Learning to Live (Espionage, Pravda room, 24 – 30 Aug : 19:45 : 1hr)

“The craft of every word is excellent, the delivery spot on”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Learning to Live by Isla Cowan is a collection of poems from a young woman who shares her journey of moving to university, the search for a new identity and the struggle to connect with old friends after time apart. The showcase also includes an honest and unglossed ode to a parent, a poem about poverty and a poem called Shakespeare in the sunshine – certainly not a combination one comes across every day.

Cowan’s opening poem is The Night We Went to Life – a reflection on those nights spent clubbing and not being entirely sure why. This is a piece with great rhythm and musicality, with comic moments and a story that all of us can relate to. Next up, The Library is slower and more contemplative, showing great maturity and sense of perspective. Every poem in this show is full of fantastic imagery and a sense of a captured moment, but the last in the set is one called Memories, in which she utters the inimitable line “I am nothing but memories”. To me this summed up the overall ethos of the performance – a collection of lessons learned, delivered simply and beautifully.

My favourite poem from the collection performed was The Lightbulb, which to me demonstrated an accessible and educated view on mental turmoil through clever use of metaphor. Indeed, when Cowan does use metaphor throughout her work, it’s both selective and effective. Great examples include the idea of being “between dinner and dreamland” after a night and morning with that special someone, and carrying “worries in a basket” along with the rest of one’s shopping. Though the subject matter of her work is relatively simple, there’s a lovely feel about it all that reflects her coming of age, but without trying to be too pretentious or flamboyant.

The craft of every word in Cowan’s poetry is excellent, and the delivery of her work is also spot on. She clearly knows the pieces inside out, and captures every rise and fall, rhyme and pause with precision. The tone of her voice carries perfect sympathy with the subject matter of each line, and the whole show just felt very natural and comfortable.

If I were to be really picky, I felt that some of the poems ended quite abruptly, causing the odd jar in what was otherwise a very smooth and enjoyable evening. I’d also like to see her take a few more risks, both in terms of style and content, but perhaps that’s one for next year, as, for a debut show for a novice performer of tender age this really was cracking stuff.


Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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