Leon Priestnall was a Poet based in Birmingham. He performed his poems up and down the country, headlining at The Door in the Birmingham Rep and performing spontaneous verse on BBC Radio. He was also host and founder of Birmingham spoken word night Howl. Bennetts Hill Blues was his first and only collection of poetry.
ABOUT BENNETTS HILL BLUES: The Leon we meet in this debut collection is something quite rare on the Spoken Word circuit – a romantic, a lost soul, with so few of the right answers and so many of the wrong ones. His poems are full of questions, not solutions, or even a step further back from that – are asking the question of what questions to ask. In his work, he isn’t setting himself up as any kind of answer – he is as wrong as he is right, behaves badly as often as correctly. Often too confused to be able to move – beyond lighting another cigarette, taking another drink, running for the door – or speak. Often trapped inside the circle of his thoughts, which are a riot of possibilities and recriminations, what-ifs and why-nots.
That he is out and trying to engage at all feels like some kind of triumph. And he is out, in the locked throng of weekend bar-life, amidst the shouts and the laughter, the thrum of music, the night-life characters that appear and disappear like ghost-train skeletons, there as large and loud as life, until they are suddenly gone. He is out, trying to join in somehow. Either that or trying to forget.
The other triumph is the language and energy of these hopeful no-hope poems. The lines sparkle like sharpened knives under the reflected light of glitterballs. From Johnny, the ‘flat out scoundrel rat/ with a scowl, prowling round your council flats,’ to Taxi Girl; ‘a rock n’ roll Marilyn Monroe … waiting for a sunrise myth-busting insomniac,’ – from ‘the narcissistic weight of a post-modern baby Hitler with a twitter’ to Leon himself, wishing he ‘was unhurried, mild, unafraid, perhaps colder, not so wild,’ myriad characters are brought to life with single breath-taking phrases, before the night, still young, but grown oh – so old, takes them off on their way again.
The upshot of all this is a glowing collection of wild and passionate verse, full of rhythm and urgency, from a poet with a glorious way with words. Leon is such an incredible performer – all heart and agitation and countless voices – the worry was always that we would struggle to stick him to the page. This book puts those worries well and truly to bed. Hopefully they won’t ‘wake up the following morning/ next to some pricky pick up artist/ who knew how to seduce his way/ into [their] low self esteem…’ – We were and remain very proud of this first and only collection from Leon.
Leon’s performance style needs to be seen to be believed. Described by Jasmine Gardosi as ‘a one-of-a-kind performer … a master of onstage rhythm and personality,’ the video below will give you an idea of how he appears on stage.
SAMPLE POEM : Simple And Plain
Whilst others are taking flight
and not returning home.
I’m torn between writing a treatise of great philosophical insight
or a cliché break up poem.
Whilst others are breaking the mold,
taking hold of art
and redesigning it in their name,
I’m simple and plain –
still startled by a song lyric that mentions rain.
As the political order collapses
beneath the narcissistic weight
of a post modern baby Hitler with a twitter –
the world ending
not with a bang or a whimper
but with a hipsters ironic wink –
I just sit and think
about how I have too much time to sit and think.
Jealousies, ambitions, decisions, indecision,
hits and misses, misses the point.
Aching joints, broken hearts,
taking the piss, art,
kisses, is’s and ought’s.
I find a momentary spark,
upon giving up the pursuit
of finding the reality behind my thoughts.
I was looking but couldn’t find it.
I’m incredibly simple minded
and seemingly out to self destruct,
allowing myself to be bothered
by the actions of personas
we knowingly or unknowingly construct.
I wish I was unhurried, mild
unafraid, perhaps colder, not so wild.
Instead I’m thirty years old and still a bullied child.
Speaking philosophical wisdom
as I watch the codeine fizzle
but I like that I’m still startled
by a song lyric that mentions drizzle.
Should I write an essay of momentary importance
as if there’s nothing else to do?
Or should we discover whether I
is just another name for you?