by SRB

Performance Poetry Pamphlets from Stewed Rhubarb:

by SRB

The Eejit Pit by Jenny Lindsay; The Glassblower Dances by Rachel McCrum; Treasure in the History of Things by Katherine McMahon

Stewed Rhubarbis a small Edinburgh publisher founded by Rachel McCrum and James T Harding which specialises in publishing spoken word artists and in collaborating to create beautiful poetry objects. These three short pamphlets are the first fruits of this outfit, and very beautiful objects they are too, printed on good quality paper, and with sturdy and beautifully designed covers. Treasure in the History of Things even comes with a cd of the artist reading her poems, with music and atmospheric sounds – a very good move, reminding us that performance poetry is not the same as a reading from page poems, but a genre in its own right, with its own demands and excellences.

I found myself, when I first read these pamphlets, thinking of the three tenors. Jenny Lindsay,very well-known on the performance scene and justly renowned as a virtuoso performance poet, reminds me of Pavarotti. The Eejit Pit shows off her distinctive voice, full of fire and passion, which comes through even in the quiet dry atmosphere of the page. Her collection – a disappointingly short nine poems – is carefully honed and selected, evoking the Edinburgh of the young and rootless, where people drift aimlessly through towns, living spaces and relationships, and pronouncing a bleak verdict on a tribeto whom personal and emotional freedom meanseverything, and a refusal to make demands or express commitment is a virtue.It is a snapshot of an accomplished performer, but also a work of art in its own right.

Katherine McMahon would be Placidodel Domingo, a mellifluous performer whose twelve poems about love and loss and the transformation of relationships include some very beautiful and thoughtful pieces – most notably Gold,

when the Japanese mend objects

they aggrandise the damage

by filling the cracks with gold

because they believe that there is treasure

in the history of things

andAloud.  They translate less well to the page, however, being looser in structure than a reader might expect, so the inclusion of the cd is a welcome reminder of their origin as performance.

Rachel McCrum is my Jose Carreras. Her book, The Glassblower Dances moves easily and intelligently between performance and page, as she combines the linear and leisurely flow of the performer with the feel for structure and pattern of a page poet, and a complexity of thought which does credit to both. There are some short pieces among the fourteen in this collection, and two examples – Sundrunkroadtrip  andDirty Pints – of the pantoum, a fiendishly intricate form,which she handles with dexterity and grace,and a wider range of subjects – personal and community histories, exile and alienation and societiesdivided by class, colour and sectarianism,travel, communication, language and story. The title poem, The Glassblower Dances is about a graffito

on a lamp post on a dirty road

between a chip shop and the tired Turkish Baths.

It develops, as the motif is taken up and repeated into a thought-provoking and satirical reflection on the use and relevance of language and art. The Glassblower Dances might act as a useful taster for what I hope will soon be a full collection of poetry.

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