Features Published 12 August 2015

Speak, Memory: Poetry and the Fringe

Four poets and performers talk about finding a space for poetry amid the noise of the Fringe.
Natasha Tripney

Racheal Ofori: I’ve always loved poetry. I enjoy using it as a writer because the form is so open. There is no obligation to rhyme or to have so many words in a stanza or to even have stanzas at all. I mainly write poetry for performance, and the fact that there are no rules to the medium means you can really play with the story telling.

Working on Portrait in particular, I was attracted to the idea of fusing poetry with monologues, to create a language for the audience to be immersed in. The piece toys with issues that are quite provocative, and so using poetry was a way to bring these issues to light.

I like the idea of surprising the audience as well. One of the themes of Portrait is to challenge stereotypes, and using poetry as a language for some of the characters is a surprise; as maybe one wouldn’t imagine them using such language to communicate their ideas. The piece can also be described as satirical and I enjoy using poetic language and witty rhyme to exploit that.

So poetry seems like the perfect medium to be creative and present challenging ideas to audiences.

Racheal Ofori performs Portrait at Pleasance Dome until 29th August.

John Osborne: I’ve been performing poetry at the Fringe since 2008. The first time was a show called The Mid 90s la la la – my friend Paddy did stand-up and I did poems. It was pretty shambolic and we pottered around in the rain handing out soggy flyers to disinterested passers-by. Not many people came to watch us, but there were enough magical moments for me to realise something special was happening. Something I took away from that slightly surreal rainy August seven years ago is how much I love the unpredictable. I like to not know exactly where a show is heading. I’m pretty sure audiences do too.

Occasionally I meet or hear from someone who has identified with something I’ve written. They’ve heard or read something of mine that resonates. It doesn’t happen often, but that’s what writing and performing is all about. I’m incredibly proud of the poems I’ve written in the last few months. They are very important to me and there is no better place to showcase my new work than in a tiny corner of the world’s biggest arts festival. I feel exactly the same now as when I first arrived in 2008. It’s not for money or awards; I have no producer or PR. I just hope some people will come along and like what I do.

People who come to my show are often the type who make a spreadsheet of what to watch. I think my work sits well with people who are frantically rushing around from venue to venue. For me poetry is another form of storytelling. Of making people laugh or sad, engaging people, a brief respite before we head up another hill to meet someone or watch another show or drink another pint of Tenants from a plastic pint glass.

Most people aren’t that happy, anyway by John Osborne is at the Voodoo Rooms as part of the PBH Free Fringe. 1.30 pm. 8-30 August.

Matt Abbott is Skint and Demoralised

Matt Abbott is Skint and Demoralised

Matt Abbott: I started performing spoken word when I was 17, and for the first 6 years I only performed at music gigs. Nobody was there to hear poetry, and so it had to be instantly accessible. It was hearing John Cooper Clarke for the first time that inspired me to try it out, and instantly I was hooked by the adrenaline of spoken word.

Before long it developed into a musical project, and when I was 19 the band (Skint & Demoralised) signed a record deal with Universal, within 9 months of forming. It was insane. We toured the UK, were loved by R1 and 6Music and were a hit in the broadsheets as well as on the major festival circuit. So from 2007-2013 I was predominantly a lyricist. But the whole time I did short bursts of spoken word between songs and the rush never died.

The Edinburgh show fell into place when I switched my focus back to poetry in summer 2013, and thanks to the flourishing spoken word scene, I started to gather a lot of momentum. I co-founded a collective called A Firm Of Poets and we’ve had a good deal of success in 2 years. But all along I knew that Edinburgh was the holy grail, and wanted to test myself at the highest level.

I’m a huge fan of Luke Wright, as well as Elvis McGonagall, Attila the Stockbroker and John Hegley. My background isn’t poetic, my style is very much based on conversational realism as opposed to traditional poetic form, and in some ways I’m completely under qualified. But I think the honesty, authenticity and humorous down-to-earth approach carries some appeal, and I hope that I can bring something worthy to the Edinburgh audiences. It’s been a long time coming!

Matt Abbott is Skint and Demoralised is at Sweet Grassmarket at 10.10pm from 17th-23rd August 2015.

Clair Whitefield: I am doing my show as part of PBH’s Free Fringe, so I have been relentlessly flyering every day, flyering outside of friends’ gigs  – I know a lot of other performance poets taking shows up as part of the Free Fringe – and performing excerpts of the show at free gigs hoping that I can ignite some decent word of mouth.   There’s a massive performance poetry contingent up here and everyone is very supportive of each other.

Never the less, the Fringe is competitive and exhausting. I know this and I’m prepared.  I am a relatively unknown act- that’s why I am doing the Free Fringe. I hope people will be more likely to take a punt on my show as it’s their time they’re risking not their cash.  For me, this also fits with the spirit of the fringe and I haven’t had to pay exorbitant venue hire – something that would have been a huge barrier to taking a show up this year.

Performing at the festival, is something I have always wanted to do. I first went to the Fringe when I was 13. I paid £3 for a ticket and sat in a shoe-box of a theatre while three men pretended to be pandas. It was mental. But it was fun. That’s why I am so excited to be part of this year’s glorious, wild and magical mix of shows.

Clair Whitefield performs Chopping Chillies at Cowgate Head until 31st August.

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Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

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