Poetry: They must be ambushed

Times are tough for a wannabe poet in the big city. Self expression is rewarding in itself, but having an audience is even better. Knowing you have an audience and seeing them react to your poetic meanderings is best of all.

So most word warriors will sooner or later find themselves dabbling in live performance. But the poetry scene in Johannesburg is hard to pin down. Short-lived open-mic, spoken-word sessions spring up, then disappear after a few months.

Book shops and literary-inclined coffee-shops host recitals for published authors, but otherwise, the ambitious wordsmith must find ways, spaces and performance opportunities himself.

A cunning way of finding new audiences is to disguise the very fact that you are producing poetry. With its image of militant hectoring or else fey romanticism, poetry is sometimes misconstrued and few non-adherents would willingly attend a poetry show.

So they must be ambushed.

Poems are versatile, adaptable, malleable things. They lend themselves to the fusion of forms. Poems can be set to music, video, stills images, performance art, dance and other types of artistic expression. Music is the most willing pairing, sharing a sense of rhythm and certain conventions of presentation.

So you tell people to come watch a gig, a music show, you’re jamming a few tunes at this place. You should come have a listen. And then you drop those poems on them. Either accompanied or not. A capella, recited or performed. Audiences are willing to excuse the most unadorned poetic indulgence if it’s seen as a brief excursion from – or an aspect of – the music. In the name of show dynamics, say. Meanwhile, the poetry might be the main attraction, the essence.

In this tradition, three undercover poets are currently putting out some clandestine metred material in a series of musically packaged shows around Joburg. These are David Chislett, Jon-Pat Myers and your correspondent Hagen Engler aka Inspektor Ras.

The next instalment of this roadshow takes place on February 28 at The Bohemian, a Joburg venue with a rich rock history and “the third oldest existing pub in Joburg”.

The show is billed as “Acoustic Rock Night”, but don’t believe a word. These are stinking poets, with guitars as camouflage.

Dave Chislett recently published his first book of poetry For You Or Someone Like You, following on from several other prose print endeavours. Jon-Pat Myers was frontman for Joburg punk legends Toxic Sox and currently fronts psychobilly act The Psycotix. He’s a sculptor and a poet, though he would strenuously deny the latter.

None of these three gents would qualify for student discount at H2O. But this has done their lyrical output no harm whatsoever.

Find the more show details here, or read the following paragraph:

Thursday 28 February
The Bohemian
Cnr. Park and Menton roads
Cover: R40


Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

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