Nymphs and Thugs LIVEWire at Hyde Park Book Club on 2 October

Spoken Word events are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.  This one was full of surprises.  

Nymphs and Thugs is an independent spoken word record label, newly established in 2015; just a baby in years, but very grown up in attitude.  LIVEwire is their national spoken word tour. This event was a first for me and it immediately had the gravity of a far longer established organisation.  

This was the first of four resident nights at Hyde Park Book Club, in the basement.  I’m not a fan of basements at the best of times (too much horror movie watching as a kid!) even when they are pimped up to create a luxurious living space.  This one had its issues. It wasn’t going to win any interior design competitions any time soon, but despite its shabby not so chic appearance, the organisers managed to turn it into a pleasant and welcoming space and conducive to what they wanted to present.  There were no dead bodies here, with an audience very much alive, ready and good to go!  

Matt Abbott leapt on stage like an African gazelle, visibly excited and no wonder.  This is Matt’s creation, his baby and he’s very excited because he knows what amazing poetic goodies are in store for the audience.  He is a charismatic, friendly, funny and so wonderfully Yorkshire (he’s from Wakefield) host, poet and stand up comic all wrapped up into one.   I’m sure he has many other talents, but it has to be noted that he has a far more than competent stage presence. He set a wonderful, agreeable and relaxing tone and I felt his soul when he opened the event.  This is his passion! He profoundly loves what he does and respects and believes in the spoken word talent he is promoting. It was heartwarming to see him sharing the love!

I really appreciated the format of the show, which was three open mic performers, a guest poet, another three open mic performers and the headline poet.  This is a great format as it makes all the poets more inclusive in the event. The open mic performers weren’t all lumped together in the beginning to get over and done with before the ‘names’ came on.  Everybody was an equally valid poet on this occasion. It’s partly because of this that I want to mention the open mic performers by name. Their standard was very high; their performances as open mic contributors added to the quality and enjoyment of the event.    

Lence.  Young rapper.  His performance was fast, energetic and lyrically delivered on point.    

Sally Anne Earl.  Her voice was so clear, it sounded like it had been digitally remastered!  I really enjoyed her delivery and her chuckle-inducing poem, inspired by bending over in front of a heater with a bare bum!  Ouch!

Claire Crossdale.  She had a Victoria Wood vibe about her as her poems were very local to her and about her noticing the significance of the mundane in a dryly humorous way. 

Tahira Alia Rehman.  I liked her back to back three poem flow style, like a mini production.  She really worked on remembering her words.  

Joe Williams.  He performed two poems.  The first was about a deluded busker.  I think the title may have actually been Deluded Busker, which is just funny enough by itself!  His second poem, he said he had just literally written and wasn’t sure if he could remember it fully, which was about the B word – Brexit!  There was probably a flurry of eye rolling at the mention of Brexit, and the opening line to his poem was “Stick Your Brexit Up Your A…….!” Subsequent lines delivered the most wonderful rant of all things stupid about Brexit and the politicians that lots of people would want to say, but are too PC socially engineered to dare to.  We’re told it really isn’t the done thing any more to speak your mind and Joe’s Brexit poem reminded us of this. It was like Ben Elton, from back in the day, on steroids! The poem was given rowdy applause!  

Natalie Davies is still a bit of a newbie but demonstrates quite a lot of performance confidence on stage with her emotional words.  

Camille McCawley was the Brucey bonus at the end as the 7th open mic performer.  

Matt introduced the first guest poet, Nafeesa Hamid.  I previously noticed her sitting at the front to the side, very quietly and somewhat meekly, so when she took to the stage I was a little surprised she was one of the main performers.  She announced she was going to deliver a poem that was ten minutes long; a poem she doesn’t often perform owing to its length, she told us. The poem is called B8 – Branded. It was inspired by the official labelling of an area called Alum Rock in Birmingham as the most deprived area in the UK.  As Nafeesa read the poem, I felt like I was travelling with her on the true journey of what was really happening in that area.  I can see why she used the word branded, as branding leaves a mark, a stain, a permanent blemish. Her poem plays an important part in rectifying that unjustified mark on the area and the community.

Her next poem, The In-between Date, is a wholeheartedly unapologetic account of one of her teenage sexual experiences with a ginger-haired boy, al fresco!  This was the most uncomfortable of all the poems to hear because it was as though we were witnessing an account of abuse. A naive person may think it’s just a couple of teenagers exploring sex, which is natural at this age, but there are so many elements and levels in this – from natural curiosity, cultural control, shame, coercion, confusion and disappointment, not just in others but also in herself.  I won’t go into details here, but there are many and Nafeesa doesn’t spare us any of them! It’s graphic, but necessarily so in order to understand that this was a pivotal event in her still formative years, which can have repercussions for the rest of a person’s life if the trauma is left unchecked. Uncomfortable listening and perhaps a little too much for some.   

My friend Martian (as in from Mars), who came with me to the event, despite being a very radical artist and activist, felt incredibly uncomfortable, that he didn’t need to hear certain details in the poem.  With all of his hutzpah, he couldn’t bear to receive the full message. From my point of view as a female, and even though I didn’t get up to these particular antics as a teenage girl, I could handle it and empathise.  I could even write an essay on the poem because of its multi layered, interconnecting issues. After Nafeesa finished, I wanted to run onto the stage and give Nafeesa a big hug.  I don’t know how she summoned the courage to be so honest and still deliver professionally.   

