On Monday night, as part of the annual TakeOver Festival at the York Theatre Royal the first floor foyer was “taken over” by Spoken Word performers and musicians. The evening was emceed with brisk humour and empathy by poet/musician Steve Nash. A wide range of local and regional poet and prose performers headlined, including Michael Hildred, Rose Drew, Andrew Brown, Abi Curtis, Steve Toase, Miles Cain, Clare Neruda, Oz Hardwick, Henry Raby, and a host of poets featured in The Grist Anthology of the Best New Poetry 2012. Musicians included the ethereal Holly Taymar and the rich, clean sound of 15 year old Stevie Mould (“Go ahead and judge me/ If you want to”), who brought Joan Baez to mind.
Interspersed among the invited readers were poets who had had to sign up days in advance to glean one of the rare Open Mic spots. Most headliners have established themselves as key members of the Yorkshire ‘Lit Scene’, such as Henry Raby, who takes his sell-out one man show “Letter to the Man (from the Boy)” to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, or are up-and-comers like the deceptively quiet, electric Laurence Reilly.
Local small press publishers Stairwell Books and Valley Press offered their wares throughout the evening. Stairwell Books offers novels, poetry anthologies and will publish the upcoming York:800 anthology of poetry to celebrate the founding of City of York; and Valley Press has established itself as publisher of top poetry talent such as Andrew McMillan, York writers Helen Burke and Miles Cain, among others.
Stand out performers included Shar March, who read about Tube suicides in “Inconvenienced”: many of us have indeed been so inconvenienced and yet felt guilty for feeling inconvenienced. Julia Deakin is always a pleasure, and gets to the heart of an issue, teasing it apart with a deft yet tender knife. Clare Neruda was passionate and brave delivering “Slut Shaming”. The afore-mentioned Laurence Reilly moves so completely into his poetic moment we don’t always know if he is, or isn’t, actually in tears (he wasn’t); and Jo Hardy, the 2011 winner of the Malton Literature Festival Slam, partly sang and partly read a snippet of that award-winning ballad. Other local luminaries read only in the open mic section, including the brilliant Lizzy Linklater, Jem Henderson, Toby Bull, Tony Howson. I fear other names escape me.
The evening was summed up best about halfway through by Grist Poet Matt O’Brien: “A human being is a doomed maiden voyage.” Last night, TakeOver celebrated the commonality of all our glorious, imperfect, unique voyages of doom.