It has been far too long since I made it to HOWL, in fact far too long away from the circuit in Birmingham, it moves fast. New faces, new students, new performers. I was delighted to see people I knew at this event and fully expected to as the Headline line up was phenomenal: Bethany Slinn, Sean Colletti and Luke Kennard.
It was lovely catching up with people before the event and during the intervals. A good many of us there just to listen and enjoy and celebrate…there are a lot of Birthdays this week! HOWL celebrated its 2nd Birthday this evening! A pinnacle Leon should be very proud of.
The Dark Horse, Moseley, was packed! Open mic spots were rarer than unicorn teeth but it didn’t matter, in fact I think I probably enjoyed myself more without the pressure/nerves of performing. My past few floor spots have not been me at my most shiny.
Leon Priestnall always encourages the audience into a frenzied state and if he hadn’t, tonight his acts surely would have. The open mic-ers were ON FIRE and some of them brave enough to be taking to the stage for the first time, as for the Headline Acts… well:
Luke Kennard is the author of numerous works of poetry and short fiction. His second collection, The Harbour Beyond the Movie, made him the youngest writer to be nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. In addition to poetry, he writes criticism & short fiction.
Kennard’s work is witty, extravagant and provocatively genre-bending. His first book, The Solex Brother…s, consisted of six hilarious, highly energetic prose poems, whose modalities ranged from dramatic monologues, short fictions and dream narratives to Beckettian dialogues, passages of journalese, diaristic studies, and, in the volume’s Eliotic notes, some very funny cod-criticism (“I’m no fan of Eliot’s Great Tradition – which seems to have left us with lots and lots of really boring poems about old famous poets. Thanks a lot, keepers of the flame”).
While such diversity might in other circumstances dilute a reader’s sense of a poet, Kennard’s poems are unmistakably his own. His latest collection, Cain, was published in June 2016 and described by the Sunday Times as ‘Nabokov watching Netflix with John Ashbery.’ His first novel, The Transition, will be published by 4th Estate in 2017
Born and raised in California (not the one near Quinton), Sean Colletti came to the UK to read Creative Writing at Birmingham University (BA) and the Universtity of East Anglia (MA). Choosing the lesser of two evils, Colletti returned to Birmingham for his PhD and to write his first novel – whilst performing ‘his first love’ at poetry events across the city. And if we’ve found the right Sean Colletti on Twitter, he also enjoys sci-fi, whiskey and losing at poker… sounds like a Friday night in to me. He has headlined at Hit the Ode, OOh Beehive and currently hosts Grizzly Pear for writers bloc at the University of Birmingham.
Fairly new to spoken word, having previously come from a theatre background, Bethany Slinn has gone on to perform her poetry locally this year in arts venues and has recently co-founded the Birmingham Poet’s Co-op. She uses her words for social action, for the connection, and for playtime and would describe the current state of them as dancing somewhere between poetry and preaching. Never-stop- being-curious. She most recently featrued at Level up and supported Hollie Mcnish at The Birmingham Rep
Leon Priestnall © 2017
I hadn’t seen Bethany before (told you I have been off the city scene for too long), her set was amazing and I loved the way she sent her mum out for one of the poems and then called her back in at the end. Recently graduated from a MA in Liverpool, she has hit the Brum scene performing at an event at the MAC, Level Up & Nexus Digital.
Sean Colletti, I have had the pleasure of watching before, but tonight he took us places that I never dreamt of going. Theatre of the soul. If you ever get a chance to see him perform, you should. But tonight he told us about his friend Jess, who took her life. The grief he has been living through. During his poem for Jess he asked us to stand up if we had ever experienced loss. Practically the whole room stood and then came the lines ‘the audience has just grown and no-one here is dreaming, no-one is screaming…’ we sat down after announcing the names of the lost. It was hugely moving. I cannot do it justice in writing, but Sean took our hearts this evening and he is entitled to a small part of each one of them. Muscle poetry at the deepest.
Luke Kennard, who is a powerhouse in the Literary world (‘Cain’ has made it to the Longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize this week), treated us to another incredible set to close the evening. He made us laugh and ponder in equal measure. I love Luke’s poetry and his style of delivery, distinctive/distractive is a joy. He can make people feel happy instantly with his ease.
Luke Kennard is the author of numerous works of poetry and short fiction. His first collection of poems, The Solex Brothers, was published in 2005, and won him one of that year’s Eric Gregory Awards. His second collection, The Harbour Beyond the Movie, made him the youngest writer to be nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. He has since published two further full collections, and two pamphlets, one of which, The Necropolis Boat, was the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice in 2012. In addition to poetry, he writes criticism, short fiction, and is currently working on his first novel. He currently teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.
Kennard’s work is witty, extravagant and provocatively genre-bending. His first book, The Solex Brothers, consisted of six hilarious, highly energetic prose poems, whose modalities ranged from dramatic monologues, short fictions and dream narratives to Beckettian dialogues, passages of journalese, diaristic studies, and, in the volume’s Eliotic notes, some very funny cod-criticism (“I’m no fan of Eliot’s Great Tradition – which seems to have left us with lots and lots of really boring poems about old famous poets. Thanks a lot, keepers of the flame”). While such diversity might in other circumstances dilute a reader’s sense of a poet, Kennard’s poems are unmistakably his own. His skill and garrulity across a wide array of forms was extended in his third collection, The Migraine Hotel, demonstrating a propensity for politically-charged language-play in poems like “Army”:
Last week we had to fling a wall over a wall,
But we got the wrong wall:
We flung the wall over the wall
We were supposed to fling over the wall
We flung over that wall. It’s difficult to explain
Kennard’s Python-esque poems often elaborate surreal narratives, given a deadpan concreteness by excessively mundane details. “Chorus”, which can be heard on the site, describes a nightmarish visitation by a choir which will not leave the poem’s speaker alone: “One day the choir arrived without warning or explanation, / Sang the choir in four-part harmony, handing him toast.” Such lines illustrate Kennard’s remarkable facility for self-reflexive commentary. His poems often seem to derive their impetus for composition from an awareness of the impossibility of successful composition; in this sense, the opening of the monologue “[Jeremiah]” can be seen as a straightforward ars poetica: “Let’s say I already know this is going to fail. This’ll be easier if I try to give you an analogy. A parable.” The tendency to dramatise theoretical questions through parable is one shared with the great American poets John Ashbery and James Tate, but Kennard’s work differs from theirs in its exhibition of qualities which might be called “English”—endless self-deprecation, fidelity to grammatical and syntactical propriety, acute class-consciousness—which mark it out as something wholly distinctive.
As Kennard’s recording makes plain, performance adds an extra dimension to his poems’ meanings. In his highly expressive reading, the unpredictable narratives of his poems come to seem strange and inevitable, their unpredictable twists and turns grounded in the logic of a unique sensibility, which, as The Independent has described, “with urgency and generosity…addresses the world we live in now”. Poetry Archive © 2017
I had an incredible evening and it was great to reconnect with Najma Hush, also recently back on the Spoken Word scene.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOWL!