Rubix and Elephant two poetry collectives from Camden's Roundhouse came to Oval House Theatre on 14 January 2012. Nicole Fordham Hodges recalls some key moments at this spoken word event.
The Ovalhouse Theatre was in the middle of its 33% London Festival: 'The Festival for Young Artists by Young Artists'. Influxes of young people were arriving from different directions like currents of fizzing water. There was an art exhibition, the last night of a 33% play. Everyone was deeply engaged: they either knew each other already or who soon would. It was not the place for a person sitting alone with notebook, yet the atmosphere was open and friendly. People drank mugs of tea alongside others drinking Leffe. Someone in pinstripes held a copy of the Telegraph.
Rubix and Elephant, two poetry collectives from Camden's Roundhouse, were visiting their South London neighbours. After initial difficulties quietening the home-grown Ovalhouse buzz, the host Sean Mahoney guided the evening with a light touch and affectionate ad-lib. Sean's poem about the summer riots. “ Everyone ran like half-way through the sale in Debenhams” was for me too lighthearted. It began an eclectic evening. The poems had immediacy and vibrancy in common. They fed on the energy of the city with its mess of images and “car exhaust incense” (Justice Lyric), yet stayed close to the imagery of childhood. They easily and without embarrassment negotiated the language of the moment: mobile phones, playstations, consumer ephemera.
As Dean Atta read 'I am Nobody's Nigger' the atmosphere deepened. “Rappers when you use the word nigger, remember that's one of the last words Stephen Lawrence heard, so don't tell me it's a reclaimed word.” Written just the night after the Lawrence verdict, Dean explained, the poem was posted on SoundCloud where it became an overnight hit. It may have been quickly written, but it had some powerful lines: “How were you raised on Public Enemy/ And still became your own worst enemy?”
Bridget Minamore's poem 'What's Good?' was a cleverly constructed list of the little things which make life joyful. Skipping between sounds and free-associations, it referenced the trivial, the topical and the branded alongside universal feelings and joys. “Haagen-Dasz vanilla ice-cream bought from Sainsbury's using Nectar points, so basically you've got it for free.” The poem had the equalising effect of the city: the small made profound, the profound made everyday. It all added up a deeply nourishing poem.
Zia Ahmed, Roundhouse slam champion 2011, delivered a wandering poem about lost love. He was deliciously awkward, as if he were delicately unwinding himself. His object of desire was “floating round my head like a nonbiodegradable Tesco bag.” This was an authentic, poignant, funny voice.
This was mostly a biodegradable event. Only a few lines remain in my head, but I will remember the buzz. Many of the references were hard to follow for anyone from a different generation. Does this matter? This is spoken word: about bringing something to life, not about lasting. It is part of being in the cluttered moment, in a busy city, and seeing a clear way through.
Rubix and Elephant perform at the Camden Roundhouse, on 27 January 2012.
Oval House Theatre, 52-54 Kennington Oval London SE11 5SW.
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