Arts Review: Poetry Busking at Oxfam Bookshop

Byres Road Book Festival, Oxfam Bookshop, 23rd September

The Oxfam Bookshop on Byres Road is warm and inviting on a crisp, grey, autumn day, even more so when it is packed full of people, from students to fidgeting children, as is the case on the 23rd of September. The unusual amount of visitors this afternoon is here not just for second-hand books or to support Oxfam, but to watch some of Scotland’s best poets perform.

During the time I am watching the poets, there is a steady stream of people coming and going, making the event feel more casual than regular poetry nights, like those in Inn Deep. For anyone feeling intimidated by regular nights, events like Poetry Busking are perfect; the crowd is much more diverse, ranging from eight to eighty, and while there is still a sense of community and camaraderie between the poets, it doesn’t feel so much like everyone knows each other. Some of the poems do seem more suited for a bar than a bookshop however, which is made particularly clear when a poet spells out a swear word and is met with nervous giggles from a few parents in the audience.

The poems themselves are a varied bunch, with subject matter from fish fingers to class war. Katie Ailes’ Polos is a particular favourite, the physicality of her performance and her gymnastic use of language combining to perfectly characterising the withdrawn dance teacher who is the poem’s protagonist. Ailes’ poem for her unborn daughter is also powerful, expressing a hope for a future in which womanhood does not require protest, rage or apology. Stephen Watt’s Deep Fried Nationalism is a witty take on Scottish identity, with perfectly timed humour that goes down well with the audience. As six o’clock approaches and the sky darkens to indigo, the poets joke with each other about the emptiness of the donation jar – something that is rectified as soon as the performances are over and there is no longer any worry about shattering the rhythm of a line.
[Imogen Whiteley]

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