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Revising the literary happening
On a small stage in Edinburgh’s Forest Café, Colin Herd is attempting to growl. A soft-spoken Scot with the look of a college professor, he forces a breath into the microphone. He errs, laughs. Sitting at one of many tables covered with plastic cups and wine bottles, a spectator yells, “You can do it!” Herd is reading his poem titled “How to Growl: Starter Techniques,” and it culminates in a “ye-owl!!”
The occasion for this strange bit of performance is the Golden Hour, a monthly “literary cabaret” that reimagines the literary event with live music and cartoons interspersed between poetry and prose performances. It’s hosted by Ryan Van Winkle, the American poet who launched it in 2006, and who hopes to expand it and take it on the road next year.
Tonight’s roster also features Newcastle’s Degna Stone, who performs poems about divorce and illness, and Amy Burns, an Alabama native with a tale about going on a journey with her novel’s main character. An hour after Herd’s performance, a one-man electro-dance act called BenOfficial appears onstage in a hooded rainbow bodysuit. Later, Olivia Salazar’s Spanish-Scottish accent enhances a few a cappella songs. The final act is local darling Portnawak & the Woo, a folky, genre-busting band.
“It feels like you’ve gone round to somebody’s house,” says regular Morag Edward, “somebody who’s popular and who’s got interesting friends.” The atmosphere is by turns convivial, arresting and, occasionally, messy: One slightly out-of-hand night ended with everyone being blasted with fire extinguisher foam.
This performance, however, ends with a dance party. The musicians, writers and audience get sweatier, the floor cozier and its boards shakier until, near midnight, the growling ceases and the band calls it quits. — COURTNEY BALESTIER