Performance poetry takes the stage in Cambridge New Writers event

Jamie Rycroft 8 November 2013

Even though there was no theme that united the works performed at the fifth annual New Cambridge Writers event – an evening of poetry and prose readings run by the English Faculty Library – the same question kept on being addressed: whether ‘performance poetry’ could be divided from ‘other’ forms of poetic delivery. Many of these writers already have works in print, yet still decided to perform.

Harry Cochrane, a second-year English student, explained that it helped bring poetry “back to its roots in the oral tradition”. Harry’s translation of a Dante extract benefited from his low-key, conversational delivery, as he attempted to recreate the “simple Italian” that the poet wrote in. On the other end of the spectrum, Alice Walker, a first-year student, provided an apt example of poetry’s dramatic capabilities. Her poems, dark and often with a punch line, would not have fared well if written down, but came alive as she performed them, sans microphone or notes, in an increasingly deranged and desperate manner. But there were also examples of a poet’s delivery being to their detriment. Phoebe Power exaggerated her alliteration until her poems felt close to parody, and Redell Olson, not a student but a fellow, succumbed to perhaps every stereotype of the ‘experimental’ poet – one of her ‘poems’ was essentially a synopsis of Psycho, which I fail to see as a consciously creative effort.

The best people seemed to be the ones not resting somewhat on their laurels, such as Joseph Cooper, reading his work in public for the first time, who captured the audience with his densely rhythmic style. As Catherine Higgins, the final performer, finished the evening by paraphrasing “I Have a Dream” and saying that all people, regardless of race, must make their voice heard, it struck me that these poets, with their diverse content and styles of delivery, are also trying to spread their name. I may not have appreciated all of their work, but I greatly respect the fact that they have the opportunity to voice it rather than let their words remain silent on the page.