This month I performed at two of Edinburgh’s monthly spoken word events, Blind Poetics and Ten Red. Inviting friends involved me trying to explain what spoken word is. I don’t think I did it justice so I hope this blog will help. A typical conversations went like this:
Me: I’m doing a spoken word gig on Monday at the Blind Poet if you happen to be about?
Friend: What is spoken word?
Me: Some people call it performance poetry…
Friend: Ohhh it’s poetry, so people actually perform poetry? (slightly amused / disbelieving face)
Me: Yeah, there’s a really active spoken word scene in Edinburgh.
Friend: So do people read poems they’ve written or do they remember them?
Me: Monday’s gig includes open mic slots so it’s a whole range, lots of people do read but others remember them…
Friend: Do you read your poems or do you remember them?
Me: I remember them. I’m the featured poet this month (slightly amused / disbelieving face)
Friend: Featured poet, so what does that mean?
Me: Well I have a twenty minute slot. I get paid. The featured poet is meant to be really good (I don’t make eye contact). Last month they were on tour from Berlin. This month it’s me.
Friend: I’m sure you’ll be grand, my wife’s got an exam the next day so I won’t be doing anything, I should be able to make it. Blind Poet Right? Spoken word (smiles, nods).
Thinking about it, I have friends who’ve never been to any of my gigs or any spoken word gig ever. For some of them, the idea of a night out watching someone perform poetry sounds at best dull and at worst, embarrassing. For those people and for anyone else who’s not heard of or been to a spoken word gig, I wanted to try to explain a bit about what spoken word is and what I love about it.
My first exposure to ‘performance poetry’ was watching the film ‘So I Married an Axe murderer’, it was entertaining and intriguing but nothing like seeing it live. A few years later I saw Phillip Attmore, a Broadway actor and dancer perform a poem he’d written called ‘Move’. It included a tap dance, as ridiculous as that sounds it was and is amazing. It wasn’t just the quality of the performance, the clever lines, the rhymes and the rhythm. It was more than that, it made me want to get up and do something with my life. To write, to move, to speak, to express. Here’s a video of this year’s world poetry slam champion Harry Baker, it’s along the same lines. He’s performing a poem about bees but it speaks to the heart, it makes me want to do something, to be something, to change something. Words have power and we can listen and move on or we can listen and move. Here’s Harry with the bees:
That’s a bit about why I love about watching spoken word but what’s it like on the other side of the microphone, what’s it like to perform?
Performing solo for 45 minutes in a packed out book shop during the West Port Book Festival last year was wonderful and intimate and totally different to being part of an evening like TenRed earlier this month. At Ten Red ten poets share ten minutes each in a cosy back room in a pub in Leith. Every other person was a writer and it was as much about sharing a pint, as a poem. I loved being part of a team of performers and the performances I saw were entertaining, challenging and inspirational. This was the line up,
It’s not all good, I feel physically sick before a spoken word gig. Once I’m performing I’m fine. I like to involve the audience, I love chatting to them, for me it’s about connecting, sharing and having fun together. I know spoken word artists who feel energized when they perform, for me it’s the opposite. I feel totally drained afterwards, I’ve given a part of myself and it takes me a day to recover. I love to get feedback, especially from people I don’t know and I’m always really encouraged by it and glad I performed (despite dreading the gig beforehand and wondering why in the world I’d agreed to it).
There are so many brilliant spoken word artist in Edinburgh, if you live here I totally recommend checking out the scene. Why not write something and consider taking part too? Here are just a few of Edinburgh’s amazing selection of spoken word events:
TenRed: Ten Poets perform ten minuets each at the Persevere Bar, Leith. Poets invited to perform in advance by host Kevin Cadwallinder. Cosy back room atmosphere. Check out the facebook page.
Inky Fingers:: Monthly writers group, monthly open mic and a whole host of brilliant special events. Check out their blog, twitter or facebook group for details.
Neu Reekie: Monthly meeting of avant-garde poetry-music-film fusions. Last Friday of the month at the Scottish Book Trust. Supported by Creative Scotland. Check out their blog, twitter or facebook page.
Blind Poetics: Monthly spoken word and performance, first Monday of the Month at the Blind Poet, Newington. Includes 5 min open Mic Slots, introducing slot and featured poet. Big bar, always packed out and a variety of levels of experience. Check out their facebook page.
Illicit Ink: Themed Spoken Word events with food treats and funky badges. Regular events are prose but after a successful ‘happy verse night’ more spoken word events will follow. Check out their website, facebook and twitter.
If you’d like to hear some of my poetry here’s an audio clip of Starling My Darling, a poem about starlings and physics. If you want something longer there’s a 45 minute podcast of my Author Talk at the West Port Book Festival.
I’m the featured performer for child themed poetry event for adults (fundraiser for Theater Paradok) at a new bookshop in Edinburgh, Looking Glass Books on Friday 13th July. Hope to see you there, it’s called Pea Green Poetry. Check out the ‘gigs‘ page on this blog for more info.