I must have walked past Little Drop of Poison dozens of times during my time in Exeter. The pub on Fore Street blends away into the background, unlike the Chev or The Black Horse, with even the doorway quite easy to miss. But in this pub in Exeter, where the ceilings are so low your whole hand can lie flat on it if you stretch up, there is a spoken word night once a month called Spork.
On Wednesday, it was Spork’s first birthday and RAZZ had an invitation to come and have an intimate look into Exeter’s spoken word scene. Supermarket Bakewell tarts sat idly on the table at the front, next to some cheap party hats and opposite a jar asking you politely to “GIVE US A FUCKING QUID”. The event was non-ticketed but asked for donations to support the acts that perform at the regular Spork nights. As Garth behind the bar served the audience of about 25, Chris White introduced himself as the night’s charming host, springing up from his seat on the floor to adjust the mic and make sure everyone got a fully deserved round of applause. He was an endearing thread throughout the evening, subtly reminding us to “give us your fucking money” and gushing over every performance.
The first feature act of the night was Alex Asher who only left college this year. Asher had taken the six-hour train down from his homeland of Yorkshire to perform in this pub in Devon, a daunting experience for any young performer. But his journey was not wasted. His poems of young love blossoming in coy encounters at theme parks unarmed the audience so that our bottom lips stuck out as we melted thinking of first crushes and lovers.
Asher had a slight immaturity to the way he performed which surprisingly aided the whole delivery. Mumbled “thank yous” after finishing each poem and holding on to consonants to make sure the rhyme landed fitted well with the innocence and vulnerability that his work covered. While Asher explored the intricacies of coming out as transgender when the exploration of identity collides with the realisation that the world will not accommodate to your coming of age, it was apparent that an oh-so-serious and pretentious delivery would jar his words and not emotionally equip the audience for the rest of the night. Even just Asher’s stumbled confession that “I’m not used to happy poems” relieved the audience to let go of their inhibitions, essential when spoken word is not about putting on a brave face.
Roisin’s Brother was the most eccentric and absurd act of the night, as well as being thoroughly entertaining. The Irish poet played with political correctness demanding gasps and choked laughs from us as jokes about the IRA and Catholicism were expertly delivered in deadpan. The use of props in the performance also portrayed a level of accomplishment that was dumbfounding. Bottles of Tesco own brand vodka, medical gloves, and litter pickers all made an appearance. However, the gradual pouring of blood from Roisin’s Brother’s mouth halfway through a poem was a highlight that demonstrated a meticulous and awe-worthy amount of preparation and execution.
Spork’s headliner was Samantics, an artist who is the human embodiment of anxiety. His gesticulation when pulling at his hair and frantically waving his arms showed a seasoned performer who connects physicality to the mentality of his poems, often covering themes of depression and anxiety. Samantics’ performance at the end did not dampen the whole night though. His talent for musicality shone through each line uttered, evocative of his penance for rap outside of his spoken word. Samantic also had the audience cackling with relatable jokes sprinkled throughout the performance, but constant throughout ‘Mad man, Bad man’ where the “motherfucking bad man” explains his self-professed title in how he sometimes doesn’t make the bed and brings his own snacks to the cinema. Samantics perfectly enveloped the idea that spoken word isn’t about being the superior oracle in the room, but articulating the emotions that everyone struggles to talk about, from burning anxiety to humbling self-deprecation.
Laced in between the feature acts were open mic opportunities that welcomed apparent regulars and loyal fans, as well as first timers. They all impressed with their confidence and talent, even when spectacles included odes to aubergines (wink wink) and a gong being dipped into a bucket of water alarmingly close to the wiring. What these open mic moments really displayed though was embodied in host Chris White’s simple declaration that “it’s a community thing this”. Exeter’s arts scene is too often easily forgotten, but watching a group of people unconditionally support each other in their own carved out space in a Devonshire pub reminds you of how much wonder a small community can hold. Please support your local spoken word scene and start by attending a Spork evening. Happy Birthday and here’s to another year of pints and poems.
–Charlotte ‘Fozz’ Forrester