I discovered punk and poetry around the same time. John Cooper Clarke’s scattergun verse is where the Venn diagram intersects. But I soon discovered a scene of performance poetry beyond the Bard of Salford, and punk music beyond the 1970s.
Mid-2000s I went to local gigs to see local bands. And touring bands like Random Hand and Sonic Boom Six became my favourite bands. And the more I wrote poems, the more the poetry scene became a poetry community with nights, hubs and friendly pals in cities across the UK. In 2015 me and Bridget Hart toured the UK to poetry and punk venues, in 2018 my theatre company toured our show about punk to theatre venues and DIY spaces. Seems JCC isn’t the only place where the Venn diagram intersects.
I’ve done a few gigs with punk bands, and when I used to put on music gigs I’d always get a poet to do a set. Punk’s not always been about just guitars. 80s gigs used to feature cabaret acts, comedians, story-tellers and all kinds of spoken word artists such as Joolz Deby, Attila The Stockbroker, Porky The Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) and Craig Charles.
Manchester Punk Festival are doing some really exciting and diverse work. Their festival is a passion project from a consortium of gig promoters who showcase not just shouty punk, but international bands, folk-punk, ska, indie-punk and queer and female representation, and spaces for films, podcasts and ethical food. I like how they re-think how you manage a large-scale festival, how you approach that structure in a DIY, non-profit driven pro-inclusive model. They have defined a brand which feels professional, but also DIY and inclusive. Last year they started a Comedy Stage, so I approached them to see whether they would be interested in running a Poetry Stage.
So after what seemed an eternity of plotting and planning and play-list-making, my line-up for the three days was born. Something I really noticed at MPF over the weekend were bands really appreciating people coming to support them. I guess normally punk bands play in the small venues, so pooling everyone together can feel an epic gig. Kermes played a gloriously sweaty fun set, Whoanows were charmingly fresh, Nervus celebratory, Cherym a fistful of fury, Martha stormed through banger-after-banger-after-banger Perkie was intimate and soulful to name but a few.
And it got me thinking about punk and punk poetry. Poets often play to smaller crowds, and often present more personal and individual work. Bridget Hart’s Saturday set was a loveletter to the people in her life. Martin Appleby told little stories and insights of the scene. Suky Goodfellow directly interacted with her audience in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style poetry set. Cynthia Rodriguez took the mic out into the space for her anti-borders banter. Kit Rayne showed a slice of her tattooed nerdy queer heart. Simon Widdop juggled stories of home. Genevieve Walsh was in her natural environment of back-room pub pal-packed poetry. People hopped up for the open mic.
And I? I was the first person to perform at Manchester Punk Festival in slippers. Because if I can’t have comfy feet, it’s not my revolution.
Punk tried to tear down that barrier between audience and performer. No rock star pomp, we are you, you are us, get a guitar, make a zine, write a poem and join in.
We want that connection with the performer and audience.
The last act I saw at the festival was Perkie. She played a song called Werewolves which I’d never heard before. She said it was about this punk community. I had a little cry.
Punk should be more than just music; it’s a culture, which includes Comedy and Poetry (and film too!). I’m glad that poetry could be part of the DNA of the Festival. Up The Poetry Punks!