Drunk With A Pen

Joseph J Clark is a poet on a mission. Time is precious to this man as time is words and the very second the audience are seated, in this black, curtained-off venue inside Sweet Werks 2, he commences his set. In fact, I’ve barely taken off my jacket and set down my drink and he’s off and – in truth – I’m caught a little off guard in more ways than one as from that second, and for the next 3,600, I’m completely transfixed. Clark commands attention from the get-go with the words “Churchill said he took more from the brandy, than brandy ever took from him.” References to Hemmingway and Wilde follow – the demon drink, it seems, keeps good company. And, as this first poem of Drunk with a Pen ends, Clark then introduces himself and his supporting logophile, Rachel Shorer.

This talented duo have lit up words and made them dance.

Shorer immediately throws open her front door and invites us into her living room (she is in fact about to do a poetry tour literally in people’s living rooms) as she sits us down and bares her soul with a powerful piece about her own experience of living with anxiety. Verses on friends sitting at her kitchen table, unfulfilling jobs, and tea and love all follow, and are undoubtedly worthy, but it is her tenderly raw and eloquently exposed reveal on anxiety that really unsettles and provokes reflection. Her delivery throughout is poised, confident and cadenced.

As Shorer signs off, Clark takes centre stage again and takes us through a total of 13.5 poems this includes the Churchill one at the start). Why 13.5? Because this, he informs us, is the alcohol percentage of a typical bottle of wine. Liquid nectar seeps into his work’s title and every part of his thinking and being – his verses reveal that he does, indeed, have a complex relationship with drink. He wants to celebrate its highs (seen especially in War Stories 2 and his fun take on cocktails) but also warn of its woes (particularly evident in his moving poetry relating to his father). Clark is an eloquent, talented performer and orator with some of his work demanding dynamic, linguistic gymnastics at times verging on rapping. He delivers all with proficiency, often at lightning speed. It’s impressive stuff, underpinned by his erudite knowledge of the range and effects of alcohol. Some of the work you may recognise from the 2017 Fringe but there’s a splash of the fresh too.

After another warm Spring day, the air inside this compact Festival venue is still and close and all at once I notice sparkles of dust, illuminated by the backlighting, floating around the room. It looks magical inside this setting and it actually feels a little magical too. This talented duo have lit up words and made them dance. And it’s not just because Shorer and Clark are skilled wordsmiths – there’s a candid poignancy to each poet’s delivery – they mean what they say and this honesty works. It’s really beautiful.

Reviews by Jane Beeston

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The Blurb

Poetry for the drinking classes: Joseph J Clark performs 13.5 poems about drink and drinking. Earnest, endearing, and occasionally exciting poetry from the very bottom of the bottle.

Featuring a support set from Rachel Shorer.

"Performance poetry at its most accessible... a bit like being in the pub with a more interesting raconteur than you can usually rustle up" (Broadway Baby)