Last week, Alice Gretton did one of her first performances at Water Lane Brasserie as the new poet in residence. Alice is a regular on the Canterbury slam poetry scene, but, as is the case with the majority of poets, many of us had only ever seen her perform a poem at a time – some words carefully chosen to fit a theme or a three-minute slot. That evening, we got to see her from all dimensions; her words, her poetry, and the frames of experience behind each song or poem.
I came with my friend and we sat down amongst people clutching glasses of wine or cappuccinos. Helen bit into her brownie. A man came towards the front.
‘Dad?! I didn’t know you were going to come!’
They hug, and Alice grins, ecstatic, eyes beaming. Helen and I watched this and gave one another a look confirming a private knowing that we had just seen a moment that was delicate, intimate, full in colour and sound but we weren’t sure of its direction or history. That’s what poetry is, isn’t it? An insight into the private world, the one that comes out when the work clothes are shed, when the pens are put down. Her dad sat near the stage, watching attentively.
We all were. Her voice is soulful and fluid, the kind that makes you lean in – Alice has the confidence of someone who is at ease with performing; someone for whom it seems to come naturally, a duck to water. At 19 years old, she has already released her first single on iTunes, been published in Michael Rosen’s book ‘Smiles of Poems’, and performed in the University of Kent UniSlam 2018 team (reaching third place out of 23 universities).
She split her show up into four parts – object, scenery, music and people. One of her first poems, ‘Fridge Magnets’ was set against the background of ‘Small Hands’, a Keaton Henson track, and the poetry lent against the music, giving it a new voice, a new tone.
Poetry set to music is a double edged sword- it can be a shortcut to developing an ambience, but it can deviate from the language. You can get swept up in the melodies and cadences of the song itself and the words become subsidiary. But here I was enjoying the soul and the bite of it; Alice had made her own loop tracks and had her own songs, meaning that the music felt very much ‘of her’, each track a conscious and choice that mapped out the influences that built towards her own material.
Poems like ‘Tescos Carrier Bag’ explored love and loss – I cling to the lampposts that you kissed / I’m chained to the trains that you missed’. Some of her poetry made stories out of scenes seen while travelling, imagining the lives of others; what they were doing there, who they were, what they sought. ‘Toast’ explored her sexuality, and her attraction to her best friend when she was very little: ‘with her it felt special…it didn’t feel normal. I was probably in love with her’, she told us before the poem began, chuckling. I enjoyed it most when she broke from the rhythm and when she played with expectations; when the song ‘fun’ was jarring and disquieting (exploring mental health), or the rhythm of the poetry interrupted itself, demanded our attention.
After the show, we finished our drinks and left, our thoughts racing.
‘I feel like my brain’s just been through a car-wash’, I said to Helen. ‘In a good way, I mean. That’s what poetry or music does. Everything can feel a bit rubbish or stressful, and then….aaaaahhhhhh’.
Helen agreed, and talked again of her brownie. We bounced off into the cobbles of Canterbury, chattering and buzzing with the flavour of the evening on our lips.
Check out Alice Gretton @alicegrettonpoetmusician or on YouTube here
To find out more about the poets in residence scheme, click here
Find out more about Water Lane Brasserie