22 February
Fallow Café

“Have you had an accident? I fell at height from a stanza and damaged my story.”

That’s not quite how it was told by one of tonight’s contributors, but hopefully the humour comes though.

When last month’s Verbose event was described to me as “rammed”, I knew that 20 people could achieve that effect in the upstairs venue of Fallow Café. But this really is packed, so much so that even the bar is being used as a vantage point.

The crowd is here for an evening of poetry, prose and spoken word. Split into three segments, each one opens with a more recognised personality, followed by an open mic opportunity for anyone who is brave enough to emerge from the congregation into the glare of the stage. There is no shortage of individuals wanting to do just that and part of the fun is trying to guess who from the audience will walk the 20 or so paces towards the spotlight.

Some performers are obviously better practised in their delivery, such as Richard Hirst, who has developed a theme concerning Preston bus station into an act that requires audience participation to decide which path to take and how the ending will develop.

As Emma Jane Unsworth, a recent contributor to the Guardian, read one from a series of short stories to an engrossed ensemble, the only sound was that of her voice, rising and lowering with the emotions of the tale.

“She Knows. She knows, you know, she knows.”

Ged Camera

Background photo by Ged Camera.

Jebel Marra

By Michelle Green
Comma Press

The civil war in Darfur is a particularly dark time in our recent history, with government forces accused of ethnically cleansing tens to hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs in the region.

They say the first victim of war is the truth. Michelle Green sets out to help us understand the truth about this conflict in her collection of 15 intertwined short stories. The stories, whilst fiction, are informed by her own experiences as an NGO volunteer in the region in 2004.

Each story gives a view on the war from the perspectives of different people involved in the conflict. The list of protagonists includes victims of the conflict, as well as foreign journalists, NGO workers, aid volunteers, and even people from the government forces themselves.

The concept of revealing the story of the war in this way works well, as the complexity of the situation demands it. A short story can only provide a small segment of any given character’s story, and while many of the tales feel unfinished, the book as a whole is a snapshot of a particular time and place.

Needless to say, this is not the jolliest of reads. Settings of genocide rarely are, so that would not be a surprise to anyone. But what does shine through in these stories is the shared humanity. The fragility and importance of close relationships and family is a theme you would expect in the stories of characters from Darfur. But many of the characters who come from outside the country also have relationships strained through distance, or have suffered loss for a variety of reasons.

In ‘The Nightingales’, a journalist is desperate to have his stories published to tell the stories of the “internally displaced people”, people in camps who have fled from their villages being destroyed. Written off as merely “human interest” fodder, his editor is not interested. The journalist reflects that the main story in the press at that time was about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie going on holiday to Kenya, and despairs.

This is one of the many barriers to the release of truth that Michelle Green reveals in this collection. Through reading it you might gain a better understanding of a very complex situation, while feeling sadness at horrors that are allowed to happen in this world and a desire to hold those who are close to you even closer.

Chris Tavner