Monday, October 17, 2011

Magnificent seven

Commonword Poetry Factor, 14th October 2011, 7.30pm, Contact Theatre

Words by Catherine Fearn.

The Contact Theatre is arguably one of the most striking buildings in the city and when you step inside this dynamic building it’s easy to see why so many young people are drawn to it. Inside the decor is like a box of Smarties, with walls painted in vibrant purples, oranges and reds and there’s smatterings of stainless steel silver everywhere which give the theatre an edgy, urban feel.

The setting was perfect for an evening of diverse poetry featuring seven young performance poets from across the North West. The Poetry Factor made its debut for Manchester Literature Festival in Space Two, an intimate theatre space that seats around 50 people.

Commonword’s Martin De Mello described the concept behind Poetry Factor as “the idea to give young people coming into spoken word a bit of experience and ongoing mentoring”. The night was hosted by Chanje Kunda, an established performance poet from Manchester, who had a friendly rapport with judges Helen Clare, Baba Israel, Gerry Potter and Segun Lee-French.

Pooja Sitpura was the first performer to shake off nerves with her recitals of Disarm Britain, Wonderbra and Hate. Poojah’s poetry is inspired by personal observations of social injustice and negative portrayals of women and young people in the media. Her poetry was instilled with evocative imagery and delivered with a fiery passion. Similarly Paris Kaur’s first poem of the night entitled Barbie Girl deconstructed the issues surrounding portrayals of women in the cosmetics industry. The poem included snippets of words from cosmetic adverts which contrasted to the lines of narration in which a girl “starves herself thin and makes herself sick”.

Kayleigh Kavanagh and Michael Benet’s performances both depicted love and relationships in all their stark realities. Kayleigh showed a vulnerability that was reflected in the content of her poetry as she explored love using conceits, this came across most poignantly in Barriers. Michael demonstrated an aptitude in his poetry to turn moments of ugly brutality into tender desire; in I Kissed Her Twice, the image of the poet tracing his lover’s palm with his thumb was particularly striking. In contrast, The War was a torrid and intimate poem about a soured relationship which Michael recited with a confident delivery: “I’m scared of her just as much as me / We are too young to know how to clean this mess.”

Aged 14, Isiah Hull was the youngest performer at Poetry Factor and for someone so young had incredible stage presence. Isiah’s recital of Sweet Dreams recalled Ted Hughes’ Thought Fox: “Armed with pen and paper / I journey through imagination.” When asked why he writes poetry he replied: “I often feel surprised at the reaction to my poetry. I write for myself though, as a release. It’s like a therapy.” Jasmine Bourke was also inspired to start writing poetry at a young age after attending a poetry workshop run by Khadija Ibrahim. Jasmine’s poetry addressed social taboos and her first poem It’s Complicated was a remarkable study in mental illness from a variety of perspectives. Her second poem Farewell was penned in tribute to her late grandfather and was performed with solemnity and contained some very moving images.

The final performer of the night was Naima Ali. Her poem I Am Free To Write was addressed to the personified figure of stage fright which she used to address fears over identity and to affirm her own, “If I speak loud enough they might hear.” Naima’s performance reached a dizzying crescendo which contained striking metaphors, “fear is a tumour / I am murder, I killed the crowd.”

With the judges locked in delegations over the winner, Chanje thanked the performance poets saying, “What a wonderful array of voices. I’ve had the most fantastic evening and heard so many wonderful voices. There’s room for all these performers in the world of poetry and theatre.”

After a tense 15-minute wait, the runner-up prize of three mentoring sessions was awarded to Naima Ali. The first prize of £100 plus mentoring sessions was awarded to Michael Benet and on acceptance of his prize Michael said, “I decided today if I did win, it’d go to Help The Heroes.”

During their feedback session, the judges reiterated how impressed they were with the "originality of voices and potent passion" of contestants. Commonword hopes to bring the Poetry Factor back to the festival again next year, and with such a high standard of young performance poets on display at this year’s festival, it looks like a promising start to fulfilling that wish.

Catherine Fearn writes a blog called The Poplar Tree – one of Manchester’s literature-orientated blogs, which includes editorial features on authors, reviews of books, films and anything in between, such as TV programmes and current affairs.

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