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Poetry is one of the purest forms of artistic expression. As an age-old medium of storytelling, there’s no need for bells and whistles. No backdrops or lighting cues. There is no longer even a necessity to conform to the restrictive verse form – poetry can take on any shape it pleases, delivering us wherever it likes, however it likes. Moreover, unlike in bygone days, poetry is for the many, rather than exclusive to the few. And one such voice that speaks to the many is that of Maria Ferguson, who brings her debut poetry collection Alright, Girl? to the Living Record Festival.
Alright, Girl? focuses entirely on the spoken word, immersing the listener in a fully auditory experience. Only a singular image of dawn lights across the East End of London, setting a clear canvas for the work to come. Baselining Ferguson’s textured and overly familiar voice is the sound of London’s streets. Grounding her words in their very inspiration, we feel the bustle of life moving around her as she observes and reflects on moments captured in time, like polaroids.
There is clear honesty in Ferguson’s words and she delivers her text with a sense of companionship, like an inside joke that we both know: It feels as though we’ve taken a booth together by the window of a pub. I listen as though she is confiding in me, commenting on things I don’t quite understand, but as I listen, I somehow recognise the feelings she is expressing.
From class, to sex, to body image; Ferguson delves into topics with a raw and realistic approach, unafraid to call a spade a spade, or to use humour to get to the heart of something more problematic. She explores relationships with people close to her, as well as acting as an omniscient voyeur in the pubs she visits and works at. Vulnerability seeps through as she visits moments in her childhood, autobiographical moments which sometimes seem ordinary, but are teeming with relevance in how they have developed her as a woman.
Headphones embedded in my ears, I let the poetry wash over me – suddenly the song ‘Smile’ springs out to me, pulling every inch of my attention. I have to rewind and listen again. Ferguson’s analysis of the smiles around her, their different uses and their hidden meanings is both entertainingly accurate and acutely depressing. It is such a simple piece and so very isolated. Alright, Girl? holds so much weight in its meaning to me, a nugget of something that connects and rings in my mind that I just can’t let the thought go.
Poetry has the wonderful effect of being entirely malleable by its audience; whether you listen or read, you can form the words around your own approach to them. With Alright, Girl? we have a fantastic opportunity to receive the words from their source, but this doesn’t take away from the personal effect that they have on the listener, nor does it distance us from them. Perhaps this is due to the subtle and genuine performance by Ferguson, and the calm sound design by Chris Drohan. In any case, this is a beautiful journey of discovery, from which everyone will find something entirely different.
Alright, Girl? is streaming online until 22nd February 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Living Record website.