Winter nights are made for poetry. Nothing suits a chilly February evening better than the roll of a story cast in rhyme and rhythm. It reminds us of simplicity, of friendship – of the joy of listening.
It lets you escape cold skies and warm your toes against the inner workings of someone else’s imagination. This – at least – is the dream I’m chasing as I descend into the basement of Hyde Park Book Club for spoken word poetry night, LIVEwire.
This is the third Leeds edition of LIVEwire – a dedicated spoken word event that tours the country, coming back here for a resident night every two months. Run by Wakefield-born poet – and founder of specialist spoken word label Nymphs and Thugs – Matt Abbott, the night is a platform for some of the most exciting poetic voices around.
Tonight’s line up is a fresh mix of open mic performances and feature slots. We hear a passionately clever ode-come-rant about the state of masculinity and ladhood in today’s society. We listen to first-time reader, Laura Graham, relay verses about her northern roots and nether regions, setting the tone for the night’s blend of razor-sharp wit and deeply moving themes – a seamless sequence of laughter and lump-in-throat moments.
Joe Williams – the Leeds poet perhaps best enjoyed for his musings on the Otley Run – is next, closing the first set of open mic slots with a Pizza Express-themed diatribe featuring heavy reference to Prince Andrew. And then it’s over to the man who brought us all here in the first place, with a powerful feature set from Matt Abbott. He begins with a self-effacing assertion that the only reason he’s headlining his own night is because his original act – Evrah Rose – couldn’t be here. ‘I’d never do that,’ he says, and the crowd of friendly pint-drinkers welcomes him as one of our own.
After a spell-binding journey from Netflix to Brexit to the Calais Jungle, cancer and the symbolism of the Union Jack, Matt leaves the stage to deserving applause, and we take a break to top up our drinks. Hyde Park Book club is the perfect spot for this kind of emerging, exciting and wonderfully local art form. It might be a chilly basement, but the atmosphere is nothing short of cosy.
Three more open mic performances take us from romantic musings on the new year to patriarchy, pink hair and female empowerment. The final slot belongs to Izzy Brittain, who cracks the room in two with her unique brand of ranting and chanting. Think witches, dance moves and righteous rage.
The final feature slot welcomes Wigan-born poet-performer extraordinaire, Louise Fazackerly, to the stage. She brings with her an infectious energy, a mesmerizing presence and powerful stories that dive from the profoundly moving to the riotously funny in a dextrous dance routine of words. We travel with her – from horses to romance, trauma to first dates. From child abuse to motherhood and #MeToo to Alice in Wonderland.
The night has dissolved in a flash, and we shuffle upstairs and out into the bite of February with the roar of emotion, honesty and talent in our ears. LIVEwire comes to Leeds next on Wednesday 1st April – do the right thing and be there.