Review: The Poetry Prom, Snape Maltings,

Comic poet John Hegley

Comic poet John Hegley

I didn’t know what to expect from the Poetry Prom. Both location and name seemed to suggest it would be a rather highbrow affair full of sombre, intellectual wordplay. However, Poetry Trust director, Naomi Jaffa, soon dispelled any of these preconceptions as she introduced the evening with the promise of widespread hilarity. A risky promise to make, for comedy can be highly subjective and poetry has a reputation of exclusivity. But my fears of a tumble-weed silent Snape Concert Hall were entirely unnecessary as, from the off, our funny bones were well and truly tickled.

First to take to the stage was poet, broadcaster, lyricist, dramatist and Barnsley dweller Ian McMillan. McMillan’s performance was a collaboration of poetry and anecdote sewn together with a strong thread of observational comedy. ‘We’re creative people who notice things; watch things’, McMillan said about poets, and proceeded to invite us to ‘notice things’ with him as he shared his collection of odd posters.

My favourite had to be the one taken from a library counter which stated ‘We do not provide washing-up liquid’. McMillan’s warm Yorkshire accent and impeccable comic timing mean his poems truly come to life in performance.

John Hegley opened the second half with a violent strum of his mandolin and the statement ‘Ok Snape, let’s rock’. There followed Hegley’s distinctive mix of eccentricity, wit and evocative description.

Hegley has had a 30-year publishing career and his latest collection New & Selected Potatoes presents new work alongside some of his best-loved poems from his previous 12 collections. Sometimes singing, sometimes speaking, Hegley had the audience enraptured. It was a performance full of witty punchlines, both in the poems and in his off-the-cuff remarks. I must say that the quip ‘If I wanted a percussionist I would have brought one’, directed to those members of the audience determined to clap along to one of his songs, was inspired.

McMillan and Hegley’s poetry shares an intelligent surrealism. Whilst their more wacky poems, such as ‘The Guillemotte Song’ (Hegley) and ‘The Hole in the Hall’ (McMillan), were good entertainment pieces, both poets seemed to be at their strongest when writing about their families and childhood memories. As they shifted from anecdotes to performance so effortlessly, it was easy to miss the fact that these were really well-crafted poems. Some were particularly poignant and it would have been good to hear a few more of these, particularly from Hegley. It would have also been great to hear more from them performing as a duo.

Poetry doesn’t always get a good rap. Often viewed as impenetrable or just a bit boring, it’s simply not on a lot of people’s radars. We need more events like this to show how engaging it can be. In her introduction Naomi Jaffa’s assessment of poetry was that, ‘The good stuff makes you feel’.

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I would add that good poetry also makes you see the world from a new perspective, often a perspective you didn’t even know existed. Ian McMillan and John Hegley’s Poetry Prom was not comprised of raw, edgy spoken word demanding you to look at the world from sharp new angles. Neither was it philosophical verses in iambic pentameter.

Hegley and McMillan brought poetry that filled a jam-packed Snape Concert Hall with laughter. McMillan promised that after their performance ‘Amazing things will happen to you; you’ll see things; you’ll notice things’, and he was right. From bizarre signs, to interesting phrases, to memories of childhood you’d thought long-forgotten. The everyday begins to look not so ‘everyday’, but really rather special.

Hannah Rowe

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