POETRY REVIEW

Searingly honest: Toria Garbutt.

In praise of the power of words

A Firm of Poets at Unity Hall, Wakefield, Thursday 26 November, 2015

Why, why, why (or why the *#@% as she'd probably put it) isn't Toria Garbutt a national spoken word star? Why aren't her uncompromising, uncensored stories of white working class sink estate life feted in the poetry press and broadsheet arts pages?

Delivered in an unrelenting, unadulterated torrent of flat vowels and glottal stops and four-letter words, hers is the authentic voice of a world beyond the reach of the Big Society, regeneration programmes and social inclusion schemes.

And its bleak, brutal and searingly honest grimness is all the more compelling for the fact these tales of teenage drug deals and abusive twentysomething relationships have as their setting not a US housing project or inner London concrete jungle but somewhere uncomfortably closer to home: in the seventies semis, shopping precincts and subways of Knottingley and Ferrybridge.

Actually, is that the reason why 'Vicky from Knottla' hasn't received the exposure she deserves? Maybe her poetry is too easy to file under “too difficult”. Maybe she doesn't conform to an easy stereotype (angry, working class, black, perhaps, or confessional, middle class, white?). Or maybe it's true that the oh-so-liberal arbiters of artistic taste really do consider “her sort” deserving only of contempt.

What's for sure is that no-one who heard her take-no-prisoners prose this evening is going to argue that it's because it isn't good enough.

The Firm of Poets line-up is a fluid one, with the national tour – on which this was the penultimate date – having seen any number of permutations from their six permanent members plus guests taking to the stage. It's a simple format: five (on this occasion) poets sit in a line, taking turns to take to the mic and deliver some superior quality wordplay.

Matt Abbott still overflows with the idealism of youth, a belief that words actually can change the world, but there's also a growing depth and maturity in his poetry – and he brought the house down with his paean to the incomparable Wakefield Pie Shop (it'll be opening on lunchtimes from January, incidentally, and he's sitting on its doorstep in the picture).

Ralph Dartford does wry humour and warm humanity with equal aplomb (his Waterloo Sunset prequel, imagining the first meeting of the song's characters Terry and Julie, was a delight), while John Darwin's understated delivery disguised both hard-hitting words (Cuckoo) and joyous comedy (the slacker's call-to-arms I just like art galleries and getting p***ed). Genevieve Walsh, although less in-yer-face than Toria (though her loud-tights-and-big-boots combination gave Ms Garbutt's a decent run for its money…) nevertheless shines an unforgiving light on contemporary life and manners, doing so with words which are full of sometimes shocking honesty.

The pies are here: Matt Abbott.

On a night like this and done like this, poetry, spoken word – call it what you will – stakes a highly convincing claim to be the most vital and valid live experience of them all. To borrow Matt Abbott's adjective of choice: cracking!

WfL rating: 4.5/5

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