Nafeesa read several more pieces which draw on cultural and social issues of today.  Your First Girl about how girls are seen in Pakistani culture, Doctor’s Appointment about mental health, That Time You Were Sitting In The Garden and Fainted And Confused It For Dying, How Men Are Made about domestic violence, How Alone Do You Feel Post Sex? and Like A Virgin (No Madonna wannabes thank you!) is a poem about hymen reconstruction.   

Her penultimate poem, After You’ve Gone, is about what she imagined would happen after her suicide attempts because in Islam, if you commit suicide, you don’t have a Muslim burial.  I think it’s interesting because if you imagine or care and are concerned about what happens to you after death, does it mean you still care about yourself in life, and if so, why not place that care in your mortal life?  Food for thought.

For her last piece, Nafeesa read what she calls her only nice-ish poem, Another Walk Part 1.  She closes with an intro from one of her books written by Joelle Taylor, who we were told will be performing at the next LIVEwire event.  

Nafeesa creates such great vividness with her poems and her raw, brave performances would make her a wonderful actress.  She has humour combined with uninhibited honesty, which I find endearing. She has been rightly described as a rising star.  

The finale was from the headliner, Salena Godden, who has been performing all around the world for twenty five years!  I feel like I should curtsy or something, Ma’am. She announces with a cheeky smile “We’ll start off soft and work our way in.”  The way she said this didn’t give me any doubt that this is the type of road we were going to be taken down. Clunk, click!  

Salena started with her poem Soup, which was a very creative piece of writing about human life and human nature and how “we forget to sing”.  She took us up, down and around in creative twists and this is how most of her poems were. She is so super, super creative in her delivery it’s like jazz.  I have no idea where her poems are going and I like it this way. It helps if you have an abstract kind of mind to keep up with her rapid, acrobatic, imaginative delivery, and she minced none of her words when it came to her opinion about certain politicians and war.  

Next was Gentle Reminder, a public announcement disguised as a poem about smear tests.  Very cunning I say. Look up the word cunning and you’ll find it’s quite apt for the subject matter of the poem.  

Others were:  I Went Around The Back Of The Internet.  She went around the back of the internet and I lost her! Sunscreen In February is an environmental alert poem.  Remember the bizarre temperatures earlier in the year in February in the UK? This poem is about the unnatural climate changes.  Brown Sugar is a short poem about people who don’t believe themselves to be racist, but clearly are. Yeah, Baby is the fastest read poem in the west, read at the speed of 1000 miles per hour about having a baby obsession.  Very funny and Olympic gold medal for speed of delivery! Every Disaster Movie Begins With The Government Ignoring The Signs is a poem about the social disasters we live within. I Want To Be Your Wife is an ingeniously written poem about the four faces of wifeyness.  

For any males who have a problem with or any females who have any hang ups with the menstrual cycle, Salena’s poem Red will surely knock you out of whatever issues you may have with this perfectly normal biological event.  It’s the period poem of all period poems! The first line is “You should see what I made red”, a fairly innocent line with no indications as to what follows, and what followed was a succession of hilarious observations, comments, opinions, statements, analogies that animated the still not really spoken about subject of periods.  Lines like “My pyjamas are a butcher’s apron”. Then she sang “Anything you can do, I can do dripping”. So, so funny! Salena steers us round to something more serious as she says “period blood is seen as being more disgusting than war blood”. Then she adds “It’s disgusting, yet taxable”. This statement fully rounds it up! The poem Red was a real experience!  

Can’t Be Bothered is a poem that was inspired by Salena’s distaste of apathy.  She must have met a truck load of apathetic people as the poem shows her deep irritation about them.  It’s so intelligently crafted, starting off with mimicking the nay saying, can’t be bothered brigade, then as she is constantly saying the word can’t it starts to sound like the c word, which reflects the behaviour of the apathetic.  Then at the end of the poem, the word becomes ‘can’. Masterful crafting!  

The Pessimism Is For Light Weights is a beautiful poem to end with.  It shows that as funny, bonkers and mocking Salena’s poems can be – her core essence is in the good old fashioned values of peace, love, unity and respect. This poem is a reminder of the past and a notice for the future, our futures!  Adhering to these “old fashioned” values is what will put us back on the right road and keep us there! It makes me laugh how most people in western culture think they have progressed and that they are super advanced through technologies and “modern thinking”, when the evidence of mental, physical and emotional imbalances shows we have actually in some ways regressed. Thank you for the citizen’s recall, Salena!  

I don’t want to stop writing, because I feel there is far more of Nymphs and Thugs, LIVEwire, Nafeesa , Salena and Spoken Word as an art form to cover, but the review has to be published before the end of the year!  

LIVEwire was a fantastic evening of entertaining, thought-provoking, educational, inspiring, uplifting, soul activating spoken word.  If you want to create your very own list of affirming adjectives, they’ll be at the Hyde Park Book Club for the rest of the tour dates on 4th December, 5th February and 1st April.  Tattoo the dates somewhere. It’ll be worth the ink!  

Keep speaking your Word, poets!  

All photographs by Jazz Jennings.  Feature photograph is Matt Abbott.

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