Like most of the performers at last night's City Voices I did my first ever public reading at City Voices back in the days when it was upstairs at the Clarendon Hotel. As I recall it was for the publication of the Wolverhampton Writers' first anthology which I had got into after being a finalist in the Poems on the Metro competition.
My, haven't we come a long way?
A poetry event that's managed a hundred performances over more than eight years; it's unthinkable, isn't it?
City Voices 100th
Left to Right Simon Fletcher, Emma Purshouse, Roy McFarlane,
Roger Jones (front), Win Saha, Jeff Phelps
(Image (c) John Davies)
City Voices goes from strength to strength and for the 100th Simon Fletcher, who has organised it from the very beginning, had chosen a line up of some of his personal favourites among many performers who have appeared there. He started with Roger Jones, whose writing always shows the easy charm of a great raconteur. His tales are drawn from his life and are always very entertaining. Last night he gave us the story of how a disaster in his first job, aged 15, gave him a chance to play rugby every Saturday. A light tale, very well told, and a great start to an evening's entertainment.
He was followed by Win Saha who, more than anyone else, defines City Voices. She is a regular with her humourous take on life and has, in the course of her life of writing, produced more than two thousand poems. She views the world through an amused, though sometimes slightly scornful, eye and writes about every subject under the sun with skill and wit. Last night's set gave us poems about men's perceptions of women, hedge funds, a family with a flagpole, undertakers and a visit to the theatre among many others. All of them were new to me and all of them were as good as we've come to expect from Win.
Roy McFarlane, who came at the end of the first half, is the Birmingham Poet Laureate, and his performances are always marked by the passion of his delivery as well as the quality of his writing. Whether it's a poem, written for the Holocaust Memorial, about how stories never remain untold, or an angry piece about library closures or a poem about walking with someone you love, he delivers it with such power and life that it's impossible not to get caught up in the words.
After the break we moved on to Emma Purshouse who gave us a set of mostly new material. There was no cause for concern though. All of it was what we have come to expect. A piece about booking poetry shows into theatres without mentioning that they are poetry was followed by a very short piece entitled "Alice Cooper does Poetry Criticism". A trio of poems about butterflies, including one about the Comma Butterfly that was particularly clever, followed and she finished up with the only one that I have heard before, about the voice of a pub slot machine. As good as ever.
We finished up with a very different kind of performer, Jeff Phelps, who read an extract from his book Box of Tricks and another extract from his current work in progress. Both were excellent. The extract from the book had the narrator and his girlfriend getting cut off from the shore by the advancing tide and bickering a realistic way about what they should do about the situation, while the second was a tale of a girl playing hide-and seek with some younger children. Both tales had a realism and the second managed the difficult trick of being convincing in a present tense narrative which often comes off as contrived but here gave a sense of time and place that the more impersonal past tense narrative might not manage.
And that was it - the 100th City Voices over and done. Here's to the next 100.