Nicola Simonetti, our Culture Editor, reviews StAnza’s show Poetry Café, which took place at the Byre Theatre on March 3rd, and featured poets Kevin Mclean and Katie Ailes from the Loud Poets group.


Living in a chaotic world which does not take much care of us individuals, it is always hard to find some time to sit and listen. We are quite used to getting up in the morning at the first ring of our alarm clock (or, most likely, after a few), grabbing some breakfast on our way to school/work, keeping our head down until 6 o’clock and having some dinner before the TV.

People complain they feel alone, yet they say hello to their parents via their phone and post fake-smiling selfies on their favourite social media. We live in the XXI century, but we seem unable to find time to sit down, burn a candle and listen to one another. Why?

Kevin Mclean and Katie Ailes, both poets who perform in the collective Loud Poets, travelled all the way to St Andrews to try and answer this question.


The Poetry Café, running on StAnza Festival’s second day and every day this weekend, was an excellent break from the massive amount of homework and upcoming deadlines, marking an unusual yet rewarding lunch break. Being my first time at one of StAnza’s shows, I went there with no expectations. Grabbing a pie and a beer from a young lady at the entrance (thank you very much!), I sat down in the Byre Theatre after an exhausting morning of lectures… And what a revelation!

Katie Ailes, holding the current StAnza slam title who placed second in the 2015 Scottish National Poetry Slam, and Kevin Mclean, the current Glasgow slam champion and poetry veteran, performed in one of the best shows I have ever seen. Their voices were harmonious and their compositions synchronized; I was enthralled by their performance. The show, 50 minutes long, saw the two poets recounting original poems about social and parental issues, memories, past loves & children, while taking off their ‘social clothes’ to stand naked in front of a bunch of strangers. If one imagines a poetry show to be just about love poems, as YouTube has taught us, this was not the case. Katie and Kevin succeeded in capturing the attention of the entire audience, which ranged from teenagers to couples in their sixties.

The show itself was a success, with people showing their enthusiasm from the beginning. Ailes and Mclean’s devotion and passion are highly commendable, not to mention Ailes’s gesturing and Mclean’s fast performing, which succeeded in rendering his innermost feelings. I am sure that everybody agrees that a fifty minute event is quite short, yet it was long enough to make me fly with Superman, see a man die because ‘Guns don’t Kill People, People Kill People’ and realise how short-sighted we all are sometimes. If a good poetry show is able to convey emotions, the Poetry Café succeeded in raising a sense of self-awareness in everybody who was watching, reaching its apex with Kevin Mclean’s performance of his winning poem ‘Evelyn’, dedicated to his mother.



The show ended with Mclean on the floor – poets do know how to be dramatic, don’t they? – and  was quickly followed by a book-signing. I had a chance to have a one-to-one talk with Mclean, so I asked him a few questions. Here are his paraphrased answers.

Mclean started writing back in the summer of 2013. He says that he has never actually spotted a difference between writing and performing, perhaps as he comes from an acting background. Composing his first poems three years ago, he found himself involved in shows less than a year later, can you believe it? Quite exciting stuff! But most curiously, Mclean affirms that he does not usually write his poems down, but writes them but in his head, and keeps them all there. It is Mclean’s opinion, being himself part of the Loud Poets,  that spoken poetry has a huge value, even bigger than the one that is acknowledged nowadays. Indeed, performing poetry helps you express your own emotions and give to them your intrinsic personal mark. Poetry has long been studied on paper, but not many took the time to actually listen to it.

Defining the Poetry Café as a good experience would be reductive, rather, I would call it a pretty unique two-way exchange. At the price of £6.50 – £5 for students!! – StAnza offered its participants lunch and spoken word from the pick of the Scottish scene, making my break much more interesting that it would normally be. Reiterating my praise for Katie Ailes and Kevin Mclean (who perform in Glasgow and Edinburgh every month), I will go on with my daily schedule as planned: lectures, seminars, tutorials, repeat. But if there is something that I have learnt from this experience is that I will remember to burn a candle tonight.

If you have time this weekend, be sure to stop by for a pie, a pint, and some poetry! On Saturday, March 5th and Sunday, March 6th at 13:00 in the Byre Studio Theatre – check out Jemima Foxtrot in Melody and BBC Scot Slam Champion Scott Tyrrell.

Nicola Simonetti