Bardy on down!

It seems clear that some of the most memorable comedy moments at this year's Fringe, and future festivals, will come from performance poets and not their traditional stand-up counterparts

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Published 12 Aug 2007
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As the rain beats down on the meadows on a dreary Saturday morning, the prospects for Luke Wright's impending poetry party aren't looking good. His tent is up, his stage set and his merry band of friends and performers ready: but will the punters come pouring in? In the end, Wright has nothing to worry about: whether it's due to the fact that Luke Wright's Poetry Party is free or because many festival goers are looking for a bit of shelter from the storm, the cosy tent is soon comfortably full of performance poet fans and intrigued onlookers alike. And even if the average spectator doesn't stay for more than 20 minutes or so, the audience never drops below 30 or 40 people all day, which, as an upbeat Luke tells me at the end of Saturdays's performance, "for a Fringe show is great."

An innovative foray into the ever-expanding world of performance poetry, Luke Wright's Poetry Party takes place from noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday: that's 24 hours in total during which party-goers are given ample time to discover the sense of community and shared passion that performance poets harbour in such large quantities. Indeed, the energy and vitality that most performance poets seem to exude is a clear antidote to the Andrew Motion era of British poetry. The poet laureate's closest experience to performance to date is probably the abysmal 'rap' he wrote especially for Prince William's 21st birthday. Similarly, Cumbria Tourism's recent recommissioning of Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" in rap form – an attempt to boost its profile with the younger generation – only served to highlight how the modern performance of poetry has become basely related to the most mundane understandings of hip hop.

But performance poetry at the Fringe in particular is also an antidote to the heavy stand-up comedy bias that the festival has seen crop up over the last decade. This year's sold out comedy acts are all regulars on TV's most popular panel shows: Simon Amstell, Russell Howard, Punt and Dennis, Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle and the like may pack some memorable punchlines and deliver their slick repertoire with seemingly effortless venom, but there's something about their sanitised routine which means that nothing is really ever that unpredictable.

The performers at Luke Wright's Poetry Party, on the other hand, are refreshingly varied and cover a range of material that means no one is left bored or left out during the course of the day's proceedings. From a hyperactive Lemn Sissay's musings on his religious upbringing to Tim Clare's three cantos to The A-Team's 'B.A.' Baracus, the audience plays witness to the rhymes and reasons of a number of poets from across Britain, all of which have something new and exciting to share. The crowd too span a range of age groups over the day: from the elderly man who seems baffled at a clearly young Polar Bear's musings on what his life might be like at 65, to the children that are hastily ushered out by their parents when Jenny Lindsay begins a piece entitled, 'In Scotland, We Know We're Fucked'.

It seems apt that it's Luke Wright who has bought this new phenomenon to the Fringe. As one of the festival's most well-liked stars, regular Fringe goers will have seen him grow from a member of 'poetry boyband,' Aisle 16, to his current solo incarnation as Poet & Man. Having planned this poetry party for the best part of eight months, he's clearly exhilarated by how well-received Saturday's shindig has been, commenting, "never before in my life has the scene been so alive. I wanted to give Edinburgh a dose of what poetry is about and this is the summer for it." And when Murray Lachlan Young ends off Saturday's party with a plea to Keith Richards to kill himself in style, a Scots poem entitled "To a Scrotum" and an ode to dogging, it seems clear that some of the most memorable comedy moments at this year's Fringe, and future festivals, will come from performance poets and not their traditional stand-up counterparts.