Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Of Apples and Snakes

Poetry - seen as stuffy, obscure, unfun - badly needs a makeover to reach a wider audience. Teachers dissect it and exams kill it. How many people open a book and read for pleasure? (Remember Daisy Goodwin's comments?)

Well, in Britain there's been a small revolution. It's called performance poetry. And at the heart of performance poetry, there is an organisation called Apples and Snakes. (So named because they began in a pub called The Adam and Eve.) From humble begining with just three poets and a London base, it now has 15 poets on its payroll and organises events across Britain ... and in India ... and soon ...

Well, don't let me get ahead of myself.

Performance poetry is poetry written to be ... performed (rather than stuffily mumbled by some arty-type, nose glued to a sheet of paper). It has to be immediate 'cos an audience can't spend time puzzling out deeper meanings, while rhythm and wordsound is even more important. It easily incorporates elements of stand-up comedy, theatre and music. It can be performed in any public space - even on buses and in the supermarket ...

And it can be performed by ... anybody ...

(Shock horror gasp from the purists.)

My first brush with performance poetry was last November when Sunitha (of British Council) and I attended a regional Animating Literature workshop in Manila to look at ways of promoting reading and writing in South-East Asia.

Apples and Snakes poet, Francesca Beard, lead some of the sessions - performed her work for us (quite wonderful), took us through writing and performing pieces ...

And she also worked with a group of university students who put on an excellent performance of their work one evening at the Conspiracy Bar with Francesca performing several of her piece! It was all woven together with traditional dance and music and vocal performance. Siege, who drops by this blog sometimes was one of the performers and besides reading his own work, performed quite an amazing duel of words in tagalog with a friend.

So where is this going?

Apples and Snakes director Geraldine Collinge (left) is in town and working out with British Council and local poets how performance poetry can best be brought to Malaysia and a generation of performance poets trained up ... to perform of course, and then to train others, perhaps going into schools and colleges. To start something big and self-sustaining and fun from an apple pip and snake scale.

Lat night the British Council held a reception for Geraldine at Maya Gallery in Bangsar and local poets Jerome Kugan, Bernice Chauly, and Datuk Shan read their poetry ...

13 comments:

Walker said...

Performance poetry comes from the poetry slam movement in the United States doesn't it? I might be wrong...I'm just aware that I've seen these "duels" on videos of slam events.

And how did I know the Apples & Snakes would be in London? We just don't get that kind of 'culture pub' 'oop north-west duck.

(Somebody will now prove me wrong of course.)

dreamer idiot said...

Hi Sharon,I'm back (a few days ago).

You seem to have an very prescient, perhaps clairyovance sense of timing. I am presently reminded of the 'task' at hand. I will put up something (short) tomorrow evening and let u and leon check on it.

Heard about performance poetry before, but quite sceptical of it...a little bit of the purist in me. I am sure it will turn out to be a very good interactive form of engaged poetry, one that is fitted to the demands of this time and age, yet I hold back some reservations as to its depth.

Anyway, didn't know that besides Jerome Kugan, we have Bernard Chauly (he's a director, right?) and Datuk Shan writing poetry. Sounds pretty gd, since the older generation (Cecil Rajendra, Wong Phui Nam, Mhd Maji Salleh and Ee taing Hong )have to pass pp on their 'mantle'.

PS. Does anybody here have collections of Phui Nam and C.rajendra's poetry? I would love to borrow...when I can make a trip to KL

Anonymous said...

POETRY KARAOKE, ANYBODY?

Anonymous said...

POETS : The Movie ? :)

Siege said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Sharon! I don't occasionally drop by here, I go to your blog religiously! Your entries are interesting and informative, so keep it up!

priya said...

The Americans have the poetry slam - similar concept as this no? It's fresh, off the street, honest and unpretentious - unlike the verbal masturbation open mike sessions tend to bring up.

It's strange, was just thinking of whether we could organize something along the same lines over here. Timing indeed. =)

priya said...

Oops, someone's already mentioned poetry slam, my bad!

bibliobibuli said...

walker & priya - poetry slam yes, is related ...

and anon - poetry karaoke isn't far of the mark either

but performance poetry can and does go further also towards performance ... as i understand it, it's a fairly fluid term, embracing many different possibilities

walker - everyone knows that culcha ends at watford gap ... but hey, i'm an ex-brummy so just one of the plebian masses ...

priya - as a writer and performer, performance poetry could well be your thing, you know ...

dreamer idiot - wondered where you were! i can understand your reservations ... but hey, this is no threat to the kind of page poetry we both love ... rather, think of it as away of winning poetry some new friends ... think of it as theatre

siege! - it's so nice to hear from you ... y'know, you never did write about that night and how it was to perform your poetry ... i'm trying to build up a case here so help me out (y'see the scepticism???) 'cos you're the only one of my blog readers who can talk about this at first hand ... do you think perormance poetry will catch on in manila? we're so happy that francesca is coming out soon ...

bibliobibuli said...

ooops - dreamer idiot - forgot to tell you that bernice chauly is bernard's sister ... she's a teacher, playwright, poet, actress, photographer and tremendous cheerer on of other people's writing ...

the poetry books you want can be bought from silverfish ... so sorry i don't have copies ...

Anonymous said...

"To start something big and self-sustaining and fun from an apple pip and snake scale."

Didn't the first two humans do just that ? :)

bibliobibuli said...

that's quite right :-D

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just got a brainwave. YOu know how they have naked news ? what about naked poetry ? :)

Anonymous said...

And what did he mean by north-west duck ?

What's interesting is that the only westerner is in Asian dress (is that a pashmina ?) and the asians are in western dress :)