How to succeed as a poetry compere: Born Lippy’s Donald Jenkins delivers a masterclass
There are poetry night comperes that embrace the limelight, and there are other comperes who can’t help being the centre of attention, even if they’re not trying to be. Donald Jenkins, MC of the eclectic Born Lippy monthly event in Newcastle, combining poetry, comedy, hip-hop and “all things wordy”, belongs in that latter category. He opened proceedings by bounding around the stage, performing his own interpretation of the Brian Hyland classic 1960 pop song, Poetry in Motion. It set the tone for a wonderfully energetic evening. And he came up with three rave/rap/hip-hop numbers (I’m no expert on these matters) at the end of the night that gave us a rousing finale.
Top of the Born Lippy bill on Wednesday night at the Cobalt Studios was Matt Panesh, aka the Monkey Poet. Matt is the main man behind Morecambe poetry festival, which combines big poetry names and grassroots poetry, and seems to grow with every passing year. But his performance poetry credentials really stem from his many years associated with the Edinburgh Fringe, both as a performer and as a programmer with the Free Fringe.
His most chilling poem, about genocide, began with a disarming confession that it came from a book published 10 years ago, that he had lost, and had had to retrieve from eBay. It includes appalling and graphic testimony from the Rwanda massacres, and this sobering line: “Never again, became again and again …”
He also demonstrated his Fringe performance skills with a hilarious poem about a Trump-loving housemate taken in by social media, and in a nod to upcoming Valentine’s Day, delivered a touching love poem that he dubbed his “Hallmark Cards” offering.
Effervescent, exuberant and angry Mwelwa Chilekwa opened the evening with assertive, loud and proud poetry – “They say everything that glistens isn’t gold, but I am” - and received a rousing and thoroughly deserved reception.
Julie Easley dedicated one of her poems to all the Tory home secretaries since 2010, and particularly James Cleverley, who famously if allegedly described Stockton – “the place where I come from” – as a “shithole”. Another poem, dedicated to all Tories, was titled ‘Let Them Eat Chips’. Her new collection, published by Middlesbrough’s Black Light Engine Room Press, is Not My King.
Comedian Mike Milligan poked fun mainly at himself and his fondness for “the olden days”, which made him often fall foul of wokeness and the middle-classes. I’ve always believed that I don’t like stand-up comedy, but Mike’s wry, self-deprecating and generally gentle brand won me over.
There is also an open-mic element to Born Lippy, which comes in the form of a mini-slam limited to four contestants, but with a very decent prize – a headline set at a future event. Your correspondent decided to put down his notebook and enter, purely to widen the age range, you understand. By some miracle I reached the final, where I was deservedly beaten by Hemangi Chakravarty, whose winning, gentle poem titled ‘Jasmine’ proved you don’t have to shout to triumph at a slam.
Donald Jenkins also hosts a poetry writing workshop earlier in the day at Cobalt Studios, from 4-6pm. The workshop is open to everyone, including “those who love or hate poetry, who have never written before or just want to develop their writing further”.
Born Lippy, which also pops up at events such as Lindisfarne festival, is now into its seventh year, Donald told us. The next event is an International Women’s Day special, on 13 March.