I knew I liked Debz from the moment she took over the stage at a Speakeasy event in January. She was bold, unapologetic, controversial and brilliant.
Her poetry was bursting with called-for expletives, feminist-driven social commentary and provoked belly laughs. I didn’t associate her with the launch of a new performance poetry night at Storyhouse, Testify, for a while. But it makes so much sense – a feisty, much-needed event headed up by someone with serious drive and balls.
Her chat with Amble’s own Emma Parry further solidified my desire to attend and check it out. My relationship with poetry is fickle. As a teenager poems poured out of me in a messy, clichéd state; family fights, heady crushes, experiments with form (mostly failed). The only poet I felt remotely connected to throughout my Creative Writing Degree was Spike Milligan. My copy of Hidden Words is thoroughly thumbed with a broken spine. As I travelled through my degree I turned my back on the many poetry filled notebooks lining my shelves a launched into a full-on love affair with prose. Other than the odd flirtation I’ve not looked back.
Even during my three years in London I didn’t attend a single open mic night, of the poetry variety or otherwise – it was all comedy and theatre. I love that Chester is my unexpected reintroduction to slams and spoken word. The Speakeasy event (headlined by John Hegley) sparked a craving in me for more of the same, and Testify has stoked it. The launch event was packed. We stuffed ourselves into the reading room at Storyhouse (a space created primarily for childrens’ story time) and shuffled along benches as more and more people arrived. If you have back issues, I recommend you bring a cushion for a little extra support. Promptly the velvet curtain was drawn across to cut us off from the hum of the foyer, and performers dived into their rich and varied work in front of the carved wooden throne.
The only, (and I do mean only), remotely disappointing thing to bear in mind, is no alcohol is allowed in the reading room. For those of you panicking at the thought of ingesting emotions and insights without a side of your much-loved tipple, relax, you won’t need it, I promise.
We were encouraged to whoop, swear and applaud, and we heartily got stuck in. There was nothing stuffy (or pretentious, as promised) about the night. The only rules were made clear from the offset – be a good person, don’t be a d**k – and announce triggers early incase anyone finds certain topics uncomfortable and so can, without judgment or drawing attention, sneak out for a spell. A considerate touch, as a wide breadth of potentially emotive subjects are touched upon; self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and infertility.
Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing downbeat about the occasion. The vibe was inclusive, chilled, it seduced me. I was drawn into a warm lull of words and found something to love or laugh along with in every performance. Beautiful observations took the mundane to the carefully mulled over.
About five minutes into headliner Jane Bradley’s delivery, I was in awe. I confessed to Debz at the end of the night that I was so thrown by Jane’s incredible writing, I was struggling to look at her directly. A lot of wordy crushes were born. Guests left the event smiley and stirred, somehow feeling better about the world, a little lighter, a little more inspired.
It was great to catch up after with Debz, her husband, and supportive friends, to celebrate and reflect. She’s clearly onto something here, which will be repeated on the first Tuesday of every month. The next one is Tuesday 3rd April. As word of mouth travels I’m positive this creative, one-of-a-kind concoction will be seeking a larger space.
I encourage you to sign up the newsletter; you’ll be reminded to attend the next event and receive ‘shameless plugs’ – details of the performers – especially useful if you’ve developed a strange infatuation (hi Jane) and want to find out more about them.
The next headliner is a guaranteed hit too – Sarah Pritchard. You can read more about Sarah here, but in a nutshell she’s a very talented and widely published poet, and I’m already excited to hear her perform after stumbling across this poem – ‘The House of Memories’. Desperate to find out more, enquire about reading, or want to inhale some spoken-word magic? Check out Testify’s website here, and Facebook here.