Guy Fawkes Night – November 5th – at SpokenWord Paris

Report by Amel. Photos by Hal Bergman


A mysterious fellow wearing a scary mask introduces us to this special edition of Spoken Word, filling the air with flames, declaiming: “Fellow Catholics!! In this year of our Lord 1605, we SUFFER! Under the persecution of the heretic King James, and bloody Queen Bess!” Look! There, just under Parliament, are 34 barrels of gunpowder!”…


Dareka opens round 1 with a moving poem coming from the heart, inviting us to picture a picnic with a loved one in a garden under the stars: “As if I could be bored with looking at you…”

Kate comes to the stage holding a sparkler and shares two of her poems: “Bonfire Night” with “lots of fireworks in it”. She then offers the secrets of a “Recipe” (also entitled “In cookbooks, the final act is how to make a cocktail.”), a secret which only the Spoken Word audience now knows… But “It helps, if your name is…Molotov”

Aude reads a sweet and subtly sexual poem in French, conjuring an Anna Blume who twice “removed her shirt to our utmost satisfaction”…

Victor sings a Stanley Brinks piece with his usual mix of gentle and vigorous strokes on his guitar, and with his dreamy eyes looking at the sky…and, as usual, we all sing with him, and we all smile…

Canadian dub poet, reggae musician, writer and Juno award winner Lillian Allen comes to the stage with three pieces in her delightful musical voice: “How to become a writer” offers excellent advice: “Don’t bore the reader!’, “Take care about the quantity, God will take care about the quality!”… “Anxiety”, starts with anxiety-ridden panting that gets us all…anxious. The last one – and her favourite – about giving birth to her first child, skilfully and musically conveys the pains of parturition (“They didn’t call it labour for nothin’!” she exclaims) through powerful gradation until the final climax… For a few minutes, we are all there with her in that room.

Jason rushes to the stage wearing a black hood, enacting conspirators plotting the explosion with profusion of technical details. Thanks to him, we now know how to ignite a Parliament if we wanted to.

Kathryn reads a poem entitled “Feline” with her beautiful voice, about her cat named… “The Cat”- but she takes us on a ride, raising myriads of essential questions while watching her beloved pet sleeping, trying to understand “why I need to need”. “My need is to need.”

Featured poet A.F. Harrold makes us laugh so much that we can barely breathe, with 5 pieces:

1/ A poem about his favourite impressionist painter Edgar Degas, read while imitating the gestures of ballet dancers to our greatest delight. He chants, again and again “Edgar could paint, could paint, could paint, Edgar could paint you a picture”!
2/ The second poem was a bit “sexy”, therefore Harrold apologized to anyone who was English in the audience, as the poem, entitled “Threesome” was a bit explicit. So we will not share it here. Buy the book if you wish to find out about it.
3/ “Not fair”, a convincing piece about how sometimes “life can be shit”
4/ “Plancton”, in French, exposes the terrible throes of plankton that had difficulty going to sleep.
5/ Harrold dedicates the last piece of the first round “to anyone who’s read any book”, starts describing his library which somehow gets us, in the end, to his…bedroom.


I open round two with a song about an explosion that, sadly, actually happened: “Ash Wednesday” is a beautiful and poignant song by Elvis Perkins about 9/11: “No one will…survive…Ash Wednesday alive…” you should check it out on his eponymous album, which is simply amazing:

Evan shares a beautiful poem entitled “Measurement” in his slow and moving voice vibrant with emotion and sincerity. “We can see the infinite in our own measured ways…”

Thomas thought of fireworks and magic mushrooms but instead decided to read something about…growing up, called “The come down” in a slow, calm and soothing voice.

After a long absence, Marie comes back to Spoken Word with one of her songs and invites us all to remember the very first record we listened to a lot… and then starts on a swaying and lively song.

Daisy reads a hilarious poem, the first one she ever wrote: “20 reasons not to date a poet” – all of them being excellent. “Number one: he might write poems about you. Number two: he might not write poems about you.” Number seventeen: “If he shows you his poems about his problems, you might not want to date him.”

