Monday, 31 January 2011

My summary of Poetry scenes and a Bard Day's Night

Well it's been a great week or so since I last posted.

On Tuesday I had the honour to be the head of the judging panel to elect the inaugural Bard of Stony Stratford. After a wonderful night's entertainment Ian Freemantle was crowned the new Bard and a good job I think he'll go too. He'll be in office for a year and a day.

Next, an intriguing question was posed by Zena Edwards on her Facebook page: How many poetry scenes are there? I dashed off a list and it is reproduced below. Please excuse typos etc. What do you think?

This week I'm hosting Utter for RTJ with a brilliant line up that includes Fay Roberts, Niall Spooner-Harvey and Richard giving the fist outing to "Richard Tyrone Jones has a big heart". It at the Green Note Cafe in Camden. Come early to get a seat!

See you next week. Keep writin' and recitin'


How many Poetry "Scenes" are there?

I don't have the same experience in terms of years on the scene(s) but I have done over 150 gigs in the last two years so here's my take on the different strands of types of poetry events (The following list is not exhaustive as I'm thinkin...g of the top of my head).

1a Readings. Events where poetry is mostly read and tends to be more serious, thoughtful and contemplative in nature. Guest poets have several collections published and /or have won a prize or award or or up and coming have have a first collection out. Poets are applauded at the end of their reading and not after each poem. A genteel, mainly white middle class audience in my experience.

1b High end "elite" readings. These are nights (mercifully few) which terrify and intimidate me and stopped me getting up on stage for many years. What the man or woman in the street think poetry still is. Translations of 18th century Chilean poets, white people performing in West Indian patois, four people who have all been together in an insular capsule so long there all sound like each other. They occasionally write in the voice of Ahmed the orphaned Iraqi child when they themselves have never even left their county.

2 Regular Slams. Poetry in Competition with higher energy performance which tend to (sometimes unfairly but not always) favour comedy and / or the "but then you f***ed someone else" poem and / or poems with a message

3 Festival Slams:  As above but with more chance of a "first look" audience. Comedy and / or literary parody favoured here. Sometimes you here the penny dropping that poetry can be entertainment as well as art. Sometimes people want to burn you as a witch.

4 Open Mic nights. A democratic experience where there's no special guest and everyone gets the same mic time. You generaly have a mixed bag of page and stage and sometimes musical backing. They can be awesomely brilliiant or tediously dull and most have elements of both extremes each time.

5 Open Mic with guests. As 4 except half the night is open mic but there is one or more special guests who take extended feature spots.

6 "Named" or" Branded" Performance Poetry events. They have an identity and each time you know the sort of poet you'll be seeing although the lineup may change. May incorporate some open slots or a small slam but most of the mic time is given over to booked guests

7 Theatre or Arts Centre type performances. Unless your name is on the poster you won't be taking the stage. Poetry as performance to engage the audience, convey a message, make they think or just enthrall them . God I wish I knew how to do this. May use visuals, music and other elements of multimedia. May have a theme or narrative.

8 Stand Up Poetry (for want of a better term) In the same environment as 7 but will have jokes, banter, patter inbetween poems. 98.7% of the time, the gig ends with a song

9 Bardic expressions. Nights and writers that invoke the spirit of Awen. Lyrical poetry dominates here often written to a theme such as "new life" etc. Music will be evident. Bongos will often be played, whether you like it or not.

10 Cabaret/Burlesque. Poetry is just one strand of a mixed evening of entertainment featuring comedy, music, sketches, dancing girls etc. The poems tend to be about sex.

11 Poetry Club read arounds. The poetry club sit in a circles and read poems on a theme. They could be original or previously published.

12 Well paid poetry. A mythical form of poetry that lives in the same spirit realm ar the Yeti, unicorms and Shergar.

As I say, this list is not exhaustive, but I'm exhausted so someone else can have a go

Mark Niel


  1. I really like the breakdown given here Mark.

    But even within these well defined genres of poetry night there are cliques and 'scenes'.

    One of the things I like best about your work is your ability to transcend these as "the only white bloke on the bill" or the seriously funny bloke with something serious to say (when time allows!).

    The cultural (poetic or geo-cultural)boundaries can be very blurred one minute, but they can then be very stark the next, but I can say in the years I been doing this I cannot imagine many nights at which a least one of your pieces would have been really well recieved.

  2. Must say I'm all for a classless society where poetry is concerned and dislike evenings without some sense of variety, and particularly events which consider themselves 'elite', another word for 'dull' usually.

    I went to see Andrew Motion and Simon Armitage in the British Library several years ago and was appalled when Simon Armitage left after about 20 minutes, not even stopping for a Q&A.
    And yet tickets were sold on the basis that they were going to give VfM!