Last year Nottingham added a new jewel to its literary crown as Bad Betty, one of the most exciting indie publishers in the country and a finalist at this year’s British Book Awards, upped sticks and relocated here from London. The big smoke’s loss, we’ve been hearing, is our gain, and so even a three-degree evening couldn’t keep us from the latest of their monthly Bad Betty Live shows at Rough Trade. Scarfs on!
Nottingham’s leading poetic light Bridie Squires is there to open the bill, fully fired-up and reading from her new collection Duck on a Bike. Through magnified views of everyday objects like the cigarette lighter in her pocket, Bridie sees the warm comfort of routine and the fear lurking beside it - with laser-focussed anger at the people who provoke fear. Fresh off her solo show Casino Zero, it’s a deeply energising and thoughtful performance from one of our strongest working writers.
This evening then doubles as a launch gig for the debut collections of two incredible poets: Jasmine Cooray reads from Inheritance, a thoroughly affecting set of poems delivered with conversational frankness. On Visitor, an older couple sparks a flash of remembrance in Jasmine - her father’s image ‘slices past like a summer frisbee’. Another elegant, stirring piece finds joy in the tiny marginal acts that get us through each day. Near the end of Jasmine’s set, an audience member in front dabs their eye with a cotton bud, and we nearly ask them for one.
James Kearns meanwhile, reading from his brand new collection On the Subject of Fallen Things, fizzes with imagination and forethought as he makes surreal lists and inventories (a ‘botched attempt to square away the world’) and draws parallels between saints and modern superheroes. His reading is poised, precise, entirely engaging. On this evidence, Inheritance and On the Subject of Fallen Things are the first works of powerful new voices - definitely consider picking their books up.
Headlining now is Joelle Taylor, whose performance of her T.S. Eliot prize-winning C+nto & Othered Poems steals most of the audience’s breaths - an unvarnished journey through the UK’s history of queerness in her own experience. Joelle’s is a world-standard reading, aching with the weight of hard decades. Several pins could have been dropped, and nobody would have been any the wiser.
Sandwiching the poetry sets are Casey Bailey’s contemplative hip hop, Celeste De Veazey’s fingerpicked songwriting and poems from Bad Betty’s Joshua Judson and Jake Wild Hall - all are serious quality and deserve more than this brief mention. Scarfs back on, we head back into three-degrees-celsius with several new books in the tote, assured that Bad Betty could go toe-to-toe with any publisher in the country.
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