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May 15, 2008

Last Night's Cabaret

Living the student life (eating cockroaches out of a baked-bean tin, wearing a soiled singlet that I clawed from the bluing corpse of a mathematics student) I don't watch much TV. Sure there's BBC iPlayer, but I'm really lazy. It's just not happening. However, I do make a regular point of popping along to the Freshblood Cabaret, which is pretty much the most fun you can have with one hundred and five people crammed into the same room without a cheesy 1970s soul beat starting up on a synthesizer and a man arriving at the door to investigate the plumbing.

For those not in the know, the Freshblood Theatre Society is Warwick's new writing society for drama. If you've got a play-script you've written and you want to sort out workshopping, crew, cast, production team or venue, we're the people to go through. And twice a term we run the Freshblood Cabaret, a wonderful cavalcade of... well, just about anything. You get a whole host of material at the cabaret, because as long as it can fit into the top room above Kelsey's bar, we've got room for it.

Here's a little run down of what happened last night. 

James McPhun relinquished his usual role as house stand-up to take up the reigns as compere. Armed only with a vintage joke book and a blood alcohol level that rocketed through the evening he prepared the ground for a veritable army of talent:

Opening was Jimmy Kent who, despite protesting to having a terrible cold carried off the unenviable opening slot with style - and rapturous applause when he ended onhis (much-in-demand) "Red Light Girl". Think of it as a far less judgemental "Roxanne" and you're about there.

King Freshblood himself Sam Sedgman fired off a series of poems. Happy they weren't, but that didn't deter the audience, who stuffed the interlude between each poem with wild applause, even when he told them not to.

Hannah Tottenham (who had been protesting all week that she didn't want to perform) spoiled us with three violin solos. How the hell do you make a violin sound good? It's like the opposite of a harmonica, it's almost impossible to get a nice sound of it. Anyway Hannah managed it: she deserves some kind of tiny medal.

Cabaret had a virgin performer this time in the form of Martin Bowman who gave us an outstanding tragi-comic tale of one man's obsession with Hobby-Craft and origami, complete with 4,000 page flick-book and tiny paper frogs. A totally outstanding debut: I'm looking forwards to more.

Following the greenback came seasoned veteran Fiona Cox, one of those singer-song-writer types, ticking every one of the boxes - stage presence, check, beautiful guitar playing, check, masterful voice control - oh you know she's got it all. She's been before, no doubt we'll see her again - and bloody lucky we are too.

Rose Biggin, Queen of Cabaret (and the event co-ordinator if you've got an act you'd like to put on!) relinquished her role as compere for the first time to step up to the mike and blast us all down with an epic prose narrative composed entirely from Shakespeare puns. Laughs and groans in equal measure-for-measures!

Rounding out the first half were Joe Oldham and Kieren Thorpe, two students who fell through a time hole in the mid 1970s and landed in present-day Warwick. A real tour-de-force of protest rock and psychedelia, I can only commiserate with these guys that they never got to play Woodstock.

I feel I should comment on the interval, which was well rounded, filled with good conversation (and beer), and (as always) lots of lovely thespy people. I'd give it an 8 out of 10, at least.

Opening up round two was stand-up maestro Gareth Morina and a clip-board of delights. Ever laughed at a dead cat on the moon? You don't know what you're missing. Gareth's going to be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, so make sure you catch him if you can.

Michael Sweetman & Friends (to my annoyance I don't have the names of the friends!) continued to be disgustingly talented with a mixture of their own music and Decembrists covers. I'm now considering buying the Decembrists' discography on the basis of hearing Sweetman and co. playing, and I'm worried that the original won't match up to the cover. They're worryingly good, and definitely my pick of the evening.

Next up was me, reading a little story called Dogs which I'm not going to be posting because I'm hoping to get it published. Anyone who saw it and has crit or comments, please post! I'm always on the look out for analysis. Apologies to anyone I might have made cry.

Tanya Wells brought the mood back up with more singer-song-writer shenanigans, with Bob Dylan style narrative songs and exquisite vocals. I've not seen her before, and I hope she makes a return visit to the cabaret so we can get a second round.

