Welcome to our brand new feature. Get Into… sees us chat to carefully chosen experts to give us a glimpse inside their passion, to give you the best tips and advice to find a new passion of your own. We’ve selected a few cultural pursuits you may not have yet discovered or become a fan of, and asked folk well in the know to give you the best advice on where to start.
Performance poetry is thriving, and has a rich scene in the North East, and poet and promoter Jenni Pascoe is ready to help you get into it. Over you you Jenni…
Hi, I’m Jenni Pascoe, a tiger obsessed, purple clad, advocate of hat wearing, who lives in Gateshead. I’m a performance poet, event organiser and workshop facilitator throughout the local area and beyond, and for six years I ran the nationally acclaimed North East based spoken word night, JibbaJabba.
For me, performance poetry is uniquely brilliant, as it is an art form which allows the performer to speak directly with an audience and convey a direct message in an entertaining way, without needing to take the form of a character or add music to it to create meaning and emotion. In this respect, performance poetry can often verge on being stand-up comedy, but the difference is, whilst there are often hilarious moments, poetry or spoken word does not have to be funny. It evokes the full range of emotions music and theatre can, but it’s that element of direct connection with the audience that really makes it special.
Some people have described it as songs without the music, but for me it’s more than that. The voice is the instrument, and there is definitely a musicality to much spoken word, but only using the voice allows the added freedom to improvise and often attracts a very attentive audience, who are really hanging on the words.
An actor can’t come out of character to talk to someone in the second row, some musicians don’t focus so much on the lyrics or don’t have the freedom to ad-lib, a stand-up comedian has to be funny, whereas a good performance poet can pare everything back to simply words and human connection, holding a stage and captivating an audience with only their voice and a microphone.
On a personal level, creating JibbaJabba and getting to host the likes of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and three times World Poetry Slam champion, Buddy Wakefield was fantastic. Also taking JibbaJabba for a full run at the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh – giving me the opportunity to showcase many of the best spoken word artists in the UK every night – was definitely a highlight!
When it comes to individual poems and performances, it is difficult to choose as there is so much variety. One of the best things about the art form is being able to connect with so different people and styles of work. Some stand-out moments for me include the beautiful, tear-inducing closing piece of Rob Auton’s The Sky Show, the technically brilliant and perfectly performed feat of rhythmic genius that is Monsoon by Kirsten Luckins, and for pure, joyous entertainment, Scott Tyrrell’s Coitus Interruptus, which never fails to have me laughing out loud every time I hear it. I’ll stop there, but I could probably fill this whole piece with mind-blowing moments from spoken word stages!
Forget any preconceptions you may have about poetry. Just sit back, relax, and let the performer lead you to think, feel, and take you along with their words.
You can check out YouTube videos, I’d recommend the YouTube channels Apples and Snakes NE and Evidently as good starting points, but for me, nothing beats a live show.
Just jump straight in – don’t be afraid if you haven’t been along to anything before – everyone’s friendly, the atmosphere’s great and you don’t have to click your fingers – I promise!
The most important thing is to turn up with an open mind. Forget any preconceptions you may have about poetry. Just sit back, relax, and let the performer lead you to think, feel, and take you along with their words.
Just like music, you might not like absolutely everything, but there are so many voices, personalities and styles, you’re very likely to find something you love.
You’ll certainly laugh, you may even cry, and perhaps you might even like to try it for yourself.
If you want to get into writing poetry, then The Writers Cafe and OWL Writers both run regular, free workshops. As well as that, there are courses and workshops run by local writers throughout the region, such as Vic Watson’s Elementary Writers, Steve Urwin’s Talking Pen and many more.
If you’ve already got the words and you want some tips on how to perform them, there is no better place than Scratch Club, run by the UK’s dedicated performance poetry network, Apples and Snakes. You can find regular Scratch Clubs in Newcastle and Sunderland alongside other one-off workshops and gatherings such as Tees Women.
Scratch is a place for experienced and new poets alike to join together to get the best from their work and take it to the stage with confidence.
Once you have your words, and you know how you want to say them, stick your name down for an open mic slot and off you go.
As you get into the swing of things, remember to watch as many performers as you can, never stop reading, and enjoy yourself!
The North East has a thriving spoken word and poetry scene with regular and one-off events all over the region.
If you’re after an open mic, then a good starting place is the super-relaxed Poetry Jam in Durham, so laid back, it’s an open mic without a microphone! Anyone can take to the floor with one poem at a time in between each month’s three feature performers with no sign-up required. Newcastle Literary Salon at Bar Loco welcomes new and experienced performers alike to bring poetry and prose on their monthly themes. There’s also sign-up on the night for their theme-free open mic.
For a mix of spoken word and singer/songwriters, Mostly Spoken at The Cumberland Arms is a cosy evening of poets and musical guests, all performing generous sets in one of the best pubs in the city.
In Sunderland, at the uniquely wonderful Pop Recs, there is a blend of open mic and special guests at King Ink. At Newcastle’s Split Chimp you can find spoken word, music, comedy and ‘name out of the hat’ open mic at the lively ‘anything goes’ night, Babble Gum, and in North Shields at the beautiful Beldon’s at the Exchange there is The Stanza, offering house band Renata and Trev, open mic and feature guests from all over the region and top class headliners from throughout the UK. In Teesside the Black Light Engine Room hosts regular poetry readings and book launches with a mixture of open mic and featured guests.
If you like a competitive edge to your poetry, then the next Great Northern Slam takes place on Thursday 27th April at Northern Stage, which sees 16 poets battle it out for the title of slam champion and the highly coveted trophy.
If you’re looking for examples of performance poetry around you, then just turn on your TV or radio.
There’s the likes of Mercury Award nominated Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip, and surprisingly Dawn French’s 30 Million Minutes, whilst not poetry, is one of the finest pure spoken word shows I have seen in the past 12 months.
You may have seen the recent Nationwide advertising campaign, showcasing a range of performance poets who are not only writing and performing their own work, but refreshingly are also credited within the adverts.
On Channel 4 and before your film at the cinema, keep your eyes peeled for Random Acts and First Acts, bringing poetry into the mainstream with pieces such as Skins by Sam Jones and Pip Watkins, and local talents of director Matt Miller highlighting the innovative Rowan McCabe’s venture into becoming the first ever Door-to-Door Poet.
For a longer film, I highly recommend you check out We Are Poets, chronicling the inspirational journey of Leeds Young Authors. In my opinion, a must watch film for anyone with an interest in performance poetry and spoken word.
Live poetry added something to my life I wasn’t aware I was missing. Now I’ve found it, I would never be without it, and I hope you can experience as much joy from it as I have.