An A-Z of Villainy

The first in what should hopefully be a Borgesian gathering of events, this performance at the Betsey Trotwood involved 26 poets each being given a letter of the alphabet and asked to write and recite a poem about a villain beginning with that letter.  It was a friendly, funny night inspired by events run in the past by Roddy Lumsden.  With so many impressive poets reading, I can’t cover all, but here are a few glimpses, based on what I can decipher of my intermittent scrawl.  

Jon Stone updated Aguirre from the Werner Herzog film to make him a contemporary writer going about town, his book cover photo ‘sad-eyed and sauroid’.  Edwina Attlee, or rather her baby, stole the show.   D stood initially for delayed, as the alphabet was reordered, and after G, Baby was rocked gently on stage as Edwina read her poem about another mother, Demeter.   In a poem about the Iron Lady, Kate Potts neatly reversed Marx’s dictum, saying of Thatcher, ‘the point was to change the world, not to understand it’.  Will Harris got cleverly into our heads, invoking the purple, hovercrafted landscape over which Ming the Merciless ruled, in which no one could refuse to take a telepathic call.     

Rebecca Varley-Winter’s poem took the succubus as its inspiration, leading to such delightful phrases as: ‘human seed isn’t hard to come by, she thought, monstrously’.  From Mark Waldron, there was a chilling and canny cut-up poem based on a short text about Ted Bundy.  The choice of the cut-up form was both an intriguing and ironic commentary on our vicarious thirst for violence in reading matter, and on the nature of our contemporary attention span.  Words returned repeatedly – ‘pliers’, ‘woman’s’, ‘refused’, ‘pulled’, ‘teeth’ – accentuating a sense of horror and disorientation.

Jemima Foxtrot, given Y, conjured up the spectre of the yeast infection.  The dad in the poem addresses his daughter: ‘Mum tells me you’ve got a yoghurt problem’.  For this male audience member, the account was both frightening and educational – making that particular villain seem pretty villainous even with stiff competition.  Yet of course no account of villainy at the moment would be complete without the current President of the United States – it still feels hard to write that phrase seriously.   Amy Evans finished the reading with various Zzz’s, including that dreamed by the insomniac, calling up the spectre of our current nightmare: ‘this blank phone where short thumbs and fuses move.’

Jonathan Catherall