There was a wild scrabble for tables as An Evening Without Dignity (Zoe Bob Roberts, James McPhun Rose Biggin, Tim Gutteridge) set up for some sketch comedy. To my mind they were inciteful, witty, and absolutely hilarious - then again, since I'm directing them I might be somewhat biased. But the audience agreed with my glowing appraisal (the laugh for Dr. Halifax's overzealous smile alone fills me with warm fuzzies). For anyone hoping to catch more of the sketch show, you can see us at WSAF, the Warwick Student Art Festival, and at C-Central at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st to the 25th of August

Sadly I only had time to catch one more act before I was forced to run screaming from the venue and catch the last bus back to campus - fortunately that act was Poppy James. treating us to a rendition of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs". You got the impression that albeit Poppy has never shot a wolf, she might well keep a pistol in her knickers - she certainly carries Dahl's poem in her heart (as well as reciting it beautifully from memory).

Leaving when I did I missed comedy from Reckless Moment compere Tom Hughes and the excellent Nick Brown, and a musical number by the incredible Fran Lobo.

If you've never been to a cabaret before, you still have a chance - this year the Best of Cabaret will be performing at WSAF, with the pick of the year's acts. And if you're still at Warwick next year, then I have to recommend you come along - watching or taking part, you're guaranteed an incredible evening. 

May 13, 2008

Weird Love

Last term PENCILfest ran a fund-raiser, with China Mieville and George Ttouli running a workshop on Weird love poetry. Mid-way through I had that old dilemma - knowing a lot about a creepy topic, do you stick your hand up and tell people? After all, if people hear what you know about Furries, what'll stop them thinking you are one? No-one wants to be mistaken for a Furry, except perhaps the Furries themselves.

That's irrelevent but I'm practising writing anecdotes. Anyway, there was a competition to produce the best Weird Love Poem and I managed to win. Frankly I think Rowan Rutter's (her blog is although the poem isn't up there) entry with prosthetic limb sex-scene was better. Still, I'm not sniffing at the teddy bear I won (I'm not a plushophile). Belatedly, here's the poem - 


Glancing out

The tree crab loses her grip,
falls suddenly
and splits
on the upright tip
of a coconut spike.
Her innards slop
downwards to meet
the sand;
while mango juice drips
from my mouth and teeth
to touch your feet
and you clutch the sheet
in one hand
and trace my skin
with your fingertips.

October 30, 2007

Big things, Little things

So another of our delicious multitude of assignments this week was to write a poem about something really huge as if it was tiny, and something really tiny as if it was huge. I started writing "Very Little" first, under the title of "The Over-Human" - yes, that is a reference to Nietzsche. The idea of the Ubermensch in Nietzsche is (under some interpretations at least) of an entity with such an amazing force of moral will that they can reform reality to match its desire.

On the Nietzschean model, the fundamental substrate of reality is morality and will, so reshaping reality is a matter of getting people to accept your moral standard - the Ubermensch has the capacity to shatter the chains of moral law in which they are raised, and then reconstruct a new morality. The destruction is the act of the lion, the reconstruction is the act of the lamb. I thought, why not have a literal, physical ubermensch? 

Don't take "Very Little" as being an accurate representation of any Nietzschean thought - I just used the philosophy as a stepping stone.

In writing the poem, I came to the realisation that I was diminishing very large things by inflating the character of the speaker - by giving them a grotesquely huge ego, I was able to shrink enormous physical objects into diminuity. That helped me deal with the other poem of the pair, which I was struggling with at the time. I applied the reverse principle - give the speaker a tiny little voice. That was where "Big Thing" came from. I wanted to make it longer, but realised quite quickly that it had everything it needed. I like it a lot better than I like "Very Little" in fact.


