Dockland: a Preview

Jim Bennett
Whiston Town Hall (31st August 2007)

Reviewed by Angella Tippton

Poetry: the very word brings on shivers of impending boredom. Having spent several nights at open mic events in Liverpool being sent to review another one did not excite me. My experience, with few exceptions, is of people with little talent for writing, writing poetry that is hardly worth the name, that no one will ever want to read. So the only way they can get an audience is to go to an open mic event with other people who are in a similar position and speak their poetry at each other. I have yet to find anyone in an audience who has come to hear the poetry, most come to read or are dragged along to support someone who is going to read. Or they have been sent to write about it. That then is how I found myself at another poetry reading after I swore I would never go to another one.

OK this was a little different. For a start I was told that it would involve music, and that the performer was a singer/songwriter as well as a poet. The person I came to see and hear was Jim Bennett at the Council House in Whiston. Why Whiston? Well I suppose it had something to do with the fact that this small invited audience were here to see if they could invest in a stage production written by Mr Bennett and I suppose to get a few advance reviews of his show, like this one.

If you haven't guessed, I am not a fan of poetry, but Bennett doesn't do any old poetry, first of all there are hardly any rhymes, he does a sort of talking prose, often with lists. When I asked later I was told it was a style of Beat poetry. I must say that if you are a great fan of the convoluted quasi rap that passes as poetry today, you probably will find that Bennett leaves you cold. But, if you are a fan of the quirky, and are open minded, then this might be just the sort of thing to float your boat. Two of his poems were outstanding. In 'Liverpool Is' he mentions almost everything about Liverpool except the Beatles, and finishes with an outstanding last few lines. This is one of those poems that resonate for a long time after you first hear it. The other outstanding poem is about the Irish famine called 'With Mud on their Boots', which brought a tear to the eye, not because it was too gushing but rather because it was true and had echoes in today's world. Perhaps also it has to be said that Bennett is a great reader of his own poems with a superb reading voice.

The presentation is very slick and professional as you would expect from someone with Bennett's experience, he has been writing for forty years. He used pictures and short movies and sound tracks to punctuate his performance and he sings. OK he would not be up there in X Factor but he would not be out of place in a folk club. He has a steady quiet style which belies the strength of his lyrics, though he was best when accompanied by Richard on the guitar rather than playing it himself. His vocal style is intimate and the emotional range quite moving on some of his songs.

The intention with the presentation is to showcase the songs and poems from a stage play he has written called Dockland. This was produced as a response to his two years as a poet in residence at Liverpool's docks.

The stories and songs grew from the stories being told to a child as he sits with his father at the Pier Head in Liverpool. Later Bennett said that a lot of the material was from his father who had worked on the docks and in ship building.

The overall effect of the poems, the songs and the little fill-ins was to ensure that it was over all too quickly. When Dockland comes to the stage it will be populated by professional actors who I suppose will make a good job of it because the story is a very good one, and the poems and songs memorable, but there is something very special about hearing the writer perform his own words that makes you realise what writing is about. "This is", said Bennett, "an attempt to capture something which has gone now. To record it in the only way I can." I am glad he did. And I am glad I went and had the chance to hear this master wordsmith performing at the top of his game.

Has he converted me to poetry? No, but I might pay just a little more attention next time I go to an open mic event and I will certainly watch out and try to catch him performing again.

Bennett will be touring his preview of Dockland in Merseyside throughout 2008, visiting New York and the Edinburgh Festival in the process, and hopes to bring the full version to the stage by 2010. The tour information will be available from

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