Flint and Pitch is kicking off its second season by returning to its roots. This first Presents event features Rachel McCrum, Jenny Lindsay’s former partner on the spoken word series Rally and Broad, and Caroline Bird, who Lindsay tells us was part of the inspiration behind her and McCrum’s cult literary cabaret. “We’re going hardcore and it is pure poetry,” Lindsay announces when introducing these two poets so integral to Flint and Pitch’s conception. This is also the final leg of McCrum and Bird’s UK tour, on which they have been promoting McCrum’s first poetry collection, The First Blast to Awaken Woman Degenerate, and Bird’s fifth, In These Days of Prohibition. The mood is exuberant and almost like a homecoming for its performers.
The poems that Bird selects refer back to her struggles to overcome addiction in her early twenties. They traverse through therapy in the Arizonian desert, a presumed overdose, and images of unexploded SS bombs, laying bare a raw and emotional intensity that is made more easily digestible by Bird’s humour. She is at different points wry, silly, and optimistic, remarking “What we can learn from a little fat man, anyway?” about a Buddhist temple in the desert or imagining an anthropomorphised military regiment of tears. She is also self-aware as a performer, breaking the tension by commenting on the audience’s hushed silence – “It’s good when poetry doesn’t land – it hovers menacingly at the end” – or reacting to her own insights with a mocking “Wow!”. It is refreshing to see serious material not being taken too seriously. Bird’s journey to recovery packs a punch, which she expertly dissipates with a lighthearted delivery.
McCrum’s debut collection is one about motion, documenting her moves between Northern Ireland, Edinburgh, and Quebec with imagery couched in water, boats, and crossings. The poems are in part devoted to where she has come from. There is a tribute each to her father, brother, and mother, with the line “I have only one callous to show them – between my finger and my thumb” showing the attitude to poetry that McCrum has learnt from her family – it may be cerebral, but it is still hard work. In the rest of the collection, we hear that labour applied to celebrating strong and rebellious women, particularly in her title piece which cries out for all manner of women (in defiance of John Knox’s The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women). Singer Kirsty Law delivers backing vocals, with the emphasis on song and voices alternating and coming together drawing out the aural qualities of performance poetry. It is a small nod to McCrum’s innovations in Scotland’s spoken word scene, which she has translated into ink and then playfully brought back onto the stage again.