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Together! Pop-up Poetry Cafe in Newham host a Dao poets event / 23 August 2014

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Knitting Time illustration © Colin Hambrook []

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I’ve been working hard behind the scenes developing Dao’s performance poetry presence, applying to produce our own gigs and recommending Dao poets to other producers.

We did a gig last May at DAiSy Fest with Allan Sutherland and Penny Pepper. I'd like to extend a big thank you to the Together! Pop-up Poetry cafe at the amazing House Mill, on Three Mills Island, for hosting myself, Wendy Young and Bonk for an evening of poetry performance.

We performed in the cafe to 30-40 people, many of whom are regular part of Together’s ongoing programme of poetry workshops and performance managed by Sarah Hughes.

It is very impressive what Together! have nurtured in Newham with an ongoing free programme of events, which is as accessible as budgets allow. The Pop-up poetry event had Live captions and a BSL interpreter. I didn’t envy the job of Kris Pryer, particularly when it came to signing my own poetry, much of which is pretty dense, written in a visual, abstract language. Between poems I tell the stories behind the words, to illustrate how the imagery relates to lived experience of psychosis.

It was interesting to get feedback from Kris saying how important it was for the deaf people present to hear the stories in order to get where the poetry was coming from, as much of the words were difficult to translate. And it occurred to me how interesting it would be to work with a Deaf poet to create choreographed piece that fused BSL and English.

Wendy Young’s performance was gritty gut-wrenching stuff! Her words pour out with an equal measure of humour, compassion and cynicism for the kind of world and the kind of people we are supposed to emulate according the values we see in the media, in comparison with real people, and real lives, which are much more interesting and noteworthy. Wendy shines a light into some of the darkest, most unholy places with humour and humility.

Bonk did the final spot with his mate Paul who came along to play some guitar to accompany his raps and rhymes. Dressed as the Clown of Justice, complete with policeman’s helmet with blue flashing light, he presented an explosive set of poetry, talking about his experience of the mental health system. He ended the set with ‘Chameleon’ a raw, shocking evocation of his life story.

The song has an authenticity that sends tingles down your spine. Much of Bonk’s work talks about the benefit system and ATOS. ‘Are You Mad Yet?’ is another favorite, with a direct message on what’s happening politically, annotated by a catchy rousing chorus.

The reality is that the pressure on people with a history of mental health issues is growing steadily harsher. There were some very distressing stories that came through in conversation afterwards of loved ones who have committed suicide under strain of what is happening as the austerity measures hit the weakest, the hardest.

The disability community is under so much stress with the combination of media spin and benefit cuts and the kinds of ventures that Together and other community arts organisations, produce are essential lifelines - even if they have become so much harder to fund that ever before.

There’s more to come at the Southbank Centre during the first week of September. Dao has produced a ‘Special Editions’ event: ‘Perceptions of Difference’ at the Poetry Library in the Royal Festival Hall on Wed 3 Sept 8-9.30 as part of Unlimited 2014. In collaboration with Survivors’ Poetry we’ve put together a celebration of the organisation with sets from two founder members Hilary Porter and Frank Bangay as well as John O’Donoghue (former Chair) and Debjani Chatterjee (patron).

Together! are also producing a set for the Liberty Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London on 30 August, where you’ll have an opportunity to see the talented Wendy Young perform again.

On 11 October a further Outside In event is happening at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester to celebrate World Mental Health Day

Watch this space for further news of poetry events being produced by Dao, and if you are interested in having your work promoted on Dao please get in touch with me, Colin Hambrook, via

Keywords: mental health,poetry