In her first book launch (and what a debut it was) at Blackwell’s here in Edinburgh, Paula Varjack indulged her audience with an unforgettable performance: sharing with those present some readings of her poetry and prose that offer a collage of places, people and impressions from a self-proclaimed “outsider”.
The magnitude of Varjack and her work can be described in figures. Varjack boasts four different professions: as well as a performer she is a writer, director, and producer. In her work, Varjack shares her experiences of eight different cities (and one town, if we are being technical), five affairs, three relationships, two losses and a continuous and seemingly infinite stream of memories, all wonderfully conveyed through her stunning writing.
Amongst pieces of writing presented to her audience, Varjack gave an insight into her work and the context behind her memories. The concept of the book, Letters I Never Sent To You, is both sentimental and beautiful, sometimes accompanied by soft music.
From the moment she began speaking we were enfolded in a piece of spoken word (“I have always been in love with words”), expressing how in the modern-day world, “talking is tricky”. And yet, there is an elegance that is prominent in her way of speaking long before she has introduced herself, and that style is one that effectively runs through her prose and poetry.
One piece of prose, ‘Complicated’, stood out significantly. She presented the context of the poem, explaining her return to her family’s roots in Accra, Ghana after 12 years of absence. The feeling of loss after being separated from a place that is part of her identity is relatable to many, adding another level to her writing.
Identity itself is a focal point of the reading and we are introduced to Bram E Gieben, a close friend and editing aid, who also sees himself as an outsider. Gieben’s work, Ex Nihlo, was a thrilling contrast, and the combination of both poets’ performances epitomised the different variations in performance poetry and prose.
His showcase was electrically charged, with his first piece reminiscent of Kate Tempest’s slam poetry. However, the calmer tone of Varjack’s work seemed to wash over us after the onslaught of powered emotion that Gieben unloaded onto the audience. While this ease was refreshing, it did create a slight lull.
Varjack and Gieben’s work together unveiled a strong need for writing, be it poetry or prose, to be performed, returning to the oral tradition that made poetry what it is today. It calls into question whether contemporary work is at risk of losing some essence or meaning if not spoken aloud. Varjack’s work is mesmerising to behold, and her writing allows her recipient to connect and enter, if only for her moment, another world.
Paula Varjack will return to Edinburgh in March with her show, Show Me the Money.
Photo credit: Very Quiet, Flickr