Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brighton festival fringe substitutes gin for poetry

It is bizarre indeed that the year Brighton festival has a poet, Michael Rosen, as its artistic director, his chosen art form is conspicuous in its absence.

Several years ago, the festival's attitude to poetry became clear when it changed 'Literature' to 'Books and debate' so it could squeeze events incompatible with the big money-making slots (dance, music, comedy) into an anything-goes slush category that covered journalists interviewing journalists, film and so on.

This year the Slush Pile features 28 events,  two of them poetry: Modern Poetry in Translation on Saturday 4 May, guaranteed to be brilliant because of the actual appearance of world-class poets Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau and The Poetry Army, a dramatisation of Heathcote Williams' new work The Poetry Army. In terms of the appearance on stage of real poets, that's ONE poetry event.

What of the Fringe then? Surely that will take risks, if risk is what poetry has become synonymous with?

At least the Fringe calls it literature, but hijacked by Hendricks Gin, the category takes bizarre twists and turns - an applied social science annual public lecture is billed as 'spoken word', as is 'ask a philospher'. Hendricks' irritating sponsorship manifests itself as a 'carnival of knowledge'.

Like the main festival, it also contains two poetry events - one is a night of dead poets' nonsense (no risk of upsetting the applecart with live poets) and New Writing South makes a valiant attempt by combining poetry with Caribbean food and an open mic. Sound familiar?

So that's it. Two, of course, makes the pain easier to bear. No-one is being tokenistic with two. And the tags are entertaining. Other than 'spoken word', the reader of the Fringe brochure is directed to 'funny' or 'interactive' and unsurprisingly given the sponsor there are five 'tasting' events in literature.

Perhaps I should repeat that. FIVE TASTING EVENTS.  Featuring cocktails, not poets. No forget poetry....this year Brighton festival shoves poetry aside in favour of gin.