Po na na, Cambridge, Thursday 19th November, Sam Brenton and Jeremy
Hardingham performing, Keston Sutherland MC.
Imagine if you will, an eighteenth century cellar, done out to be a faux
Hollywood image of an Arabian dwelling. The performers stood by an old
English fire-place, and the audience on fake leopard-skin seats lining the
walls. The lighting neared the infra-red. In the background, some sussurant
house music. Po na na.
First up – and the second act hadn't appeared yet – was Sam Brenton. He
stood solidly facing the audience in his blue suit. He introduced his set:
one poem of 28 verses with a line dropped off the end of each verse. It
involved 4 characters – two blokes, a woman and a “scruffy old geezer”.
Good diction and projection was let done by an inability to define the text
aurally – I couldn't distinguish between the verses. I caught the bits
about duvets and absolution in a petrol station, but the rest of it failed
to come alive for me.
As Jeremy Hardingham had not arrived, Keston filled in with an impromptu
reading – he sat by the fireplace, a table-lamp illuminating his verse.
Jeremy Hardingham came in, his train late. Keston stopped abruptly, and
Jeremy rushed to start, gulping at a bottle of beer whilst applying
make-up: white eye-shadow and a dark-blue clown's lips, turned down at the
end. With this and a long dark-grey rain-coat, he reminded me somewhat of a
photograph of Kitchener, but it was oddly effective in the low-light and
darkness of the small room. His poems – meant for the outside at night –
were peopled, as far as I could tell, by himself and a woman, circling in
some kind of relationship, enhanced by his pacing around in a large square.
It drew me in. I identified with it. I couldn't tell precisely what was
happening, but his performance carried me. I enjoyed it.
Keston, by popular demand, finished off the evening with the poem that he
had started earlier. It occurred to me later, that the line “I, Keston
Sutherland”, stood out starkly from the rest of his poetry - pronouns are
sparse in his poetry, and the formality seemed at odds with the rest of
work. “Twice loyal”, also stood out, although I know not why. It made his
poem seem oddly unpeopled. Comparisons with Hopkins were less forceful, I
think, mainly because of the impromptu nature of his reading. I would love
to see Keston in a more favourable context. He has considerable natural
charm – or, as my partner said, someone who her mother might have approved
of – and this together with his formidable poetry make a winning
The evening ended with the poets and some of the audience going to the
King's College bar for a drink. My partner and I left early, the group
seated on deep grey chairs around some low tables. The sound-track in my
head was “All the Young Dudes”, Mott The Hoople, 1974.