Last night I went along again to the Hit the Ode performance at the Victoria pub in Birmingham. I had been hoping to get one of the open mic slots to give some of my material for tomorrow's slam a bit of a test run but it was not to be. The performance slots had all been taken before I got there and by a very talented group poets including many of the usual suspects and a few I hadn't come across before. Matt Windle, Louise Stokes and Jodi-Ann Blickley gave their usual assured performances with their usual stage personas,strongly to the fore. I was particularly taken with the feat of memory required for Matt to get through his long and impressive "Outstanding". The poets I hadn't seen before included a brief but funny set from Fergus McGonigal, a début appearance from the talented James Burnette and a set from Al Hutchins. The final slot was taken up by four members of the Birmingham University slam team, including Sean Colletti and Andy Cook who I have seen before and Sam Murphy and James Bunton who I haven't. There were also two brief rapping guest spots but rap isn't really my thing and I didn't manage to get their names.
Of course it's the three headline acts that we actually pay to see so what about them? Well the second half contained both Fatima Al Matar and Joshua Bennet. Fatima's poetry is quiet and rather intense. It needs - and deserves - serious attention and the audience gave it that, falling quiet as they listened to her thoughtful set but applauding loudly at its end. Joshua, who has performed for the Obamas, also has a fairly restrained and relaxed style but the content of his work is very good indeed and his final piece about his deaf sister was especially well done.
For me though, all of this, wonderful though it was, was overshadowed by the first half headliner, Byron Vincent who was quite simply brilliant. He was worth far more than the tiny entrance fee on his own. I have paid much more to see professional comedians who were no more than on a par with this young man. It's debatable whether much in his twenty minutes could actually be called poetry but as a piece of stand up comedy/theatre it was spectacular. His delivery was breathtaking and his material had me laughing out loud so much hat I kept missing the next joke. He's substantially better than a lot of the stuff we get on TV and worth looking out for. He managed the trick of making something very, very difficult look very, very easy. His style is to make it all look as if he's making it up as he goes along while a moment's thought makes it apparent that no one could be that good without a lot of effort and practice. I shall certainly be keeping a look out for future performances from him.