movie set in a single breath. Godden’s penultimate poem ‘Red’, flourishes on characterisation, however what she reveals is a forbidden character within women. Periods should never need to be whispered about and Godden demonstrates this by shouting and screaming accompanied by an audience frantically nodding, agreeing and laughing. Though physical performance is obviously what Godden enjoys, in her final poem ‘Pessimism is for Lightweights’ she stripped this away. She closed uttering ‘history is watching us’, ‘have faith in living things’. As the tone shifts from everything we’ve just watched, Godden says ‘love will conquer hate’. She is evidently a phenomenal talent as well as a mature and thoughtful performer.
”Live Wire’ was an unforgettable night’
‘Live Wire’ was certainly an unforgettable night. It collated poets from such a wide range of backgrounds in terms of class, race and gender. Such a diaspora of society has seldom been heard in the poetic world and needs to be treasured. Nymphs and Thugs are doing it just right. Hyde Park Book Club should feel honoured to have hosted such an amazing event.
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Photo Credit: Nymphs and Thugs