My first spoken word gig? Early on, in Renegade Writers, back in the early noughties. I joined a group of writers and we challenged ourselves, through a set of fun writing exercises, to create new material at fortnightly meetings. We did a number of shows and fringe events in Hull, including being tacked on to Humber Mouth Lit. Fest one year. I accidentally on purpose handed the festival critic a folder containing all my poems the night before our show. This meant he had to come and see our show otherwise he’d be responsible for ruining my part in it. I realise now I ran the risk of losing all my poems that night.
I did some other performances with Write To Speak an ACE/City Arts funded programme of performances and workshops, including a nerve jangling performance at Hull Truck Studio. I wasn’t writing enough new material and anything I was writing I wasn’t really happy with.
I did maybe three or four nights over eighteen months or so with WTS, including their final spoken word event, during the launch week of Kardomah 94. That show then led in a meandering sort of way to the ‘letters’ via the How Did I Get Here? workshop and performance also at K94.
In the guise of Satan’s Bride, created by artist Anna Bean, I performed at Hulloween: Hull’s answer to Halloween. I enjoyed the character and theatre of the piece. I chose a selection of suitably dark, odd excerpts and full pieces all self-penned and delivered them, to an increasingly unnerved audience.
Writing the letters was more fun for me. Assigning myself a character and trying to write to a voice, other than that of my own, re-ignited my passion for spoken word and perhaps creative writing in general. I write daily about other artists and organisations but rarely for, and hardly ever about, my own practice. I’m even loathe to call it ‘practice.’
After a callout from another artist (I forget his name) to write a letter that would then be ‘found’ by an unknown third party, seemingly hidden for years, I set about writing my response. I wrote my first ‘letter’ a sort of break-up/love letter which I have since performed four times now. I enjoy sharing it. I think it has a way of reaching out and connecting with the audience. That is the feedback I have had from it at least.
Inspired by the first letter, I then did a letter as if written from the trenches, just a little late for all the WW1 events that were going on in the previous months. I am reasonably happy with the results. There’s a section where even I know I’ve strayed into clichéd romantic nonsense, which I will have to address.
The third letter was one to my younger self aged sixteen, which I performed at the How Did I Get Here? event. I liked the time paradox stuff to be had. I even played about with that idea of whether you’d still do the thing you did if you had prior knowledge and the opportunity not to do it. I gave myself a couple of thinly veiled warnings.
I sat down for that performance and rather liked the relaxed casual approach. Standing glued to a mic stand can become constraining. Ever since I did my first no mic show years ago, I have preferred to be able to move around on stage, be more expressive. But of course my hands are inevitably full, with a sheaf of poems.
I keep using the word performance. I’m script in hand, still on sheet; reading essentially. I admire those poets who can remember their poems and deliver them without fear of forgetting. I imagine there is a lot of fear going on behind the eyes, but to the rest of us they are marvels. Remembering just one poem isn’t easy, remembering a whole set of poems twenty, thirty minutes long is astonishing. Whoever it was who said the human brain can only remember 5 to 7 things at a time obviously never met a spoken word artist in full flow.
So I read. I look up and reach out to my audience. I change tone, shift gear, fluctuate rhythm and hopefully keep everyone entertained. My inspiration is life, my life my experiences, the people I have known, the old ghosts. I used to say ‘I write to hold fast the demons to the page,’ I am less traumatised now, so I can write with a certain amount of distance between me and the emotions within.
In the past six months I have had something of a renaissance in performing. Ever since I did an open mic slot at the RVT (Royal Vauxhall Tavern) in Vauxhall, London and received such a warm and positive reaction I have found renewed joy in getting up and doing a bit. I decided as a new years resolution – bit late to be writing about these in April I know – I decided I would put myself out there even more, by taking every opportunity to perform and write more new material. That has meant creating work to theme like the infinity essay for WhatIsCollectiv in February.
It has also meant that to date, I have done more than half a dozen live performances so far this year, including two consecutive nights at Mammal Jam Fest at Ground a and also being asked, to do a bit for Hu5 Bowie.
The last performance was an impromptu gig on Thursday 7th april partly inspired by a miscommunication on local radio (you had to be there) and having the previous day been a small part of an afternoon gig, once again at Kardomah 94, called Women of Words.
I ‘d had a few words of encouragement from guest poet Genevieve L. Walsh from Halifax, who is pretty damn good – one of those poets who are off sheet – entertaining, feisty, has a lot of heart, and well worth checking out. So these few words after the show, bubbled away overnight until almost out of nowhere, I find myself the next day doing my own one-woman show to four people. Two of those from my small crowd, walked two miles on a grey Thursday afternoon, to witness twenty minutes of poetry. That’s real dedication and support right there.
The performance itself began strangely, with me firing of six poems in quick succession numbering each as I went. I was recording the audio and was very aware of the fact. It did strange things to my performance. Also being outdoors changed the nature too, I felt I was hollering a little bit, there was less subtlety and shifts in tone and voice pattern.
Despite all that I was still very pleased not only to have achieved something, but also the fact there had been an audience, and that the subsequent feedback may well have developed a new strand. Like resolutions it is fatal to mention anything unless you can see it through.
One day I will try to assemble a list of all the shows I have been involved in just for posterity’s sake. In the future I am looking forward to doing more collaborations with other artists. Like the one above with the Jimmy Dean Syndrome at It’s a Happening a decade ago.