Poetry readings were once the preserve of beatniks and students, and performance poetry often comes with the aura of being impenetrable, high-falutin’ and snobby. Apostrophe’s is nothing of the sort. Chris Parkinson has composed a series of poems over the years (apparently, most poets can only turn out about seven good ones per annum) that are fun and lively, political, absurd and amusing.
Parkinson has an unusual stage presence; he is seemingly unused to the spotlight, but is also quite confident in the oddness of starting a show by tossing pieces of paper to the floor, one by one, to a cover of Do Re Mi. At a glance, he looks like a comedian, but he’s not trying to crack wise; his banter is as brief as possible to make more room for the poetry. Indeed, there are possibly too many poems in this particular show – not only did we start late, but we also ran over.
The poems themselves address topics including austerity politics, the destruction of Brighton, hipsters, quite a few animals, and – as hinted in the title – punctuation. Parkinson’s style tends towards fleeting images and miniature vignettes. Delivered rapid-fire, he gasps for breath between lines – seeming to race against the clock to fit in as many words as possible (there are 8,000 in this show), rarely resting to allow an image to sink in before galloping on to the next. There’s a certain headiness to this experience, but often I wished he’s taken a little more time to allow his words to have their effect.
Those words are coloured by a clearly-thorough knowledge of politics, history and current affairs. People of note (from Jill Dando to Prince Philip) crop up at every turn. But I wanted some more critique here; there was an undercurrent of commentary, but the audience was left to do the work of piecing together a cohesive argument after being presented with a flurry of ideas. In the end, I found that letting everything wash over me was the easier path.
Unfortunately, I must also comment that the start of the show was marred by the venue. Separated only by a curtain from the rest of the pub, we had to have the mic volume up extremely high to drown out the merriment of the other patrons.
Performance poetry might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the audience was full and appreciative, with a few sticking around to buy Parkinson’s books. For my taste, that would be a more leisurely way to consume the poetry – but having the author before you, passionate and enthused, is a unique experience worth having in itself.