EXPLODE ON CONTACT
20/02/2014 - 20/02/2014
Comedian and writer Ben Stokes returns to New Zealand with a more serious, and less organized solo spoken word show.
Expect a chaotic combination of slam style poetry, rudimentary punk rock and attempted insights into an increasingly confusing world.
Bar Medusa, 154 Vivian Street, Wellington CBD
9pm, Thurs 20 Feb (90mins)
Honest proclamations of love and anarchy
Review by Deborah Eve Rea 21st Feb 2014
Aaah, Valve… I mean… Valhalla. It’s been too long since I stepped through the hole in the wall into the dark, windowless concrete pen of punks, metal-heads and anarchists.
Ben Stokes is a 19 year old spoken-word poet who has recently returned to New Zealand from a stint travelling in Vietnam. As Stokes eloquently puts, “The difference in speaking poetry and speaking madness is an audience,” and he has drawn quite a crowd. Valhalla is packed and I’m excited by an audience full of unfamiliar faces.
Stokes approaches the microphone bashfully and confesses he is surprised and slightly intimidated by the turn out. Without much lead-in, he quickly launches into his first poem, ‘Chaos Theory’ – described as “an experiment” – and keeps his gaze mostly downward throughout.
The audience enjoy his explanation of his next poem, ‘Death of Punk Rock’, and as a result Stokes becomes more confident and settled. He lifts his gaze and from here on, uses his poetry to converse with us.
I recently caught Ben Stokes competing in the Raw Poetry Slam, which he won. Explode on Contact features the full-length versions of his winning poems (among others) which had to be cut down to fit within the Raw Poetry Slam time limit.
At 19, Stokes has reached that stage of life when one’s eyes become open to all of the atrocities, madness and unfairness of the world. He believes “there’s a place in the system for angry young men to say ‘this is bollocks’.” His writing features themes of a world dream, young love, lust and empathy. His churnings are genuine though and I don’t doubt that he would save the world (and the girl) if the opportunity half presented itself.
Explode on Contact comes to 90 minutes (with interval) and includes 11 pieces of poetry, which is an ambitious duration for any solo poet, much less one so young. Listening to so much of one poet takes work, as the audience must follow all of the many images and ideas passed over to us using a similar, signature rhythm. It’s a credit to Stokes’ talent that the audience stay committed and transfixed throughout.
Stokes is a rock’n’roll Romeo, invoking a young Jim Morrison with buds of Kerouac and Kurt Cobain. His honest proclamations of love and anarchy leave men with wide-eyes and dropped jaws; and women with pursed lips and fluttering lashes.
An integral part of the success of this creative package is Stokes’ brother (whose name is mentioned but I unfortunately have not kept note), who acts as his Mercutio, welcoming us with cheeky banter at the door and dutifully watching the performance throughout. The brother was also present as Stokes’ side-kick through the Raw Poetry Slam. Their partnership adds to the coming-of-age boyishness that the audience eats up.
That he’s figuring out how to present all of this ‘work’ seems to fit with Stokes’ punk-rock premise. Stokes admits that he has spent “a lot of time learning the poems but no time on what to say for the banter in between” and he realises now that “it’s a bit shit”. The next step for him, which I’m certain he’s all too aware of, is to develop his poetry-reading into a spoken-word performance without losing the charming humility that his onstage discovery provides.
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