Fred Maynard gives his thoughts on a selection of poetry and drama by an attractive bunch of students, which would have benefited from a bit more variety
by Fred Maynard
Sunday 17th June 2012, 11:37 BST
This is the seventh Hatching, which by my count makes a full brood of incredibly attractive ducklings. It has been mentioned before that the people at Hatch are really, really good-looking, but having never been before I hadn’t anticipated just how inadequate I would be made to feel. A bunch of immaculately skinny-jeaned, well-dressed and generally sexy students demurely reading their sophisticated poetry or drama? So much did I fancy everyone, male or female, on that stage that it’s a wonder I’ve come up with any review superior to an incomprehensible babble of gushing vowels.
Beyond being attractive, however, these people are also very good writers. Under the assured curation of Celine Lowenthal and Rowan Evans, this was a selection not of grandstanding dramatic or poetic fireworks, but rather of a set of quietly fascinating images, ideas and impressions thrown up for the audience to catch only briefly before the performers retreated back into their chairs. I have been to performance poetry nights, and this was nothing like one of them – the poetry was far more difficult, the scenes less obvious. A poem meant for the page, when read aloud, is a strange thing. You have only a moment to capture some incredibly dense concepts, and the booklet containing all the work handed out at the end is the real catch of the day, a chance to digest what you’ve just heard. As Hatch progresses into its maturity, then, what is the point of it that couldn’t be replaced with a published booklet?
When Marika McKennell delivered her poems You Just Never Know and Burnt Hand Healing, I felt myself wondering if this was not more like what I wanted, or expected: a dynamic performance, a delivery of private emotion and doubts that felt like it needed to be told to the audience that was sitting directly in front of her, rather than thrown out into the air, as with the other poets, a message in a bottle. But while a couple more similarly demonstrative poets would have been welcome, the overall detached, unhistrionic style worked in the event’s favour.
This was not, after all, the kind of limpid, inward-looking material of student poetry stereotypes, but the muscular, sharply imagined imagery of mature and maturing poets. There was a definite Hatch “style” on show – abstract, imagistic, and interested in moments of experience more than narrative. I got a strong gust of Seamus Heaney’s influence from the frequent appearance of nouns becoming verbs, becoming compounded and displaced. Sean Hewitt’s Sloe Gin was a lovely collection of words like “ottered” “beakfingered”,“applehalf”; Sonia Tong’s Love Poem was a kaleidoscope of disjointed, neatly compressed thoughts.
Tom Powell demonstrated that the failure of his previous play Coda to work as a realist drama is because his strength lies in the abstract: the taut dialogue of Biscuits was both funny and fascinating, even when taken out of context. Niall Wilson seemed to have the germ of an extremely enjoyable play in his Blue Domingo Red, the mere mention of a children’s TV show called “Zebra Two-Forty” cracking me up with unexpected surreal brilliance. And Will Attenborough’s reading of Jack Belloli’s "choral” work Mass Clearage was a wonderfully charming picture of teacher-fancying, and a deployment of mind-numbingly complex scripting techniques to boot.
I am not sure about the determinedly abstract overall nature of the event: titles like Quatrains in Fugue give a sense of huge, all-encompassing ambition that cannot be fully realised in a simple reading, possibly because I’m just not clever enough to take in the meaning in one go. So yes, I would prefer a little more concrete, easily digestible work in the context of a poetry recital. But as a series of momentary, tantalising drops of imagination delivered without comment, I still think Hatch is really worth its established presence. There is, however, space for development in terms of variety of style – although frankly I wonder at my own right to criticise such wonderfully elegant, attractive and clearly very clever people.