Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Review of John Hegley at the Holt Festival, Norfolk. July 23, 2013

That's the first time I've been instructed to write a poem in an interval. Seriously, £16 a ticket to watch a poet and I have to write my own poem? Then listen to a bunch of audience limericks as bad as my own being read out for most of the second half?

Oh, stop being so grumpy. The whole point of John Hegley is to celebrate poetry as a shared experience relevant to us all right now, not just to dusty, long-haired, ivory-towered English literature lecturers with tissues and hand cream on their ramshackle desks.

He's the post-punk People's Laureate in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron and Roger McGough. A brilliant wordsmith playing with our language, tapping out a rhythm with his plimsolls and baggy suit, nodding his bespectacled, greying head to the beat of his audacious rhymes.

And what rhymes. Dizzying seabird flights of fancy about guillemots, Auden in Iceland, needing you like an endless list of amusing similes and a couplet impresario pairing furniture with returnitt'yer.

I remember him from the John Peel sessions in the 80s. He's 59 now and at his most entertaining when playing along with a mandolin to his whimsical word pictures of growing up in Luton, worshipping his brother, missing his parents, being in love, being alive.

At times it felt like we'd wandered into a dry-iced poetry workshop in the theatre at the heart of Gresham's School, surrounded by an idyllic cricket ground, tennis courts, whispering trees and gelato ice creams on the lawn. I'd have preferred more Hegley and less uninspirational audience input, but the evening came alive when he split the almost-full theatre in three and had us waving our our arms like wings, our hands like fish and mumbling along about blancmange.

He was a perfect booking for the Holt Festival. The more short-sighted among us tapped along on our eye glasses as instructed, sipped Adnam's from our plastic glasses and headed home with a poem in our hearts and a slight sense of jealousy that our crap schools hadn't been a patch on the one we'd just visited. And it was only £5 a ticket for the kids.

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