The 2019 Festival brought an exciting array of performance poetry to Derby, from national names like Henry Normal and Hollie McNish to local stars from the Midlands including Dan Webber, Nafeesa Hamid and Rupinder Kaur.
The Midlands enjoys 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’ve been speaking to the organisers of Open Mic performance 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.
Gary Carr, Spoken Worlds
Gary is a local writer of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction with more than 60 published pieces in literary magazines, anthologies and specialist publications. Gary started Spoken Worlds in 2009, was a founder member of the Runaway Writers’ group in 2004 and has a new project launching in September at Burton’s Brewhouse Arts Centre. He also recently started mentoring writers.
Why did you set up Spoken Worlds?
Gary: When I started going to spoken word/open mic events in 2006/7 there were two monthly events in Derby. One was very much at the “light entertainment” end of the spectrum, a lot of comedy poetry, props and so on. Unfortunately many of the people there were very full of their own importance and not very beginner-friendly.
The other was based at the cube at Déda, where there is an open mic again now, and was run by Simon French, a great poet and performer who was utterly inclusive. I learned a lot from Simon, but I still don’t manage his level of welcome for new readers.
Both events closed down over the following couple of years and by early 2009 I was left without a local open mic.
A Burton drama school, owned and managed by the slightly bonkers Ann Lee, was looking to earn money from their premises in what would otherwise be downtime. We came to an agreement over the T’s and C’s and held our first Spoken Worlds in November 2009.
I suppose the short answer is in 2009 I ran out of places to read, and knowing no better I started my own.
How important are open mic nights to the poetry scene?
Gary: Open mic nights are important on so many levels. They are the “gateway drug” for anyone wanting to get into performance, the real grass roots of the scene. Several people I have seen at their first, or early performances at open mics are big names now – or what passes for big on our scene.
The bigger names usually keep their connections with the grass roots sufficiently to make appearances at open mics from time to time. New performers see how it is done by more experienced ones, the quality of their writing and performance improves both through the example of more experienced writers/performers and through not being alone and the pull of writing for others, having immediate feedback.
I have been to open mic events from Central Scotland to Cornwall (15 counties so far!). Most are extremely friendly, welcoming and inclusive, but they vary in character wildly. There are slam based nights, rap and performance nights, events with and without headline acts. Some are full of students, others attract older readers; there are rowdy nights and ones where you can hear a pin drop. Hosts/MC’s vary too in their personalities & styles and venues can make a big difference to the character of an event.
I would say that, in terms of bringing new writers into the poetry scene, local open mic nights do more than Apples & Snakes, the Poetry Society and the BBC put together, because the big organisations only tend to deal with poets who have already made a name; they have forgotten how to take risks.
If you’re looking for a local performance poetry night and don’t know where to start, we recommend the excellent Write Out Loud gig guide.
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