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Have you ever read a book, watched a movie or play, or listened to a speech and come away almost unable to talk about it because it’s given you too much to think about or has touched on some question or idea that’s been floating listlessly in your mind for some time, unarticulated? And when you hear it from someone else’s mouth, that nagging thought captured perfectly, you can’t really find the words. That’s how I felt with David Lee Morgan and Jem Rolls. Both Morgan and Rolls were brilliant, and, for me, the poets took the day.
I didn’t think I was going to like Morgan’s show, Science, Love, and Revolution (which he tells us can also be read as an equation: Science + Love = Revolution). He stood at the front of the room, which was actually a dungeon in a themed restaurant, in an oversized turtleneck, checking his mic and music, asking me if the sound was okay. Looking at him, one imagines every 60’s burnout that ever lived; he’s got curly, long gray hair, a dangling earring, ferreted movements. In all, he promised to be a disaster. But, there was no disaster. He was brilliant. I’ve never seen someone transform so powerfully and fully. The soft-spoken, somewhat scattered man became a powerful, political, inspiring performer. Think of every hot-button topic and word you can and then imagine all of them within one show. He spoke about poverty, rebellion, oppression, gender, democracy, communism, and money. He spits out the words of sacrifice, suffering and revolution, of wisdom and enlightenment. What he says is radical, is political, but it’s also wise. And as he performs, he applies the much-needed wisdom he claims this world lacks.
Jem Rolls was also an unexpected pleasure. He reminded me—dare I say it—a little of Vinnie Jones when he first walked in and
abruptly shouted his first poem about English history, which, according to Jem, is: “We won, we won, we won, wewonwewonwewon, and invented everything”. He creates a rough blend of poetry and story telling, of good fun and deeply political statements. He’s basically a ranter, but it works well. His work moves you breathlessly from a drunken night with two young men, to a poem about speed (which is actually more a poem about greed), to another about army built mass-murderers in his hometown, to a poem entitled “I know what the birds are thinking and I understand the look in their eyes”, which brings into question our own sense of superiority. My favourite of Jem’s poems was his “backstage” poem, which transitions from a poem about a failed poem to one where words are personified and given power. They remove the author and become a democracy of their own. He speaks to the hopelessness of writing a poem (though this could easily be applied to any form of writing) when the words are against you. In our interview, Jem told me that this show is a compilation of his “greatest hits”. And his poetry is very much like a hit—a punch in the face that must turn you into some kind of masochist because you leave wanting more.
I wholeheartedly recommend both shows to you. If you can’t make it to see David or Jem perform this year, check out my interviews with both. They discuss their shows and inspirations and both recited poems for Litro.
Check back with me to hear about the rest of the shows I attended and to keep up to date on the events I’ll be going to on Thursday, which include Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, and poet Luke Wright.