Chris McCabe ‘Mustards, Dusters and Custard’

Chris McCabe’s poetry investigates our connection to each other through language. How do the phrases we voice about one another or to one another reflect our relationships? What do the patterns and phrases of our speech relate to the collective, are they phrases we repeat time after time? Do they form part of our identity, national or regional? McCabe’s performance took on both these ideas, looking at his role as a father and as a Liverpudlian with a scouse accent.

McCabe recorded the words he said to his son every hour of the day. Phrases as mundane as ‘Why are you chewing that monkey?’ are combined with more philosophical ‘I’m trying to teach you something’. The repetition of these phrases evokes the mundane of raising a small child along with the complexity and the weight of the task of nurturing a child.

In another work McCabe uses the work ‘like’ at the beginning and end of every sentence of a poem after a friend suggested it due to his strong accent. This strict structure, dictated by a regional turn-of-phrase, challenges the lyricism and high-language associated with poetry, however the flow of the language creates vivid images in which ‘like’ performs as a qualitative, descriptive and linking word, exercising and energising the other words which anticipate the next ‘like’.

Performed poetry allows us to access a shared imagery created through the words of another. However, in this performance McCabe welcomes any late arrivals with a game ‘Mustards, Dusters and Custard’. They dip into his bag and pull out an object. They then select a sheet from a table laden with possibilities that have instructions to use the object which McCabe then reads out. Afterwards, he asks “Are these the right instructions?”  If not the participant loses the game. These ‘how to’ instructions evoke our shared imaginary as we try to imagine the object put to use according to these instructions. The winner is custard.


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