Say Owt Presents: Sonnet Youth Open Mic

Say Owt and Sonnet Youth imagery side by side

Fulford Arms, 26 Nov 2018

Say Owt are York’s resident poetry gurus and last Monday they and Scottish spoken word artists Sonnet Youth hosted a night at the Fulford Arms that promised to be a literary house party, part poetry slam, part open mic, part piss-up.

They delivered on that promise with a mix of poetry, comedy and music that showcased some of Yorkshire (and Scotland)’s most exciting talent and is just another reason why I’ll always stick two fingers up to anyone who suggests that London is the place to be for creatives.

Cat Hepburn and Kevin P. Gilday of Sonnet Youth compared and kicked off both halves of the night, and in doing so demonstrated why they’re names to remember. Hepburn’s excerpts from her book #girlhood riffed on growing up as a girl in modern times, and featured a genius spoken word re-telling of Christina Aguilera’s modern cinematic masterpiece, ‘Dirrty’ (and no that’s not a typo). Gilday similarly tackled masculinity, porn and poetry with laugh-out-loud humour and some delicious rhymes – and I agree with you buddy, rhyming makes my ears happy and rhyme snobs can do one.

The open mic slots were filled by some of York’s finest; Say Owt’s own Hannah Davies – who’s voice I later realised seemed so familiar because I’d heard it not long ago in CGT’s Baba Yaga – and Henry Raby, and the ethereal Hannah Lasagne (what a name) were highlights.

The thing that struck me most, and the reason I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for spoken word, was how massively varied the performers and styles of poetry were. We’re given a pretty narrow idea of what poetry is growing up – it’s all twee rhymes when you’re little and then maybe a bit of Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage thrown in when you’re doing your GCSEs. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great poetry there, but when you’re 15 and having it dryly explained to you for an hour a week and it’s only ever two dimensional words on a page, it doesn’t feel like much to get excited about.

Collectives like Say Owt and Sonnet Youth give poetry the context it deserves. Poetry is at its best when its literary performance; a living, breathing ode to language and rhythm and real voices. And all those things are remarkably diverse. Every performer we saw last week had a different tone, a different accent, a different style or subject matter. That’s something to get excited about.

It wasn’t all just poetry though. Comedy was provided by Daniel Nicholas who I had the pleasure of catching a couple of times over the Fringe this year and who, despite some delightfully peculiar bits and awkward yoga poses, always manages to come off as completely charming and bizarrely hilarious. Music came in the form of two piece acoustic psycho thrashabilly blues band Dead Drummer, who brought the house down with their unique brand of, well, two piece acoustic psycho thrashabilly blues. They’re a bit like if the Cramps and Slipknot had a baby and someone threw a double bass at it. Yeah.

If there’s one thing I’d say that wasn’t always super fun, it would be that at times the atmosphere started to verge on the side of…smug. I’m cringing as I write it, but slam poetry has a reputation for being too cool for a reason, and I think that Say Owt could bear that in mind a little when they’re hosting gigs. When the hosts (I’m excluding Sonnet Youth from this – y’all were a joy) are all sat with their mates whooping and bantering on one side of the pub and the audience is on the other, it can feel at times like you’ve wandered into a private poetry party. It’s not a huge criticism, but I think the magic of gigs like these should be in their inclusivity, and it’s a shame for something to encroach on that.

Saying that, I’ll be back to check out one of Say Owt’s regular nights. It’s something different and it feel a bit more electric than your average open mic. It was a nice reminder of why I love poetry and language and why I keep writing, and aside from that it was a good time. Next time I hope it’s not on a school night so I can have myself a proper poetry piss-up though. Cheers.