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Opera North - The Little Greats

Review: Word of Mouth

26 November 12 words: Oliver Clark
The latest offering from the Nottingham Writers' Studio was themed around journeys.

Antenna played host to another enticing writing event on Wednesday 21 November.  A variety of authors, poets and scriptwriters came together for Word of Mouth – Journeys, to celebrate themes of travel and free expression. 
 
It had been nine months to the day since three members of the feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, were arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment for hooliganism. On February 21 2012, five of the members staged a performance on the soleas of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Their protest was directed at the Orthodox Church leader's support for Putin during his election campaign yet it was perceived as having the means to disgrace the church. Word of Mouth – Journeys was therefore part of a larger celebration across the country to acknowledge the right to freedom of expression and openly disagree with their prosecution.  
 
Nottingham Writers’ Studio was in partnership with organisation PEN for the event. PEN has 145 centres in more than 100 countries and fights for writers around the world who are imprisoned or persecuted for sharing their writing. There was an opportunity to become a member of English PEN throughout the evening for a small fee of £3.75 a month. 
 
After purchasing a much-needed glass of white wine to overcome the bitter November cold, I parked myself down and got ready for a series of inspirational readings. Three time novelist, Megan Taylor, greeted us warmly on the stage and encouraged any Twitter addicts in the room to “tweet” their thoughts using #womjourneys. Incorporating technology into performance is something that the Writers’ Studio have been experimenting with for a while, a previous WOM included Skype readings from around the world.   
 
The journey began at Grandma’s house as Alison Moore indulged us with her short story, Sleeping Under the Stars. Recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 for her first novel, The Lighthouse, Alison captivated the audience with her heartwarming story. As soon as I heard the words “fat coils of licorice,” I knew her imagery alone was enough to keep me hooked. On this reading alone I’ll be looking forward to her first short story collection next year with Salt. 
 
 
Richard Goodson picked up the pace shortly afterwards with a reading of two short poems. The first described a train journey that incorporated the harsh world of cosmetic surgery. His second poem on self-awareness of the human body during a long distance run really captured my attention. I distinctly remember lungs compared to ravenous dogs and the saltiness of sweat alike to a joint of ham.  If I was to shut my eyes for just a second, I could experience the exhaustion he described. It’s safe to say that I don’t exercise that often so it was a challenge to relive those moments. Richard is also known for setting up the Word Jam network for writers in Nottingham. (See above for a previous WOM performance by Richard)
 
Winner of the 2011 Yeovil Literary Prize for Poetry, Andy Miller, was next to take his place on the stage. His poetry gave us an insight into his own travels on the Northumberland coast and as far as the Himalayas. His prose poem captured precious snapshots of family interactions, aromas and detailed surroundings.   I found myself picturing similar details from my own travels, details that I had taken for granted. Andy certainly opened a portal for us to enter and walk alongside him.
 
Laura Grevel ventured through this portal during her own reading. Her animated performance had her literally running on stage as her character did in her short story. Every change in pace was contributed with a gesture so we could experience the urgency of her character. Laura’s writing is complimented by an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and an example of the diverse range of writers homed up at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio on Stoney Street.
  
After a short interval, I found myself avidly tweeting my thoughts (making sure to hash tag of course) when poet and poetry producer, Robin Vaughan-Williams, opened the second half. Sound effects of the A52 alongside his poems on the perils of road travel had me cursing the rush hour traffic I endure on Clifton Road.  Talk of wet tarmac, slow lanes and the illumination of lights left me reliving my own hellish road experiences.
 
 
Leftlion’s Aly Stoneman soothed my temporary road rage with her poem about a journey up the River Wye. There was an array of beautiful imagery such as 'Satellites flare and dim/Conifer trees are sharp black cut-outs/Against constellations we cannot name.'    Andrew Kells set the audience up for an interactive finish to the evening when he read his short story, Five Minute Warning. It’s safe to say he was a brilliant speaker and he really pulled me into his literary world. I remember his description of the relationship between the narrator and his grandad. It was carefully constructed so that we grasped a real sense of characterisation throughout the piece. Andrew gave up writing commercials five years ago and decided to start writing stories, which after his reading, I’m grateful to hear!
 
Wayne Burrows is a writer based at Primary Studios and introduced the political motivations behind the collaboration of PEN and the Writers’ Studio. His contribution was a poem from the anthology Catechism, whereby poets from around the world have written verse in support of Pussy Riot. He read a Czech song recorded by Marta Kubisova and banned by the Soviet authorities in 1969. It was certainly one of the most powerful segments of the evening for me. Wayne brought together the themes of travel and free expression by describing them both as “rights.” He commented on how it wouldn’t have been possible to develop the night’s readings without the freedom to travel but also the freedom to write to begin with. He completely hit the nail on the head and justified the evening’s importance.
 
 
James Walker added to Wayne Burrow’s contribution with a cheeky response to Pussy Riot called 'Slap and Sickle' written from the perspective of Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. James has just completed a six-month project called The Sillitoe Trail for The Space which is featured as the November Writer of the Month by Writing East Midlands. 
 
It was a photo essay with Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods) the gravely voiceover. But the technology failed after a minute and there was a chorus of “NO’s” throughout the room. This was quickly resolved and I found myself chuckling at the characterisation of Arthur as he addressed an imaginary brunette by the bar and then at myself for turning around expecting to see her. The evening couldn’t have finished with a better piece of literature. 
 
There is so much I could add about every individual writer’s contributions to the evening. Every piece certainly echoed the themes and ideas surrounding the event. I also think that everyone at Antenna did justice for the members of Pussy Riot when ensuring that free expression should be accepted across all countries. My own ‘journey’ continued afterwards as I hunted down the works of these talented writers. 
 
Word of Mouth ‘Journeys’, 21 November £4/3
 
Many of the writers who performed tonight will be appearing at the Festival of Words in February 2012. For more information and early tickets please see the NottWords website
 

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