It was a strange feeling. Back in the Philosophy section at Blackwell’s, where I’d spent so many hours and so much of my grant as a student. And a place I’d always thought of as part of The Establishment. Where proper people with proper careers and respectable tastes hang out. And yet I couldn’t have felt more at home as I set up for This Is Oxford, the taster we hoped to give to Blackwell’s customers of the “other literary Oxford”, the Oxford of Catweazle, Hammer & Tongue, The Albion Beatnik and, yes, eight cuts gallery.
The reason why it felt so like home is simple: the open-armed embrace offered us by Euan, Zool, Steph, and the Blackwell’s events team. I hope this will be the start of something.
Below you will see the full smorgasbord we had on offer, and will find linky things to people’s booky things. There’s also a lovely review of the show from Daily Information here. The point that This Is Oxford wasn’t the undergroundest of undergrounds is well-taken. It was, rather, a taster of all the different things Oxford has to offer. We didn’t actually want to have people carried out with strokes (well, not the medical kind).
The crowd, which must have been around 50ish plus performers, started the night as crowds always do – most respectful. This is great. It shows a love of literature wholly to be praised, but after I’d fallen flat on my face at the end of the introductory poem This Is Oxford (forgetting temporarily that for the past week I’ve been hobbling around with water on the knee – don’t worry, 5 minutes later my knee reminded me) they got the hang of the notion that it’s more fun to wander around browsing, slouching, drinking, generally treating the Norrington Room like home.
I’m not going to do highlights. I hate highlighting things, because everyone was fabulous. But it was wonderful to see two acts I’d never seen before. I know Dave Griffiths of Grey Children really well, and have listened to him online many many times, but this is the first time I’ve heard him in the real, and the alternating songs and readings (from Dave’s A Man in the Rain, read by actor Huck Astley) were marvellous.
And Emily Harrison, last year’s Tower Poetry Prize winner, was sensational as she dissected the interwebs for us.
Another treat was the music and vocals put on by Pop Wreck (rather, half of Pop Wreck plus guest Julie as I was instructed), the offering from the fabulous Oxford Arts Group.
eight cuts gallery regulars Anna Hobson and Lucy Ayrton were amazing as ever, and Maisie Lawrence and Verity Heir, whom I hope will become regulars, gave performances of incredible power and tenderness. Venetia Welby dazzled us with a reading from her forthcoming novel that scrapes Soho’s underbelly, Palabra, as she did so memorably at our Literature Lounge gig earlier this year (see the video above).
A genuine delight was Ingrina Shieh’s wonderful insight into Oxford’s cultural heart. The blogger behind Of Red Bricks and Cobblestones, which follows her and her husband’s Oxford journey through bookshops, breweries and beers, she gave Blackwell’s a mischevious treat with a tale about The Albion Beatnik, and ended the night for us with a story about The White Horse at which point we all decamped there.
Joe Briggs took us brilliantly to the heart of gig-going agony with his tale of painfully terrible support acts.
And then there was Clarissa Pabi. Very few poets have a performance style that is instantly recognisable. Clarissa is not just unique but hypnotic as she stands nonchalantly staring down at the mobile phone she clutches in both hands in front of her and reads words off the screen that trail off into rhymes as though their triviality is sending her to sleep only, of course, her words are the furthest one could imagine from being trivial. The effect is devastating.
So here is what we served up
flash fiction canapés
literary death match winner, 2010, http://danholloway.wordpress.com
host of hammer and tongue oxford
winner of the 2010 tower poetry prize, author, typewriter on the bed
2010-11 oxford university poetry society president
editor of the oxford university poetry society magazine
president of oxford brookes creative writing society
author of palabra