At this year’s Festival we had an exciting array of performance poetry, from the award-winning Henry Normal to local stars from the Midlands including Dan Webber, Nafeesa Hamid and Rupinder Kaur.

If this whet your appetite for a regular dose of prosody, then you’re in luck – the Midlands has a lively and dynamic performance poetry scene with several monthly events in Derbyshire alone and many more in Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Burton and beyond.

We spoke to the organisers of some of the best Open Mic poetry nights (where anyone can come and read their work) across the Midlands to find out why they started up an event and why they’re so important to the local poetry scene.

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Mike Took, Scriptstuff Poetry

Leamington, Northampton, Banbury

Mike is a poet, scriptwriter and musician, and in 2019 he set up the Leamington Poetry Festival

Why did you set up Scriptstuff Poetry, and what drove you to expand into three different cities?

Mike: I’m a massive fan of any kind of live arts event and pretty good at organising stuff, so it was really a no-brainer for me. I find the buzz of exploration quite addictive, and the variety of Open Mic personalities and motivations is vast, not to mention the standard, style and genres of poetry that come through the door.

Each of the towns I started up in had no regular poetry night so I figured there would be an audience there somewhere. It is vital to know what exists in the vicinity if you’re starting something new.

How important are Open Mic nights to the poetry scene?

Mike: Well, they’re only important to the relatively small number of people who have any interest or passing curiosity in performance poetry, but to those few, Open Mics can provide a hugely significant artistic and creative outlet.

The ‘poetry scene’ is almost impossible to define in any town, area or community, but an Open Mic night is only one very small part of ‘the scene’. For instance, there are huge swathes of my hometown community in Leamington that I thought would be keen to be involved, things like literary societies, poetry clubs, book shops, that kind of thing, to support each other and maybe collaborate, but they’re simply not interested.

I believe we are viewed as the annoying teenage child of the ‘poetry scene’, around here anyway! Some of those involved take it all too seriously. I work, write and perform in several other areas of the arts too, and poetry is universally the least popular, least likely to offer a sustainable career, and least likely to add professional acumen to anything else. That’s not to say it can’t offer any of those things, but 99% of people shouldn’t hold their breath if they are looking for any kind of reward beyond singular personal satisfaction of some sort.

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Jess Green, Find the Right Words

Leicester

Jess is a published poet and playwright who has also worked with Derby Book Festival’s community programme

Why did you set up Find the Right Words?

Jess: I wanted to set up a night in Leicester that I would want to go to. I had moved from Liverpool where there was a thriving spoken word scene. I wanted to set up a night which offered high quality performers at an affordable price, and Open Mic opportunities for emerging and local performers.

I wanted it to be a community, something that people would want to come back to every month because they knew they would be in for a good night.

How important are Open Mic nights to the poetry scene?

Jess: Vital! We’ve all got to cut our teeth on an Open Mic before we can start thinking about headline spots. If anything, I think Open MIc spots are more difficult than headlining. With a 20 minutes set if you lose the audience in the middle you have a chance to win them back again, but with three minutes you only have one poem to make an impression.


Thanks to Mike and Jess! Find out more about Find the Right Words, Scriptstuff Poetry and Leamington Poetry Festival on their Facebook pages.

We’ll be back again for another look at local performance poetry nights but if you’re looking for your local event and don’t know where to start, we recommend the excellent Write Out Loud gig guide.

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Derby Book Festival

31 May – 8 June 2019

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