6th October, 2018
Palace Green Library
Review by Emily Pritchard
Rowan McCabe’s show is an excellent piece of spoken word theatre in its own right, but it’s also a valuable insight into what is really an intimate project occurring between two people at any one time: Rowan, and whoever’s doorstep he finds himself on. Several years ago, Rowan set about making himself useful by becoming a Door-to-Door Poet, travelling the North-East to write poems for strangers. This invention of his dream job is an inspiring challenge to our perceptions of what a “proper job” can be. Rowan’s show asks poets (and writers more broadly) for whom they are writing.
His project’s mission was to write poetry for the working class, and whilst anyone who sees the show would want Rowan to turn up on their doorstep, the point of the project is to take poetry to those who wouldn’t come to it of their own accord. Instead, he goes out to them, both in terms of physical travel, and also emotionally, by asking people what it is they care about, and writing about it.
Woven into Rowan’s skilled storytelling are the poems themselves. Springing from a variety of doorstep interactions, these poems urge us to reconsider what is worthwhile subject matter, in including the refrain “ugh, snakes!” and a debate about the location of a first date (Greggs? Or seeing Alvin and the Chipmunks?). The poems are wonderfully funny, and although written for particular individuals, this adds to their charm rather than making them irrelevant for the audience. They touch on serious subjects too; a personal favourite was a poem on Rowan’s first visit to a mosque, which he describes as ‘as calm and peaceful as a glass of water’. This respectful and curious engagement with Islam by a non-Muslim person is something rare and beautiful to watch.
Although the show sets out to ask whether we can trust strangers, some of the most charged moments are when Rowan flips this question, asking whether we can trust ourselves to do the best by strangers. He tackles the responsibilities of his job, ranging from data protection to the act of speaking on behalf of other people, with a great deal of honesty and self-awareness. Rowan’s project involves a double vulnerability: he offers his work to strangers, and they decide whether or not to let him into their houses and hearts. The show is a privileged glimpse into this interaction.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.