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Home / Latest News / Why poets still rule the roost when it comes to pushing boundaries

Why poets still rule the roost when it comes to pushing boundaries

Chainsaws, flaming ashtrays and a naked man wrapped in cling-film. Believe it or not, this constituted a poetry gig back in the bad old 1980s and 1990s.

The performances of poets Ifor Thomas, Peter Finch, Tôpher Mills and others were legendary.

I regret not being around then to witness the scene as it was, as I’m sure they’re nothing like the poetry shows we’re all accustomed to now. Things were generally broken up, messed around and put on fire at these gigs, and there was always a LOT OF NOISE.

When teaching a performance poetry course at Ty Newydd, Ifor and Peter asked the caretaker manager to walk outside the open window with an extremely loud chainsaw when the poor punters tried to read their work to the other students.

People were sometimes terrified, often confused, but always entertained when this lot performed.

Before artists became performance artists, and theatre became site-specific, poets ruled the roost when it came to putting on bizarre and weird live shows.

One of the biggest influences on these performers was Bob Cobbing, who died in 2002 aged 82.

He was a ground-breaking concrete and sound poet, who was a founding member of the British Poetry Revival in the 1960s.

The sound of words, and even other bodily sounds, such as sneezing and worse, were just as important as any sentences. He also worked with text and independent free presses to publish poetry in alternative contexts. Fans of sound art and experimental music should check out his recordings, which are available on the web.

Not to everybody’s taste, but utterly fascinating and entertaining.

Although we enjoy a vibrant live literature scene in Wales at the moment, perhaps we’ve lost some of the bonkers-ness of the ’80s and ’90s.

We can partly blame this on the rise of the health and safety culture, and the fact that it’s unacceptable to put things on fire in pubs nowadays, or charge up a terrifying chainsaw metres away from an unsuspecting audience.

But maybe somewhere a new generation needs to crop up, to break the rules of poetry performances.

Do we always need to read from a piece of paper, speak confidently into a microphone, and lean elegantly on a lectern?

An attempt to go back to the glory days of rule-breaking, Literature Wales presents The Literary Laundrette as part of Wales Millennium Centre’s Blysh Festival on July 20.

Here we can expect soundscapes, ukuleles and live literature on a cabaret theme at what is set to be an offbeat afternoon down Cardiff Bay.

Some of the highlights will include rants by Ifor Thomas, that cling-filmed legend, and now a self-professed ‘old person’.

Mab Jones will perform poems on Working Class/Middle Class stereotypes, a fantasy revenge against hypocritical politicians, plus a poem about Faberge Eggs. 

Mark Blayney presents his off-beat ‘word cabaret’, which includes a poem written backwards, the week in Bee Gee news, a world-exclusive poetry magic trick, and a ballad for David Dimbleby. 

To the sound an ukulele, Rhian Edwards will capture the childlike excitement of the circus coming to town.  A sculptor and painter as well as a poet, Claire Ferguson Walker recites works on the subject of the beauty myth, counting one’s blessings, and the stresses of our high tech digital world.

Other great performers include rappers and poets Rufus Mustafa and Martin Daws, the Young People’s Laureate.

Guests do not need to book for this playful afternoon of performances – simply turn up on the day and enjoy. We cannot guarantee naked men in cling-film, or chainsaws – and maybe this is a blessing – but it will be highly entertaining chaos.

And if you think you can do better?

There’s still time to book on the excellent Poetry Aloud course on performance poetry  at Ty Newydd, with Aisle 16’s Luke Wright and our very own Rhian Edwards, from July 22-27y.

Details from Literature Wales
on 029 2047 2266.

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