Very Little

At the finish,
I will break Physics.
I will shake off the chains of her law
and stand a lion, a thousand lightyears tall: ignoring all
I will make the world mine.
I will hold it like an atom in my palm,
crush it like Gravity
will smash the final stars.
Her velvet glove will close on those specks
and make one last spatter of diamonds:
my fist will close on Earth and I will make coal.
I will breathe galaxies, look with contempt
on the works of Time, run Entropy to Death:
grind Ozymandias to dust, and Shelley.
I will trash everything.
There is no mercy in my heart;
its beat bursts suns and sends continents flying.
I am so grand,
and I ask not much:
to kill a universe is very little.

Big Thing

Oh big thing!
Oh, big big thing!
Scaly and rough, and
Barky and tough,
Oh, big thing!

October 07, 2007

Fugit Form Poetry

The Fugit Form

The "fugit" form (or to give it its full name, the Po'Realian Tempus Fugitive form) will first be penned in the year 3012, an obscure poetic structure used solely by the tiny alien civilization known as the Po'real. Noted for their unique biology, the Po'real do not perceive time linearly, circularly, backwards or indeed sideways, as is usual for most sentient species. This has naturally had rather peculiar effects on their poetry, to the extent that particularly fine examples of it are capable of projecting themselves backwards in time.

The first recorded (and, some experts maintain, the last to be penned) piece of Po'real poetry materialised out of the future somewhere around May 2010 and continued to slide backwards in time until it became lodged firmly in October, 2007. Once the radiation around it had subsided to an acceptable level, poets and other lackadaisicals were inspired to decipher its nigh impenetrable structure, to see if it would be possible to replicate the incredible temporal effects it was subject to. Leading physicists were quick to point out that if this were possible, they would already know about it and would be seeing the fruits of their labours before they had written them, to which the poets replied "ya boo sucks".

The form is curiously free - the main stipulation being that the number of syllables used in a line decrease, as the time-frame of the subject matter of each line progresses. Contemporaneous lines can have the same syllable count. So for example, in the short (and scintillatingly ironic) poem:

What follows from yesterday

Today, falling into


We have a relatively simple progression, from yesterday through to tomorrow, with the syllables in each line decreasing from 7 to 6 and then to 3.

For topics which cannot fit into any time scheme (for example, a purely descriptive passage of an abstract concept), poets are required to write the line to any length they desire, scribble it out and then start again with a temporal referent (an implied temporal referent is allowed). Lines referring to infinity are required to be infinitely short, and therefore non-existent.

A fugit form poem must have a number of lines (including title) equal to a prime number - the shortest possible being just two lines long, and the longest recorded weighing in at 232582657-1 (“Things that will happen” by Fan’Po. The piece is so large that, if written down on conventional paper format, it would cover the earth three times over).

These may be split into stanzas, but there must be a prime number of stanzas, each containing a prime number of lines and summing to a prime total (the title is included in the total line count, but not for figuring the number of stanzas.) Possible stanza combinations are:

Title, 11 lines, 5 lines,

Title, 2 lines, 13 lines, 7 lines.

Title, 5 lines, 5 lines

It is traditional for fugit form poetry to be written on rye-bread, but this is considered to be in bad taste by some poets.

The following is an imitation Fugit Form poem, penned by the late scholar Sir Laudley Wifebeater. Known for his intermittent spells of melancholia and mania, Laudley was a devotee of Po’realian poetry, and worked long and hard to emulate the time-jumping properties of its finest examples. He was spectacularly unsuccessful.

The passage of superheroes

A procession of supermen

led the carnival under my

window box of mud and nothing,

sent for the city’s jubilee.

I saw Captain Khan, remembered

His arrival on earth unwilling. He had travelled so far:

He landed angelic in a cornfield, touching the earth with

The stardust afterbirth of planets, Ulysses lost, who had seen the birth of suns.

Across the glass fields of his home, his name went unspoken by mortal tongues,

but when it fell to earth with him we crushed it to just “Khan”.

When the army asked what he wanted, he said “To help”,

so we told him to fix things and left him to it.

The mayor gave a speech that morning, talking

of gratitude and service beyond the call. 

Then they strolled beneath my window:

The day after they were gone.

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