Wesley Freeman-Smith Reports on The Rhythm Method Tour at The Fountain 17th February 2013

The Fountain Inn

Poised at the intersection between poetry, comedy and music, two guys in leather wearing far too much make-up are waiting impatiently; double bass wielded like some kind of illegal weapon and a world of flailing words waiting in the wings. Together they are known as The Antipoet, an anarchic tour de force hailing from Milton Keynes, and the chances of an act like this existing are fairly minimal – but I'm very glad they do. Along with comedy poet Mark Niel, these excitable chaps make up the Rhythm Method Tour – presented on it's Cambridge leg by Allographic (dubbed a “nebulous poetry concept”) and Allographic's creator and host Fay Roberts. Thus begins a comedy-poetry-music epic of an evening that's bound to leave a cheerfully worn scar in the ol' sensibilities department – if you don't get 'Rhythm Method' as a title, google it and you'll see what I mean.

Opening up the Allographic half of the evening we have two local poets chosen to complement the joint headliners. Leanne Moden is administered first, like some kind of sexually charged ECT. A tiny lady appearing somewhat sweet on the outside who turns out filthy and funny limericks by the bucket load when left unattended with a microphone. She's become something of a force on the scene; mainly by being very memorable and witty, but helped no doubt by her active promotion of others through blogs and general good will. One of the things about the poetry scene that's so warming is how supportive and community focused the whole thing is, and people like Leanne and the gentleman coming up next are prime examples of that. We start the evening as we mean to go on, with what's become Leanne's signature poem 'Shaving Grace': “You've asked me several times now, I assure you I'm certain, I will not wax the hair from my fuzzy love curtain...” In addition, we have poems about cats in fez hats, ill-advised romances with self-service machines, bad kissers and a playful mocking of the 'tortured artist' ideal – naturally seeming to emerge as a theme this evening.

Accurately introduced as Cambridge's premier poetic polymath, Patrick Widdess is a dedicated advocate of all things that are worth advocating on the local scene – from poetry to performance to music, through radio shows to blogs to photography. His show was flatteringly described as “John Peel with some spoken word in there too”. Tonight he felt a little ill-placed between 3 quite vulgar acts, and the crowd didn't seem to know how to take his surrealism; which is a shame as I adore Patrick's work. Opening poem 'Dawdling' put me immediately back in the head-space of his performances with musician Tom Adams, the surreal imagery buffered on all sides by Tom's texturally lush soundscapes – recordings of which can be heard HERE. Another thing that's noteworthy is how much his work flourishes with touches of humour and greater performance elements – in themselves, the skewed wordplay and perspectives are mind-widening, but tonight was the first time I noticed several small live nuances which betrayed a keen sense of humour and comic timing I'm hoping to see more of. Making the audience wait whilst his spoon drained for a metaphorical 5 hours; satirizing commercial phrasing in poems and introductions; how to avoid looking like you're sticking a croissant in your ear when making a fake phone call. It's hard to know what success looks like for someone so broad in his interests, but one hopes whatever that is, Patrick finds it – a truly unique voice with more than average doses of humour, imagination and originality.

Thus ends the first half of the evening, and so begins the 'Special' half. Mark Niel (That's N-I-E-L; take note or risk the mock-homicidal consequences) is a self-proclaimed stand-up poet – which as he cheerfully explained means if no-one laughs it's poetry not comedy, and vice versa. Not only that, but he's the democratically-proclaimed poet laureate of Milton Keynes – yes, Milton Keynes has a poet laureate. The audience loved this guy – listening, laughing, and groaning at the terrible puns in all the right places; if there is a spectrum of poetry with academic written word at one end and a crowd-pleasing performance at the other, Mark is definitely towards the latter. So much so one wonders if this is still falling under the poetry banner – but a performance it definitely was. Similar to Hammer & Tongue founder Steve Larkin, his set is incredibly fluid with little distinction made between 'pieces' and 'talking-between-pieces' – frequently the two interwove, and what you thought was an intro quickly turned into the attraction itself. Such blurring of lines is far from being unstructured; in fact signifies a consummate and well-seasoned performer.

Another similarity is that when you do this kind of thing full-time, your profession becomes your pool of material; performance poetry about performing poetry, about poetry nights, about poetry gigs. The whole thing was laced with an incredible flair for self-satire, so much so it was hard to tell whether there was some sincere stuff in there parading as parody. Mark Niel's sets were replete with material lambasting the cliche's of the medium, from the confessional poet to the self-absorbed poet, whilst also being itself very self-involved confessional poetry. This kind of odd self-completing loop or comedic solipsism has a lot of mileage, and it's definitely a compelling trick – but I'd be interested in seeing how it fares in the long term; whether it ends up eating itself. The rule of thumb seems to be, if it's not poetic, make it funny; if it's not funny, make it poetic; if all else fails, get loud, unhinged, and irrationally over-emotive. What was important was that it was very funny, well-delivered, and presents an accessibly unpretentious face to anyone guarded towards spoken word. The medium has a lot more versatility than comes into most people's minds when the word 'poetry' is uttered, and everyone here tonight seems dedicated to broadening those horizons – putting poetry in a different light, into non-traditional spaces, and into popular consciousness as synonymous with 'entertaining' as much as 'cultural'.

The only thing that could prepare you for The Antipoet up next is having seen them before. One man slaps and plucks at the upright bass whilst the other dramatically enacts the verbal element, all flailing arms, gnashing of teeth and good stabs of banter. Not only are they unique, but very, very funny; all in a mischievous, impeccably disheveled way. Their act is the antithesis of every pretension you can imagine associated with the poetry scene, without dulling any of it's essential instruments; an active and much needed tonic to people taking themselves all too seriously. We had, again, a riff on the whole 'we're artists – we're special' attitude', all laden with sardonic sneers and irony. We had the piece-most-likely-to-get-you-beaten-up, mocking aging Nazis, and we even had some 'love' poetry – read into that what you will. Such antics would not work if it wasn't incredibly good, but thankfully even when slightly ill they seem to have more energy than a small wind farm and more wit than a seasoned stand-up.

All in all, another great night at Allographic Other Voices, proving the range and appeal of the spoken word medium is often broader than is largely thought. Tonight was not for everyone, but all the better for it; who wants something generic when you can have something tailored to your tastes? Keep your eye on Facebook for upcoming nights, and make sure to get yourself to one.

Writer: Wesley Freeman-Smith