In the basement of VFD Dalton, a queer arts and entertainment centre in Hackney, there’s a small bar and a singular bartender/bouncer/manager. Stools, benches, and miscellaneous chairs are arranged to face a bright pink wall, in front of which are two chairs and two microphones. Is this what being at the core of a literary movement looks like?
Rhiannon McGavin, former Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, is reading from her collection titled Grocery List Poems. Her supporting act is poet and novelist Savannah Brown, born in Ohio but now a true Londoner, talking of her excitement for the Elizabeth line’s opening. Somewhat unexpectedly, each of these young American women are armed with a can of Strongbow.
Brown, the ‘secret guest,’ introduces the set, starting with her most recent publication. Reading from her phone, her voice is clear and purposeful. She makes deliberate eye contact with the audience and in turn, we hinge off her every word. Another poem, half comprised of the leaked sexts between Jeff Bezos and his mistress, balances between hilarious and deeply exposing. Brown does the impossible: she reduces Bezos to an ordinary man. With two poetry collections—Graffiti and Sweetdark—and two novels published by Penguin Random House under her belt, Savannah Brown knows she belongs. She’s cool and confident to an intimidating degree. Referred to as “the poet articulating your deepest existential fears” by Vice, Brown deals with the big picture stuff—the celestial, life-is-meaningless, why-are-we-here, kind of big picture stuff. And then she introduces Rhiannon McGavin, who is completely, undeniably human.
McGavin calls Grocery List Poems her collection of ‘sweaty love poems.’ After Brown’s cold astronomy, these poems are too sweet, too hot, too sickly. McGavin transports us back to first hickeys, to figuring out crush’s homes, to bus rides before she could drive. She confesses to us: ‘I take my role as a crazy ex-girlfriend very seriously.’ She promises that the second edition of the collection will, among fixing some typos, be namely to remove her ex’s name from the acknowledgements. This, however, is the last confession of the evening. As she gets progressively drunker (off of one (1) cider), she begins several anecdotes before censoring herself. We’re getting restless—whether it’s the untold stories, the tipsy poet, or the uncomfortable chairs, who’s to say.
Her next collection is Computer Room, which will be the thesis of her master’s in philosophy at Trinity College. Computer Room promises to be cold and metallic—not even a drop of sweat—as she explores what really qualifies as a ‘computer room.’ The title comes from her and many others’ past, when the computer had a specific room in the house. With a planned trip to the Alan Turing Institute, Rhiannon speaks with a passion that is sure to produce something worthy.
Both women are names to look out for. With their ‘sweaty love poem’ stages behind them, Brown, with McGavin close behind, have firmly embedded themselves into the poetry scene on both sides of the Atlantic.