Though possessing a music scene invisible enough that a successful new series of gigs is entitled Nothing Ever Happens Here, Edinburgh’s poetry and spoken word is in comparatively rude health. Its many regular literary nights and events comprise a kaleidoscopic mixture of, for example: wildly successful poetry/music/art cabarets (see Rally & Broad or Neu! Reekie), slam-style juggernauts (Loud Poets), more refletive lyricists (Shore Poets), avant guard troublemakers (Caesura) and combinations thereof (the mighty TenRed). These events are supported by a swarming ecosystem of popular open mic nights – such as Inky Fingers, Blind Poetics and Soapbox. It is a sprawling scene, which invites both mythologising and satirising.
It is to the latter end that Ross McCleary and Andrew Blair have emerged with Is This Poetry – a new free fringe show seeking, with Icarus-esque ambition, to comprehensively deconstruct the categories of “poetry”, “Edinburgh” and “Edinburgh poetry” over the course of an hour in the basement of a noisy pub. They do so in a style influenced in roughly equal measure by Stewart Lee, Noel Fielding and the two old guys from the muppets.
McCleary & Blair stand at an odd – indeed, obtuse – angle to the rest of the poetry community: Blair coming from a sketch-writing and stand-up background, McCleary an early enthusiast of zombie-related flash fiction and Ouillipo-inspired formal experimentation. Their wilful esotericism can be seen in their performances’ wild mash up of genre, style and tone – from a melancholic rumination on throwing a missing loved one’s letters into the sea, to a matter-of-fact account on constructing a life-sized effigy of a bemused supermarket worker entirely out of cheese. It’s inventive, often hilarious, sometimes baffling — part of exactly the sort of hit-and-miss festival tradition that the free fringe is trying to keep aflame.
However, the enjoyment of Is This Poetry, however, lies less in how coherently the overarching themes are explored, and more in the individual high points – particularly the surreal set-closing barnstormer: Poetry Or Edinburgh. Chortle at the description of Edinburgh as a “total hufflepuff”, mourn the untimely passing of Justin Bieber, let your mind be dazzled by the pathos of the stunning realisation that, as Blair so eloquently says: “bits of it smell of groin.”
If that’s not poetry, ask for your money back.
Chutney Exhibition — the umbrella group producing this & other shows throughout the year — can be found here: chutneyexhibition.com or @chutneyexhibit