BLOG Hayley Dolby

NWR Issue 112

Voice and Verse

Voice and Verse is a bi-monthly evening of poetry and live music hosted by Rhys Milsom and Rob Cullen. The event took place at Octavo’s Book Café and Wine Bar in Cardiff Bay on 11 November at 7pm. The next evening will take place around 13 January. Exact date to be released in December.

I shoved my hands deep into my pockets as my flatmate Emma and I walked down the street towards Octavo’s. Neither of us had been before, so we were relying on information gleaned from Google Maps.

‘If this is the right place, Google definitely lied to us. This is not a three-minute walk. It’s like one and a half, maximum.’

I nodded my agreement, eyes locked on the red awning that marked our destination. The black and grey exterior of the café seemed to fade into the darkness of the street, but the red was striking. A bold statement.

The interior was just as eye-catching. The layout of the bookcases reminded me of the old-fashioned book shops I’d seen in movies. I was half expecting the shelves to be filled with leather-bound tomes; Encyclopaedia Britannica A through Z, perhaps. The eclectic nature of the décor stood in stark contrast to what I'd pictured, bird motifs scattered across the walls, ‘Books - Food for the brain’ scrawled in black cursive.

We ordered our drinks and went to take our seats, neither of us quite able to comprehend that we’d managed to score two glasses of wine for only five pounds. The sound of glasses clinking at the bar was almost inaudible behind the buzz of excited chatter that filled the little room. There was a charmingly informal atmosphere to the event, which Emma later told me she found particularly refreshing as a contrast to the classical music concerts she usually frequents.

The event began with a short introduction by Rhys Milsom and four poems from his second collection of poetry, Transitions, which is to be published on 10 December. My favourite was ‘Elocution’, which discussed his relationship to his Welsh accent, something which, along with Welsh scenery, became a theme for the next hour. Next, the poet Ellen Davis took the stage, and read from her debut poetry pamphlet, ‘Accent’. Following her was Josh Evans, the first musician of the night, who started his set with a song discussing Wales' mines.

Rhys found himself with a spare ten minutes in the schedule, so he called for an impromptu open mic. I made a mental note to start carrying my poetry around with me, and watched as Julia, a Cardiff University student from America, read out a poem which detailed her thoughts on the current state of American politics. As I watched the next reader, Mark, flick through his notebook, I realised that I would never have their confidence. I stared at them hungrily, hoping that someday I would be brave enough to join them.

After a short break, the second half began with readings from Mike Jenkins; a combination of comedic, satirical and reflective poems, all complimented by the ever-changing expression in his voice. Next up was Rob Cullen. Amongst his poems was ‘Absence’, which related his experiences living with his father, a PTSD sufferer. Particularly apt, as it was Remembrance Day, it was written in such a tender manner that I felt quite moved. Concluding the section was Fiona Cullen, a vocalist performing unaccompanied.

Emma and I emptied our glasses and rushed to the bar, having heard Rhys mention that he was preparing mulled cider. Both of us carrying a chrome mug filled with soothing warmth, we returned to our seats for the final section of the evening. Clare Potter began with a poem about the allotments she used to play in as a child. Her Welsh lilt and constant smile instantly endeared her to me. When she began to sing, I turned to Emma in shock, and it was only then that I realised she was reciting the entire poem from memory. Mesmerising and engaging, Clare was easily my favourite poet of the night.

The penultimate performer, Mab Jones, often referred to as ‘the Welsh Pam Ayres’, much to her chagrin, was reading from her newest collection, Take Your Experience and Peel it. To end the evening, we were treated to a performance by Gerhard Kress. He described his method of playing the violin as ‘the equivalent of having a piece of paper and a pencil, and doodling’, something he enjoyed doing during his time as a busker. It was the perfect way to end such an engaging and thought-provoking evening. I would highly recommend attending the next session in January. You’ll find me there.

Hayley Dolby is a Cardiff-based blogger undertaking an internship with New Welsh Review.


previous blog: R. S. Thomas: Too Brave to Dream
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