Alberto decides to “sacrifice his beautiful poem” in order to “educate us a bit” by offering a valuable piece of Wikipedia-based scholarly talk on Guy Fawkes: “So, on November the 5th…. of November, 1605, a guy called…Guy…decided to put 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up Parliament, and especially the King, which was James, the Scottish James, the 1st.” Thanks to Alberto’s talk, we are now more knowledgeable about the complex chain of events that led to the failure of the conspiracy: how the explosion was set for July but rescheduled 3 months later because of the plague; how, by that time, more and more people joined the conspiracy, and since they were catholic, they talked to their wives, who in turn confessed to their priests, two of whom decided to let it be known. But we had to wait until the last round to find out how this mysterious tale of plotting and twists and turns unravelled…

Helen tells us about her “Impossibly Operatic Mother” in her inimitable and hilarious tone and her acute sense of digression. One of the main features of The Impossibly Operatic Mother is a “soprano shouting following you around…” As usual, the audience cannot stop laughing.

Feeling shy and uncomfortable on the stage, Sam warned us that he had decided to picture us naked” so he could share two pieces: “Sight set” and a 22-second poem called “Progress”.

Emma reads a poem written by her dad who passed away in 2005, of which she remembered one line, but one which completely matched the theme of Bonfire night. And moves us all.

A.F. Harrold comes back and begins with a helpful a tutorial on how to read the book he’s holding: “You’ll notice the writing goes all the way to the end of the page. This isn’t poetry: this is what we call prose” It’s a children’s novel published by the same house as J.K. Rowling, therefore, he informs us, “they are spending JK Rowling’s money on me.” The tutorial continues: “There are 251 pages. You see, we numbered the pages in chronological order – it’s quite straightforward.” However, the book raises a certain number of essential philosophical questions such as “Have you ever “smelled a cat’s breath after it’s eaten?” The answer, Harrold says, is quite mysterious, and one may wonder: “Oh, have I??”…The next piece, “Ups and downs”, is about the attempts of Harold at getting a new job: “All went well… until his 1st day”. But what you miss, when you’re not in the room is Harrold’s irresistibly funny body language: indeed, round two ended beautifully with a poem requested by Kate. To our utmost delight, Harold danced round while singing “Cats are better than fish! Cats are better than…fish fish!!”


Georgina opens this last round with a violent piece: “The Ivory Lighthouse”. “…get lost in a dead black sea…” says she, before listing all the curse words you could think of in a slow, threatening, incantatory voice “…you dyke, you nigger, you faggot, you Jew, pussy girl cunt bitch too…”. You need to see her pause, change the inflexions of her voice, slowly open and close her right hand as she speaks, and looks at you every now and then with her piercing eye…

David reads a short piece suitably entitled “Molotov” about the dangerous potential of the “unsaid said”. He introduces the second one by explaining: “This is not generation X, not generation Y” and starts reading “Interesting times for generation Z” in a low, slow and deeply moving voice, that compels us to focus even more on his words “…find yourself an alibi and join the walking dead.”

Alex breaks his habit of reading from his phone and asks us to choose between a piece from a paper copy or from his mystery notebook. Of course, we go for mystery. The piece is called “Maybe”, and covers a wide range of complex and deep emotions related to this piercing statement: “Maybe this will make it more real: my dad has cancer”. Alex repeats the word in the piece, again and again: maybe, maybe, maybe.

James skilfully reads a piece impersonating several different American characters’ free-wheeling conversation about relationships:
“Is everybody clear about the roles?”
“Is everybody clear about the boundaries?”

Troy comes to the stage, and starts with his very specific Troy smile and rooooaaaaarrrss like a lion. You need to see how he uses his body and his voice as he speaks, and his acute sense of timing. “Pestulence’ exhorts us: “If only we were nicer people…”…but “We like to fuck like sheep dressed up as wolves”. And the other way round. Troy bows with a smile, and proceeds to a raw sexual piece entitled “Soma somatic”: “I really like the quiet type”, says he as a conclusion, and bows again. The last one has the longest title: “What the fuck said to the bear as they contemplated the pointy tip of Salvador Dali.”

Lexie read an excerpt from “America” by Ginsberg. She’s an excellent reader. You must come if only to hear her beautiful voice, and feel her energy.

Last but not least, Pat closes the night with an anti-government piece. Every line is punctuated by his hands, dancing in the air alternately: the right one, then the left one, then the right, then the left, again and again as his dreamy eyes focus on the text, and his passionate voice exhorts us and we are mesmerized. “Have you ever seen a city burn?” he says. “It is a dazzle of beauty.”

All that being written, you still need to come to Spoken Word, if only to feel the energy in the room, to be mesmerised by the voices, to admire the look in the eyes of the artists as they perform, to observe how their bodies inhabit space, to hear the audience’s reactions, and, to focus, for a few hours, on moments of beauty and truth.

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