Last night I spent an hour with some of my favorite performers, a group of people who I jokingly refer to as “my favorite Irish poet group.” I mean, they’re the only group of performing poets I know of, Irish or otherwise, and frankly they’re all I need.
I’m a bit of a fan-boy. That’s how someone described it anyway, and I’d have to say it’s fairly accurate. I am enamored of Scream Blue Murmur.
I first became aware of them several years ago when they were performing in the Fringe at Red Eye, where there was another show which I had worked on. A friend from that told me about them and said they were really good: “You should see them.” I trust her judgement so I went, even though my first thought had been “Irish Poets?….Spoken word kind of stuff?…Stand there and read poetry?….hmm. Ok.”
I expected perhaps, an enjoyable, pleasant, literary event.
What I got were powerful words and beautiful images that flowed out of them, filled with anger, regret, hope and, somehow, peace. I was enthralled, and I wanted more.
Since then I’ve seen them a few more times, whenever they’ve come to town. (I mean, they live in Belfast, Northern Ireland, after all. Google maps tells me…well, actually it refuses to calculate it.) If you haven’t seen them it’s unfortunate because their work is rather hard to describe, but I’ll try.
Their current show, Something’s Gone Wrong in the Dreamhouse is essentially about how life in America had been good and then suddenly the economy tanks, unemployment sky rockets, people lose their homes, and there’s anger and resentment everywhere, some pointed at those whose skin color is darker than many.
No, this is the 1930s.
I know, right?
It’s poetry, at the heart. Modern, lyrical, sweeping poetry, typically with a kick or a twist or an edge. There are no rhyming pretty pieces about flowers and puppies. There are, instead, flowing words like “persistent reliving of traumatic experience” and“southern trees bear strange fruit” on topics like the ravages of war, racism, violence, hunger, poverty, class struggles, human rights.
It’s political. If nothing else, it’s about politics. Like all their shows. They’re kind of modern day hippies, screaming at the establishment. But quietly, with a lilt.“if you see them massing in the distance/Mobilise – don’t let them rise.”
It’s music. This show is more music than any of their past shows, it seems, although there’s always been music. This time there was lots of music – not only by Aisling, Chelley, Gordon and Brian (I’m wondering where is PhatBob??) but also by the members of the audience, who were given plastic water bottles with a bit of pebbles inside to act as percussive shakers, taking part in the music. The place became a party, with lights up and people singing along and shaking their bottles and tapping their feet. “Sing to me, Billy Sunday…”
It’s visual. In many parts of the show there are videos or pictures flashed on the wall behind, relating the topic at hand. Old black and white newsreels of bustling cities, print ads that you’d never see today (“More doctors smoke Camels than any other brand!”) and pictures of things that are ugly from our history like black men hanging from trees.“Scent of Magnolias, sweet and fresh, / Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.” No, that’s not comfortable to hear, see or witness. It shouldn’t be. So we think about our fellow man and remember, and re-think our modern world.
It’s communal. Their words are about all of us or at least about all of our lives. At one point in the show they invited members of the audience up on stage with them to sing and shake their makeshift rattles. It was one of the motliest groups I’ve seen, with a wide swath of diversity. The 350 lb man, and the tiny, dread-locked, gay black man, and the girl with pink hair, and the 6′ transgendered woman in heels. A picture of all walks of life, each with their own struggles, or perhaps the same.
I was struck last night on my way home about all the stuff I’ve seen them do. Here you have a group of folks who live in Belfast, and for all I know are born and raised in Northern Ireland. A place with a violent, tumultuous recent history over sovereignty and religion. Where bombings and killing were often too commonplace. Yet the work I’ve seen from them has often been about our own country, our own struggles, and our own shameful past. They know from whence they speak.
No, this doesn’t do it justice. I can’t describe their work. The name belies the fact that there is no screaming. And the most striking thing is the underlying element of commonality, of charity and goodness, of love and understanding. There’s something about them and their words and their utterances. There’s something about the playful glint in their eyes, the sincerity of their smiles, the singing crowd…the sexy accents. I want to sit with them, listen to them, discuss the days’ news with them and buy them another round, in some loud, crowded pub. They make me think, make me feel, make me wonder – about myself, my neighbor, my world.
“Breathe in Scream Blue Murmur / Breathe out humanity.” It’s a breath I hope to take again, even if I have to travel to the UK for it.
The last words I heard were: “We may have saved millions.” Indeed. I hope so.
See them yet this weekend at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
all italicized quotes, © Scream Blue Murmur.