Arts Review: Ships in the Night #12 - Bar 459, Perth (19.11.15)

For someone who likes words, spent great swathes of his life reading, and works in a bookshop, I don’t get to literary events and evenings as much as I would like.

In a bid to rectify this I headed to Ships in the Night; a bi-monthly evening of words; spoken, shouted, screamed, sung or even whispered (though there wasn’t much whispering). Thursday night saw the 12th instalment of the spoken word evening, pretty much the evening’s second anniversary and the last gathering for 2015. Held in Bar 459, a venue that could double for a Greenwich Village literary salon, the evening had an intimate affair; with punters and readers all packed in together.

The evening, ably hosted by the wonderfully droll Vidya Rajan, was split into two parts: emerging writers and headliners. With both halves being kicked off with a musical performance. Indeed one of my favourite experiences of the night was watching some of the audiences varying reactions to the musical acts, Sam Atkin and Fingernail, who had two very different styles. Atkins’ immersive and ambient drone music provided quite a beautiful start to the proceedings; there were a few technical issues, but they didn’t really detract from the music. Fingernail on the other hand, definitively had a DIY punk thing going on; it was all a little bit ramshackle, not necessarily my thing, but plenty in the audience seemed to appreciate it.

But what of the writers?

Well they were a pretty interesting and varied bunch, though I arguably no-ones writing really veered towards mainstream tastes or sensibilities. We had disembowelling, infanticide and “incesticide” in one piece from Dennis Venning, followed straight up with a piece from Patrick Marlborough devoted pretty much exclusively to a characters irregular bowel habits. The third presenter Ashley Ramsey mixed things up a little bit with four shorter poems, which were quite poignant, whilst the first half concluded with Richard Moore reading a particularly erotically charged extract from his novel.

Mostly I enjoyed the work on offer, however, I did feel that at times it erred towards feeling a little pretentious. For me it felt there was a push to show how literary of anti-establishment they could be; and occasionally it just felt a bit false.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the headliners, Geoff Lemon and Lucy Dougan. Lemon, writer for the Guardian and other assorted publications, probably provided the evening’s highlight with a beautiful and poignant mediation on public and selective grief in the wake of Philip Hughes death. It was just a wonderful piece of writing, performed off the cuff, and it brought the room to silence. He also gave us the innuendo heavy ‘Mianus’ a poem about the Connecticut town, which is pronounced exactly like you’d think.

Lucy Dougan was perhaps the most “traditional” poet of the evening; certainly it seemed the most heavily published. The poems she chose to recite were focused heavily on family, on brothers and sisters, both in Australia and scattered around the world. They were all quite touching, and undoubtedly deeply personal.

To finish there was Open Mic. Six slots, two minutes, do your worst. To be honest the quality on display during the open mic was pretty impressive; the two that stood out for me were Steven Finch’s fan fiction piece “shipping” the evenings performers and Scott Sandwich’s riffing on Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet XVIII.

So that was my first spoken word night. Would I go again? Undoubtedly. Despite my few minor misgivings, it was a fun evening, and something a little bit different, which is always welcome.