Nottingham Poetry Festival 2018: Thank Poetry It’s Friday!

Words: Aly Stoneman
Tuesday 01 May 2018
reading time: min, words

LeftLion fills its boots on Poetry Glorious Poetry (as Oliver didn’t say!) at Poetry On A Plate and NPF PRESENTS: Elvis McGonagall, Stephen Thomas and Bridie Squires…


Hungry for some hands-on poem-making after a superb week of poetry readings, I head to Poetry On a Plate on Friday afternoon, a fun and informal writing workshop hosted by award-winning poet and former Derbyshire Poet Laureate, Cathy Grindrod.  Participants gather around tables in a cosy side-room of the Vat and Fiddle pub, as April showers slosh under car tyres outside. For the opening exercise, Cathy invites the group to write short poems describing foods we don’t like using a poetic form called Lunes, consisting of three lines with three words in the first and third lines and five words in the second line (here’s my attempt!):

‘Frog leg, webbed;

lightly charred but unmistakably amphibian.

Not chicken. No.’

There is an abundance of laughter and alliteration as participants share their distaste for offal, fried fish, and pickled onions – ‘heart attack on a plate’ and ‘diabetic digestion disaster’ – before moving on to discuss foods that we love, reading aloud poems handed around by Cathy for inspiration, including Lewis Carroll’s praise song, Beautiful Soup. A hush then descends for the next fifteen minutes as everyone scribbles new poems in notebooks, using any form.

As the session draws to a close, we share our ‘love’ poems and agree that food is more than fuel: it evokes memories and emotions and is connected to ideas of ritual (preparation, cookery and serving), identity, place, and belonging (‘It’s got to be dhal!’). Poems hark back to childhood (free toys in cornflake packets, batter bits) or revel in the erotic (sexy mozzarella!). Above all, we celebrate the strong associations between food, family and home – and how, when it comes to cuisine, we are never starved for words.

Later that evening…we’re in Antenna for ‘NPF Presents…’ and a ricochet of clicking is signalling appreciation rather than the lighting of a gas hob (bleddy cooker ignition’s broken again!). Chris Lanyon, who was only asked to MC the night 30 minutes before the event started – and can surely claim to be Nottingham Poetry Festival’s hardest working poet/MC! – introduces LeftLion’s own editor and remarkable acapella rap battler Bridie Squires as ‘aggy’. Surely not?! Squires’ rapid-fire, ironic yet tender observations of encounters with bailiffs, lads on BMX’s, and casino gamblers are packed with Notts colloquialisms, admissions that ‘we haven’t done the washing up for ages’ and jolts of the unexpected (‘sparrows living in my arsehole’). Squires rounds off her set with some audience participation, getting the crowd to bellow her final poem’s chorus of ‘Don’t be so bleddy mardy!’ Oo-err!!

Next up, Poetry Is Dead Good’s Stephen Thomas introduces ‘Cedric Chandelier’s cat corsets’ and the world’s most bigoted musical instrument, the ‘xenophobic xylophone’, performing poems from his debut collection Alphabet Spaghetti (published by Big White Shed), a poetic ABC for adults. Thomas – who describes his work as ‘a bit crazy and a bit messy and just a lot of fun, whilst still saying something important’ –  “hands over” to his alter-ego Steve Employment, CEO of Peach inc., to launch groundbreaking messaging app ‘Face-to-Face’, which uses ‘vocal-texting’ (speaking to someone in person, ha ha!) for instant results! (Not sure it will catch on – Ed) Thomas closes with a brilliant multi-media piece, using footage from Alexander McQueen’s final fashion show.

The Scottish can use European words like schadenfreude because they voted Remain, gibes left-wing Scottish poet and headline act Elvis McGonagall after the break. However, McGonagall lived in Dorset for 14 years, which he describes as ‘Royston Vasey by-the-sea’. His time working in an eccentric pub (The Square and Compass, near Swanage – Ed) provides bags of comic material, from the entitled demands of the London weekend crowd – ‘Tristan, Isolde and little Tarquin!’ – to houses ‘painted in a lovely shade of Farrow and Ball “Soft Brexit”’! What is the world coming to? The American President is ‘a tangerine cock-womble’ with ‘hair like a flock of seagulls tribute act’; a Rees-Mogg is ‘something PG Wodehouse left in the back of the fridge’; and ‘the British can’t even name a ship anymore…Boaty McBoatface’! McGonagall’s stand-up style of delivery, weaving political opinions, anecdotes and poems together, hits the right note with the audience tonight, producing plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as his words whallop into their Tory targets or conjure glorious images of Brit absurdity, from hacked labradoodles and the scary possibility of ambulances run by Deliveroo, to what the Queen REALLY thinks and the observation that ‘Piers Morgan looks like Tom Hanks if Tom Hanks was made out of runny cheese’.

The evening draws to a close and we head off to the pub to try out this new Face-To-Face app thingy. Early trials indicate it’s surprisingly effective after a pint or two!

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