Norwich Arts Centre, 19th January 2020
Sunday night’s the graveyard shift. It’s the scrag end of the week from which one apprehensively eyeballs Monday morning as it hoves into view with its sense of entitlement and inevitability. Even the TV schedule thinks that all we can stomach is Better Call the Midwife but, this evening, Norwich Arts Centre hosted Toast, a poetry night which shares the stage between the city’s finest open mic poets and the UK’s greatest poets outright. It’s the perfect reason to get out of the house and make Sunday night more than the recollection of Monday morning. This evening, Toast welcomed the return of Erin Bolens, one of its first headliners, together with the poet and comedian, Rob Auton.
Auton’s deadpan absurdism toys with language and context. He took to the stage with the words ‘Ladies and gentlemen… these are the names you give to the toilets’. A seam of self-deprecation added substance to the laughs. ‘Good Boy’ sees the poet listening in to the puppy training in the flat upstairs and imagining that the praise applies to his work as he’s worried away by the guilt he feels for repurposing words of praise intended for a puppy. Check out his daily podcast for a window on his deranged mind.
You may not know it, but you have already encountered Erin Bolens’ poem, ‘Our House’, which was featured on an advert for the Nationwide Building Society. Her set gave disarming voice to fear and insecurity by fretting over the underwear and grooming appropriate for a cervical smear and she tempered the force of love and intimacy by remembering that her sister is also the only person to have called her a cunt, or thrown yoghurt in her hair. Her poetry is disarming and affecting.
Toast is an extraordinary showcase of talent. On the 13th Jan, the UK’s richest poetry gong, TS Eliot Prize, was awarded to Roger Robinson’s collection Portable Paradise. Robinson read at Toast in October. Caroline Bird, Martin Figura and Ross Sutherland have all graced Toast’s stage – to name but a few. So, if you’re worried that an evening of poetry will amount to the equivalent of Norwich’s pretentious, talentless fops gathering in a circle for a round of the biscuit game, fret not. UK poetry is on fire at the moment and, somehow, event organizer Lewis Buxton is bringing that fire to Norwich. He says that the event is called Toast because ‘poetry should be accessible to all people. It’s warm. It’s comfortable. It makes people feel engaged’. He’s pulled it off. Toast’s a poetry event everyone can enjoy.