Fernandez and Wheeler – Upstairs at The Western

The past month was a month of losses and disappointment. This month, I am trying to regain my strength, sense of self and trust in other people. Therefore, I am spending it with those who believe, listen, communicate and fight side by side as allies and colleagues.

Last night, I went to see a couple of really good eggs perform Upstairs at the Western. Charles Wheeler and Rosa Fernandez are staples of the Leicester spoken word and poetry scene. So it was really pleasant to see them on their own presenting new and old work for 45 minutes each.

Charles Wheeler successfully completed this year’s National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) challenge in April. He wrote, more or less, one poem a day, partially following prompts but mostly following a main topic. NaPoWriMo happens to coincide with Autism Awareness Month, and Charles is autistic. Thus, the poems are about autism from the point of view of an autistic person. These poems deal with misunderstandings, coping mechanisms, the struggle of survival when the world bombards you through all five senses, well-meaning and ill-meaning neurotypical strangers, researchers who treat the autistic community like lab rats, and violently dreadful puppet shows.

Charles is loud, passionate, and you live – or at least try to — through his words. Wrestling references, science, left-leaning (more like compassionate, I’d say) politics and being “extremely online”. I stand by my back cover quote where I say that he “is one of about five cis men I wouldn’t happily kill”.

Rosa Fernandez is also an outstanding performer and writer. She goes to almost every poetry night in town and charms people from all walks of life with her wit and sass. She has a lot of fun with metric challenges, particularly haikus, and actually released a small haiku scene last year. You can get them from her wherever you find her. She can also deliver sonnets, villanelles and pretty much any other type of metric poem you suggest.

On stage, Rosa is charming and multifaceted. Her show is about her daily routine of “eat, sleep, work (from home, sometimes), repeat”. She plays the ukulele. She reads your future. She gives you biscuits as she sings you a lullaby. She agrees that Jaffa Cakes are cakes and not biscuits, but still brings them anyway. Her slippers are glittery, so I reckon she can walk into the Met Ball wearing them.

David from Upstairs at the Western challenged Charles and Rosa to do a collective piece. So, at the end of the show, they did a round of Cards Against Humanity but change the name to David Against Humanity and the answer to everything was “David made us do it”. So David is guilty of everything, from you losing your virginity to the end of the world. But he is the most guilty (or innocent?) of hosting such excellent poetry and performance art shows in Leicester in such a homely venue.

Something I really, really love about poets like Charles and Rosa is that not only do they speak their truth, but they are still eager to learn and share. Constantly honing their craft, not afraid of asking for advice and not hoarding their wisdom and skills away from others. They are well-rounded people on and off stage, and I am very proud to still consider them friends even after a lot of community earthquakes. They have their head on their shoulders but their eyes on the skies. They talk and they listen. They love a challenge. They have ambitions and dreams, but they still remember who they are and where they come from. A lot of local, national, and international performers could learn from that.

Whenever you can, please read their stuff. Go to open mics and poetry events in your area. Go to workshops and hangouts if you can afford them. If not, ask for concessions. Get their zines in the flesh (in the paper?) or read them online.

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