It also reminded me that no matter where I go, poetry is one of my homes – Megan Ann Ward
Bang Said the Gun was my saving grace last time I was in London, a consistent source of entertainment, inspiration and camaraderie with my fellow bangers. And yes, the innuendos are endless.
Affectionately referred to as the series for people “who don’t necessarily like poetry”, the event draws in stand-up poets (spoken word poets, performance poets, musical poets…) from across the country; I heard that people had traveled in from Oxford and Surrey, just for the evening. I had them beat because I came all the way from Canada, dontcha know.
Hosted by a waistcoated wood sprite named Daniel Cockrill, the evening is four-fold: it kicks off with recurring feature performances from co-organizers Martin Galton – known for his infamous books of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ – and Rob Auton – reputed for his impeccable comic timing -, followed by a 10-minute set from the winner of the previous week’s ‘Raw Meat Stew’ (more about that later), then an invited feature or two (usually someone who has made it ‘big’ on the UK scene), and finishes off with a raucously rushed open-mic that is called, you guessed it, the ‘Raw Meat Stew’.
With a set soundtrack and familiar jokes, the evenings progresses like a well-timed, well-loved radio show: the host gets his own introductory music and he riles up the crowd by holding up a handmade sign saying “Shake”. Quite happy to play along, everyone in the audience picks up their noise makers and hoots and hollers as loudly as they can. As the host notes, “it’s not a real poetry show until the neighbours come to complain!”
You’re welcome to a front-row seat on one of the sleek red couches for the perfect view, and if you enjoy being picked on. Daniel always chooses one person to wear a silly (I mean, supremely dignified) hat and lead the cheering. He always checks in first: “Do you have a lot of responsibility in your life? Married? Job? Kids? No…? Then this is the job for you!” Another person close to the front will be chosen to judge the ‘Raw Meat Stew’ poets later in the show.
This past Thursday the Bang audience was treated to a number of stellar features. The first was the series’ writer-in-residence (at least, that’s how she was introduced) Mel Jones, who had recently published a book of poetry called Fuck Me (If You Think You’re Hard Enough). And no, I’m not kidding.
You can see headliner Will Stopha’s performance in the video above: it was awfully sweet of him to do a ‘Welcome to London’ poem just for me!
And then there was headlining duo Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna. Wow wow wow. I had seen these two the last time I was in London (in fact, I was in the audience when Katie first performed at Bang back in August), and I knew they were great — but their performance was something truly original. Essentially, it was a narrative piece about a guy and a girl who become disillusioned by their friends’ respective stag and hen parties; they lock eyes at a club, and the night progresses from there. Simple enough story, but the poetry of the piece is gripping: the rhythm is suspenseful and playful, engaging and intelligent. You become acquainted with these complex characters very quickly and empathize with their growing frustration regarding the drunken company: “Oh, I love it,” repeats one particularly obnoxious hen. The duo told me afterward that they are hoping to expand this piece into a full-length performance. Theatre as poetry; poetry as theatre. This is a new trend (at least to my eyes and ears) that I’m sure will only increase in popularity, especially when the quality is this high.
We know it’s time for the ‘Raw Meat Stew’ when a hilarious, somewhat graphic cartoon appears on the projection screen. And this is how it works: there are 8 spots on the open-mic sign-up sheet; each performer gets 2 minutes to share a poem, a song, or some other type of performance. Influenced by round of applause, the randomly selected judge (and maybe some nearby friends) get to decide whose performance was the best and who wins the ‘golden gun’ award and a feature set the following week. This week’s winner was a striking-looking woman who shared an anecdotal poem about the violent things she would like to do to her former landlord; I’m sure many of us can relate.
And I performed the following short poem:
You stuck your tongue down my throat on Clarence Street
And I think it was the most beautiful thing that has ever happened
Tourists choked on their ice cream
Servers at the Hard Rock Cafe smashed their plates and cried ‘Opa!’
And motorcyclists revved their engines in approval
And after gorging ourselves on slabs of chocolate cake shaped like mud pies
We drove home in a pick-up truck made for two
Bang Said the Gun takes place every Thursday at The Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street near Borough Station on the Northern Line. Start time: 8pm. Show up very early if you want to score a place on the open mic list.
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