On Friday night we went along to the opening night of the very first Sheffield poetry festival. We made the whole evening even more complete by eating at The Milestone before the readings (if you haven’t been yet, it’s fabulous, just go) and then we soaked up the culture at The Showroom in Sheffield’s cultural quarter.
Headlining poet was Marsden’s most famous son (I think), Simon Armitage, who I have seen before in rock band mode with his 80’s throwback outfit The Scaremongers. This was a concert I despised, by the way, and yet subsequently loved the album – go figure.
Alongside the almost Laureate was a couple of local poets, Ed Reiss from Bradford and Nell Farrell from Sheffield.
Ed was up first, nervous and edgy. Clearly not as practised as other poets, his prose was fast and modern. His experience as an educated white lad living in BD10 had a large influence on his nervously delivered but powerful collection.
Nell was up next: middle-aged, relaxed, funky in a Mohican kind of way. The laughs she delivered came as a welcome antidote to Ed’s confrontational and challenging prose. I was so taken with the title of her most recent pamphlet that I bought it. I love that they use and indeed revere this word in poetry – pamphlet in the normal world is peripheral and transient, but somehow in poetry it is a badge of permanence.
The title of Nell’s pamphlet is ‘A Drink With Camus After The Match’ which caught my ear, given we’d read “L’Etranger” last year in book club, one of Camus’ most well-known books. Camus was a footballer for those of you with lives and I just like the link – it made me smile – like Nell’s poetry.
Next up was the man himself, poetry royalty, here in Sheffield. Armitage is one of the modern greats and his unpredictable performance was bang on the money. He said he’s never read new stuff before, that he’s always ‘called on his little darlings’ – the previously published banker poems that always give the punters what they want. Fair play to the boy – he delved into new work that was slow and reflective, speaking of night shifts ending in bus shelters and mortality looming. He did dig out a couple of crowd pleasers at the end of his set including Sir Gawain – just as Mozza would play Girlfriend in a Coma or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now to the faithful acolytes.
Armitage’s flat vowells and deadpan delivery was note perfect and not even a gang of curious booze hounds pressing at the window could put him off his pace – this was an impressively relaxed performance, delivering fireworks and mundanity in equal measure. He knows how to read his work, that’s for sure, and I wonder what Ed Reiss might be like when he’s had as much experience – quite good I expect.
Finally, I thought I’d have a go at explaining the second half of the title of this post, in the form of a stanza…
Stuck to the windscreen, we didn’t see it
A parking ticket
But we thought it was free
From a reliable source, from Sheffield