SO: much to Speak about

Southampton’s SO: To Speak Festival has just finished after ten days celebrating all that is wordsome – not just poetry, but comedy, story-telling, theatre, lyric-driven music, and of course writers chatting in cafes over coffees. I can’t cover it all in one post, so I’ll say a bit about the final day which I think it’s fair to say can be described as ‘varied’.

First off, a workshop with Hannah Silva. Hell yeah – she’s one of my word-heroes, so this was always high on the list, and I totally fan-boyed by getting my copy of Forms of Protest signed (I wasn’t the only one). It was tailored towards performance; in particular, looking at ways of exploring different voices and dissociating these from the content of what is being said. So, you might read a random extract of a book in the tone of a TV weather presenter, or impose a strict rhythm on text that it doesn’t fit. This was combined with creating cut-up texts. I chose one of the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and one of Jeremy Clarkson’s papery spewings (we were in a library and it was looking at me funny). I imposed a random-choice rule, followed it, created text. All good. I then got to read it in pornstar voice because Hannah is an evil puppeteer of unwary workshoppers. I’m fine now though. Really.


From this, off to a glorious afternoon of performances on vintage buses AKA Words on Wheels. I have to annouce some bias here as I had a small part in helping organise it, but what’s not to like? Each deck was a separate stage, and it was by Southampton’s Westquay Watermark Shopping Temple-to-Mammon so there was a good chance of enticing not-the-usual-suspects. Local poetry groups got to do their thing, Paris was explored from afar via theatrical devices such as signs on long sticks, ukuleles appeared en masse as they tend to, and lost property was accumulated. Most authentic. There was a slam on the subject of ‘People of Southampton’ (I lost, quite rightly, to slam-deity Stewart Taylor). The sun shone upon us.


Thence off to see Hannah Silva (or a-a-ih-uh as by brain recalls from one of the morning’s exercises) performing her theatre piece Schlock! probably for the last time. This isn’t the place for an in-depth review – there are many already out there in Webland should you want to know more – but it merges Kathy Acker’s (unsuccessful) fight against breast cancer with the text of Fifty Shades of Grey, exploring aspects such as how words can shift their meaning, and how different forms of expression (there are segments performed in British Sign Language for example) can be integrated. Wonderful, compelling, hard to describe.

And lastly, to close the festival, the anti-slam, hosted by Dan Simpson. To be honest, you had to be there, but suffice to say, it was awfulgreat. Arsegravywonderful. Painfuljoyous. I was boring, meaningless and overmetaphorical as Guru Dave (I lost). Others ranted, smutted, accented, littered, foamed, writhed and blustered until Rob Casey (ex-Bard of Exeter) was adjudged to be the bestworst in his Top Lad football-fanatic guise, and onto the national final he deservedly goes. What a bloody amazing way to end a bloody amazing week-and-a-bit.