Hamza Bodhaniya from Bru gave a brief welcome and said the cafe were happy to support literature events. Farhana Shaikh, of Dahlia Publishing, talked about the poetry commission she had organised where the commissioned poet was to write a sequence of five poems inspired by a residency at Bru that would be published and performed during the Leicester Writes Festival. She had been very impressed by the quality of applications and had been pleased to announce Jayne Stanton as Bru’s resident poet.
The cafe, however, is a noisy venue: customer chatter and kitchen noise drifted from downstairs and background music (presumably to muffle/mask crockery and cutlery clatter) was turned down but still audible. Bru is also all hard surfaces with no carpet or soft wallpaper to absorb sounds, noise echoes and rebounds. So a microphone was necessary for performers and the audience have to work at listening.
Jayne explained her poems had arisen from a combination of observations whilst visiting Bru and some online research. She’d focused on the area from the Railway Station and the Clocktower, because the most direct route takes you past Bru. Her first poem, “Time Traveller” was based on the statue of Thomas Cook by the station. “No Fixed Abode” mentions homelessness in the city and how these problems aren’t simply solved by opening empty houses. Some of the characters she met near Bru provided inspiration, one being Maria who sold copies of “The Big Issue” which provided the poem with its title. “Money Talks” looks at the changes in Gallowtree Gate, one of the main shopping areas, particularly after Highcross shopping mall opened. Her fifth residency poem, “Street” was inspired by watching people in Granby Street outside Bru where “a balloon holds its breath.” Then Leicester City Football Club won the premiership so Jayne was asked to write a bonus poem capturing the mood of the city. “The Art of Winning” was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Art of Losing”.
Rhetoric Literary Society took to the stage starting with the Guy in the Green Beret, aka Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams who was too shy to give his name this evening, who read “Common Practice” where “words swarm and worm their way into structure” and “Oh Ye Purveyor of Fine Lies” after the audience suggested the EU Referendum as a theme. He confessed to struggling to concentrate when one of his favourite songs was played as background music. “Mind Time” asked “why can’t we enjoy the present for a bit?” which was followed by a satire on the stop and search practices which profile potential offenders based on lazy, racist stereotyping, and ended with the line “I killed the stereotype/ and I dare you to take me away.”
DTP Haughton began with “Rae Town” about whether the place where he was born would remember and honour him in due course, “Am I not Jamaican enough? A little too English?/ I wonder if my name will be remembered.” “Rae Town” was followed by “Too Red”, “Perfect Teeth” – self-deprecatingly “I never had perfect teeth…” so perhaps he is a “little too English”. DTP finished with a poem about keeping up with the Joneses which might be titled “Badges”.
A open mic session rounded off the evening. Jayne Stanton’s calm, measured delivery contrasted with the enthusiastic energy of the Rhetoric Literary Society but all read quality poems that were prepared to look at their subjects with compassion and acute observation.