Matt Abbott admits that poetry is a hard sell on the Fringe, impossible to talk about without coming across as pretentious – which may well explain why one of his bespoke marketing strategies involves offering free meat pies to those who tweet positively about his show. (Vegetarian options are also available, apparently.) He’s also aware that those people who do like poetry tend not to like football, and vice versa, so accepts that starting his set with a poem about football is rather shooting himself in the foot. Except, of course, that poem is an excellent example of why Abbott’s kind of poetry deserves to be heard.
Abbott is a sharp, intelligent writer and an energetic performer; if you were seriously put off poetry at school, he is the man who might just change your mind.
It’s a poetry of the streets. Quite literally; in many cases, as he reels off their names, you could probably follow his characters’ progress down the roads of Sheffield, Wakefield and other northern towns on Streetview. Abbott’s stories and narratives are very much grounded in real times, places like pubs and launderettes, and people. Hopefully, the name of “Barbara from Scarborough” has been changed, if not for rhyming reasons, to protect a worn-down woman merely guilty of a little extramarital one night stand.
Abbott, who arrives on stage with a pint in his hand, is unpretentious, grounded and, at times, self-effacing – although his assertion that he doesn’t let negative reviews get to him does come across too obviously as a framing device for one of his lesser poems. That he is a talented writer is undeniable; he sees, in the smallest of ordinary details, those common aspects of our lives that speak to everyone. His surprisingly lyrical expression of those commonalities crosses both gender and age; possibly his most moving poem is focused on “John from Sheffield”, bewildered by the physical and social changes in his city whilst left emotionally blank as his – well, his late wife’s – possessions are auctioned off with little or no care.
While there are relatively few glimpses of happiness in the show, it’s nevertheless strangely life-affirming. Abbott may well be ‘skint’ and ‘demoralised’ about the way the world is going under our current Conservative Government, but the nearest he gets to a party political broadcast is a poem linked with Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn. It’s fair to say that Abbott is a political poet, at least in the sense that “the political is personal”; his first poem, after all, was a direct attack on the inherent absurdity of BNP-style nationalism. Sadly, given the rise of UKIP, it’s still as relevant as ever.
Offers of meat pies (or vegetarian alternatives) notwithstanding, Abbott is a sharp, intelligent writer and an energetic performer; if you were seriously put off poetry at school, he is the man who might just change your mind.