This post is not as self-indulgent as it may first seem, although it is still quite self-indulgent. I’m posting a scan of the spoken word feature from The Scotsman in which Anthropoetry got a little tiny mention at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. This is not so much to revel in the glory of my solitary column inch in a national newspaper, but more because the image is very large so when I attach it to emails to try and promote the show it is invariably too large, and I’m tech-shit so don’t know how to resize it and still keep it readable. So I’m posting it here so that I can direct people who want to read it this way. And while I’m at it I may as well go the whole self-indulgent hog and post the other reviews I got too. Next time I post, I hope it’s something more interesting and not so much about me. But given the website is called benmellor.net, I doubt it. Sorry.
Anthropoetry by Sabotage Reviews
Ben Mellor’s new show is a “journey across human anatomy” with some slick poetry set to music and a particularly impressive political and lyrical bent on topics that (in other hands) could have been puerile. Give it a day or two and he’ll have it all off by heart, but despite occasional glances to the script when I saw it, it was a professional and enjoyable show.
He kicks off with a fantastic introduction to how versatile the body is in common expressions: he “welcomes [us] to his neck of the woods” in a gloriously confident radio voice that continues the theme wittily to draw in the audience.
His political poems are the strongest pieces: The fabulous ‘HeadState’, explores the mind’s power and disturbances with a fantastic analogy of politics, governments where centre-left and centre-right both fuck the poor, where “top-down mental structures collapse mental economy”. ‘Tax Pastiche’ for the Digestive system deals with ‘Pastygate’ and is a fantastically acerbic political broadcast in the style of a food ad, full of “saccharine additives to make [the govt] look less unsavoury”. The Mammary Glands are treated to “News in Briefs”, inspired by the somewhat amusing change of speech bubbles in recent years on Page 3 girls to spout a political standpoint (Tim Ireland discusses this at Bloggerheads), which was a nice take on sexism and objectification.
The Heart continues a political bent more subtly, set in a “utopia realised” where there’s no hunger and the energy crisis is solved; love is the only scarce commodity. With no way to reproduce it, love falls into decline, reserves bought up (“a third off hugs!”) and the character must face a world where all the love’s used up. This is powerful, however, the horrific alternative given, where “adultery ceased to be taboo”, and apathetic teens were “casually [calling] abortion clinics if late”, is massively slut-shaming; unfortunate given that the world-building would work well enough without it.
Without this focus, the work is less powerful, although still enjoyable. The weakest piece was ‘Face Look’, a palindromic cinquain, playing on the beauty of symmetry. The Diaphragm is given a rhythm of breathing through the layering of his own voice, but the built backing track & explanation of how breathing works took too long for the eventual poem and it was perhaps the least polished work. But it had some nice ideas, such the assertion that “breath remains fragile as freedom”.
Of course, we end on Genitalia, although he promises there will be more as the run continues. His poem “Naming Of Parts”, is a take on the Henry Reed poem, which shares its name with a 1992 study of genders and their respective colloquialisms: from the military-like penis-euphemisms to a new-agey place of “lady gardens”. It could perhaps have done without the female side at all, given that the play on gun-maintenance and phallic imagery was a rife enough playground (“slide rapidly, back and forwards…”) and having both sides made it unnecessarily gender essentialist.
The show is professional and well put together, with a strong sense of narrative. The set pieces are mostly excellent and the informative and humorous patter between them makes this easily a 4 star show though with minor changes could score 5. Also, it’s free, so there’s no excuse not to see it.
A Fine Body of Verse Broadway Baby Rating: Star Rating: 4/5
I went into Anthropoetry not sure what to expect. Poetry read aloud can be thrilling or deathly dull. But Ben Mellor’s verse was a surprise delight. A well-structured thoughtfully created series of works vitally affirmed poetry as a spoken medium. Mellor, looking a little like Jack Whitehall’s older, less annoying brother, engaged a busy crowd at Finger’s Piano Bar with an ease and humour that never failed to impress. His dealing with one particularly odious heckler, with barely a raise of tone, was something established comedians dream of doing.
The idea of Anthropoetry, comes from Anthropometrics, the measurement of human body parts to validate dodgy racial theories. Mellor instead uses parts of the body to provide a framework for his poetic musings. ‘Peak Love’ imagines a world where the commodity of affection is in sharp decline. The digestive system provides a trampoline from which to examine how law and order is formed and – like the Pasty Budget fiasco – abused by those in power to the detriment of those down below. Other body parts similarly follow, each with their own distinctive character and use of non-verbal noises. On a musing about the respiratory system, the various noises made run over each other, like a drum loop. On the digestive, musical backer Dan Steele’s stomach rumbling became a disturbing backdrop. Steele’s musical arrangements were impressive throughout, always understated yet contributing greatly to the overall mood.
Mellor did overextend himself at points. When his verses turned to polemic, they became a bit more like a New Statesman editorial. In particular I found one peace on the breast, where he mocked The Sun for using Page 3 girls to promote Rupert Murdoch’s ‘neoliberal cockbile’ slightly hypocritical as the whole poem’s purpose seemed designed to level an assault against Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. Mellor worked much better when his poems, like his piece on the brain, retained a polemical aspect but remained a bit more aloof. However his poetry is a joy to listen to, and very much benefits from being spoken aloud and at the cost of precisely nothing, is worth a punt by poetry enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Review – Anthropoetry
by Steve on Aug 10, 2012 • 10:58 pm Leave a comment
From The Flaneur:
Anthropoetry is a journey through the body with performance poet and BBC Radio 4 slam champion Ben Mellor as our guide. Starting from the top down, we get poems in relation to the head, respiratory system, heart, breast, stomach and penis.
Mellor is accompanied onstage by the musician Dan Steele, who uses samples, loops, a laptop and an acoustic guitar as a backdrop to Mellor’s poetry. The music fits Mellor’s style and delivery perfectly, creating a fantastic and appropriate musical surrounding to the vocal stylings of our confident and affable performer.
Arriving on stage dressed as a doctor, Mellor takes a couple of poems to really get going, but hits his stride when he unleashes a lyrical gem about the respiratory system. Here the performance element of Mellor’s personality takes over and we see a creative poet in his element. Using a series of loops, Mellor samples his breathing, the sound of his tongue, mouth, teeth and lips to create an original soundscape that he recites his poetry over. The synergy between poet and musician is key, as Mellor and Steele provide a formidable double act that never loose sight of their intentions as poet and musician.
Another highlight is Mellor’s tribute to the breasts and an ode to a right wing page 3 model. Here poetry takes a back seat against a pure hip-hop approach, which is delivered with style and class. Although the comedy aspect of the performance is not as sleek as the poetry and music, both Mellor and Steele are likeable and appealing characters. Even when Ben Mellor forgets to turn off the sampler and finds his voice echoing back at himself, it is difficult to find a fault in his onstage persona.
The talent of both our performers is even more obvious with the last number. Steele takes a seat behind the piano of the bar and Mellor delivers another heartfelt and sincere poem.
Mellor is a versatile performer with a talent and attitude that makes him one of the most intriguing spoken word artists out there. Anthropoetry is an original and fascinating concept and it will be interesting to see what Mellor and Steele come up with for next years fringe.