Poetry scenes become poetry communities. Because attendees are not necessarily housemates, family or work colleagues, these communities thrive as refreshing spaces to see people once or twice a month in a context for sharing art. They come from a range of ages and backgrounds, and familiarity of people's poems is a cornerstone of friendship. You can also make new pals by complimenting someone's poem, a handy conversation-starter.
However whenever a community starts to emerge, we humans also create hierarchies in the form of references, in-jokes and expectations. Cliques can start to creep, we request classic poems, we shout-out things perhaps understood by the minority in the room, we chat about people, places and events from within.
In a recent review, A Dork In York blog praised Say Owt's recent collaboration with Sonnet Youth and it’s a glowing write-up. I'm Artistic Director for Say Owt, and hugely proud of this night where we mixed poetry, comedy and music.
However the reviewer does point out “slam poetry has a reputation for being too cool for a reason, and I think that Say Owt could bear that in mind … When the hosts (I’m excluding Sonnet Youth from this – y’all were a joy) are all sat with their mates whooping and bantering on one side of the pub and the audience is on the other, it can feel at times like you’ve wandered into a private poetry party.”
Say Owt’s vibe can, at times, became a little bit raucous because we want the spoken word genre to be excitable and energetic. We have developed an in-joke of acting slightly rowdy, coming up with chants for poets, subverting the expectations of usually quiet, introspective poets. Because Sonnet Youth were taking over hosting duties, possibly I wanted to be a high-energy audience member, after all that’ the vibe Sonnet Youth as a “literary rave”.
I can only profusely apologise if any audience member, or poet, has ever felt alienated at our events. We always try to greet and welcome poets to events we are hosting, and in terms of audience members try and ensure we’re all on the same wavelength, sharing a unified vibe.
We want our scene to be magnetic.
Coming to any event, especially if you’re considering sharing poetry, can be a daunting experience, and I can see how someone turning up not knowing us might be uncomfortable with toying with a banter-ful vibe. I certainly know if I’d turned up to a gig when I was starting out and not felt comfortable in that community, I would not have returned.
If anyone has suggestions how nights can dispel cliques and ensure it is a open environment, please comment below or send us a message email@example.com.