JAMES MACNAMARA is a red-blooded critic and he likes his poetry raw.

celine lowenthal Corpus Playroom david grundy Drama George Potts Hatch jack belloli james macnamara james mcknight poetry rowan evans salome wagaine

Corpus Playroom, 27th February only, 9.30pm, £5-6

[rating: 3/5]

Hatch has been taken over by Rowan Evans and Celine Lowenthal (has there been anything recently to which she hasn’t turned her keen professional eye?), and this was a tighter, more solid affair than the previous one I attended. But I still have issues with Hatch and the kind of poetry and drama it represents.

Everything about it is just so lovely. On the cusp of and occasionally well within the saccharine. The website with its pretty egg and ‘Hatch’ in the middle in small, pretty writing.

Last night a miniature chess set was on the floor – very cute and several people almost trod through it. Paroxysms of loveliness. Everyone is turned out so damn beautifully. Hatch is definitely the most attractive room of people in Cambridge.

The poetry mirrors the looks of the readers. It is immediately attractive, pleasant to be around. This makes me suspicious. I think poetry should be difficult, that in the best poetry there is a continuous and complex resolution between the linguistic surface and the ideas being explored.

This is necessarily a difficult process, and often an immediately unpleasant one. Very little was unpleasant about any of the poetry in this instalment of Hatch. Every piece, even the more unusual examples, carried a sense of accessibility, of immediate enjoyment, a quick and easy recognition of its dexterity.

“It looks so slick / to you, just a bit of gymnastics” writes Jack Belloli in the first piece of the night. It is a telling line. The idea that the best poetry might be initially unpleasant may seem counter-intuitive.

But poetry, and drama, that carries its meaning on a beautifully-cut sleeve bypasses the necessary difficulties involved. Words are difficult, and thoughts are too. When they combine things get tough, and everything shouldn’t be so pretty.

All that said, I liked several pieces very much – the pieces that reconciled surface allure with the thought underneath it. James Mcknight’s ‘When Touch’ really stood out for me. His cadences are beautiful and he is deeply in tune with the way the sounds of words inform their meaning.

David Grundy’s ‘[18.01.2012]’ was the most unpleasant poem of the evening, and probably the best. It deals with difficult ideas through devilishly humorous linguistic pyrotechnics (a highlight – punning ‘straight outta Compton’ with ‘straight outta options’), the words feeding into the thought and the thought feeding in to the words.

I didn’t quite take to any of the drama in the same way. Jack Belloli’s excerpt from ‘Revels’ was vivid, but I’m not sure about what was behind the considerable surface tension. I’d like to see more, however. ‘Condiments’ by Salome Wagaine was pleasingly quirky but several wearisome exchanges let the clever humour down. Although complimenting George Potts after his attack on an innocent (albeit rival) reviewing comrade causes me deep discomfort, it has to be said that his performance carried the piece through.

With so much difficult poetry happening here, poetry that feeds into essential issues and truths and tries to deal with their difficulties with correspondingly challenging words, Hatch seems frivolous and gaudy by comparison. There are exceptions, and I thought it was much better than the previous one.

I wasn’t smarting at the clichés this time. But it shouldn’t cost five pounds to hear fourty-five minutes of new writing. And words just shouldn’t always be that pretty.