Last night I attended one of the best poetry gigs I’ve ever been to. And I get the impression not a single poetry book was sold.
At Salford’s The Eagle Inn, whilst BBC Radio 6 celebs supped in the front, the back room played host to Word War’s Champions of Champions Slam where 10 of their previous winners and runners-up each shared two poems (3 mins max).
Hosted and organised by super team Kieren King and Ella Gainsborough, the night was a diverse and raucous affair, with a mixture of warm story-telling, intense politics, surreal stand-up poetry and personal truths. There were tears. Though, as far as I could tell, the only slammer with a book to plug was the heartfelt writer Ciaran Hodgers (guest at the next Say Owt Slam).
The Guardian recently ran an article declaring POETRY SALES SOAR. Pretty good news after their 2013 article POETRY SALES PLUMMET. Their 2019 article says this is down to 1. Millennials and 2. the need for collective understanding after critical events such as the Manchester bombing and Grenfell.
Certainly it’s true Millennials are drawn to the spoken word mantle after growing up on a diet of mainstream hip-hop and New Labour education systems that featured Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard. Of course our click/share biteszie culture doesn’t hurt. Spoken word (especially the 3 min slam format) appeals to our Millennial need for an immediate, digetable experience. But that’s not to say members of Gen X and BabyBoomers are making exciting and relevant poetry, a testament to the scene’s reach.
In terms of a collective sharing, at Word War’s CoC, Kieran King shared his poem Salford Is A Broadway Musical, a beautiful lovesong to his hometown. The audience joined in with thick gusto, making this no longer a simple poem but a electric sharing, an outpouring of communal love and a bloody good laugh celebrating home and the scene.
I recently toured the UK with my book, Nerd Punk, published by Burning Eye. I work with Say Owt and we focus on the performance of poetry and the liveness, but nevertheless Inua Ellams, Hollie NcNish, Rob Auton, Jemima Foxtrot, Jess Green and the aforementioned Ciaran Hodgers all part of Say Owt’s programming have books for sale. These poets (well, maybe expect Hollie), don’t tend to sell books by the bucketload.but more as mementos to remember the live event, to revisit the words presented by the poet.
Yes, poetry sales might be up but that’s because audiences (and especially millennials) spend time and energy and money on experiences. The books bought are a way to help capture when you cheered, laughed, cried and shared.