Monday, 21 January 2013

In defence of performance poetry

A view some people hold of poetry is that it should be held in books, lying in wait for someone to open them and allow their world to unfurl within the mind. However this is only one side of the story as a skilled poet performing their work aloud is capable of verbally launching you on an adrenaline fueled journey one moment while serenading you with language like a symphony the next.

Open mic nights happen all over the globe so why do they lie in relative obscurity? Speaking from England I want to acknowledge a couple of problems

Russian Roulette When you turn up to an open mic night you do not know what you are getting and yes there is a good chance that whatever type of spoken words frustrates you, someone will perform it. There is also an outside chance of something socially awkward happening, like someone holding a lens to a part of their life in a bit too much detail. But much like visiting an art gallery, it is ridiculous to expect that you will like everything, what you are looking for is that diamond amidst the carbon that will linger in your mind for weeks to come. Also the unknown can provide an excitement that is often lost in public media such as films, which conform to public expectations in order to ensure paying customers. There is also a lesson here in that actually, life isn't all about catering to every single desire you may have. Stand witness to its variety.

Being an audience is a skill. A complaint I have heard of open mic nights is that people only turn up to perform and aren't interested in listening to anyone else. In fairness I have been to nights where it has effectively been poets chasing poets but being an audience does not mean being completely removed from the medium portrayed. Everyone has something to teach you whether it is an evocative turn of phrase, a powerful rhythm or a fresh insight. Whether they realise it or not some poets provide an image of what it is like to be them with such clarity, that it is a more open and honest glimpse of the human condition than any textbook will give you. So really stop worrying about what the person next to you is doing; if they are only interested in what they themselves are doing then they've missed the point and their own work will stagnate. Don't forget to applaud either, it can be nerve wracking to take that stage.

After spending perhaps a bit too much time on the pitfalls, I need to get back to the defending, why should you seek out performance poetry? It's that human connection, it's hearing something crafted into life by breath, passion and dreams. There are no doubts about interpretation, pronunciation or rhythm the poet is here to directly inject their vision.

As a result the poetry is immediate, sharp as a scalpel, attuned with the present and designed for impact in a way that the written word can lose.

If you don't believe me then witness this fantastic piece by Marshall Soulful Jones

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and see some performance poetry and if you are based in Sheffield I can recommend looking out for Wordlife, The Shipping Forecast, ROMP, Slam Bam Thank You Ma'am and Speakeasy.

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