Today I drifted into the sunlit Lyric Lounge for 'Bridging the Gap', a discussion on the relationship between the Page verses Stage. This is a phrase I've been hearing more and more frequently with poets often announcing themselves to be 'a page poet' or a 'performance poet' or some hybrid of the two. Page poets write for literary magazines, with a readership of subscribers, and work to get a chapbook or collection published. Performance poets play at live spoken word events on a growing scene of slams, open mic sessions and gigs. Here the twain met in the pleasant no-man's-land of the Y-theatre lounge to shake hands and swap challenges.
The panel intros. were very good natured with much agreement but the discussion was wide-ranging and threw up all sorts of questions. Is poetry on the page seen as better, 'proper poetry', more complex, more 'academic'? Is there an Establishment of the poetry world, a class divide between page and stage? They certainly have very different audiences. How has performance poetry been rooted in music and the rhythms of an Afro-Caribbean or Black American culture? What part does non-verbal communication, movement and personality play in performance poetry? Why do many page poets 'murder their own work' in reading it aloud? Are some performance poets lacking in writing 'craft' or 'morality'? Can performance poets get published? Can and should page poets learn the skills of communicating with an audience of listeners? What can either 'side' learn from the other?
Inevitably, this discussion challenges us all to see where we fit in. I write for both page and stage and one reshapes the other in a fluid process with no clear boundary, though some poems obviously work better with listeners than others. The label 'performance poet' might lead an audience to expect a different style than mine, I'm not sure. But I have learnt a great deal from the performance poets I've seen at Leicester's WORD events. I love their theatricality, how they use movement and claim the whole space of the stage, how they cradle the audience within their performance. And I try to do all those things in my shows. But the same poems do their stuff on the page in my new book - the white space they originated on.
I very much enjoyed not only the interplay of ideas but the generous vibe between panel speakers and audience in today's Lounge. Graham Norman of Leicester Poetry Society, conveyed his love of words on the page but also his growing awareness of the power of live, spoken poetry. Sureshot, aka Michael Brome, revealed the same love of reading song lyrics on vinyl records and the importance to him of crafting the poem on the page first. Lydia Towsey and Alison Dunne shared their own experience of both forms. And Jean Binta Breeze strolled in, gorgeous in purple (today's Lyric Lounge colour) to share some final words from a poetry mistress: 'A love of language is everything - without that, you don't have a poem.' 'Your voice is your instrument - your sound should seduce your audience and create that space where your poem can live.' 'The performance is a conversation between artist and audience - it begins even before you get on stage.'
The Lyric Lounge is part of the cultural program for the Special Olympics and as such is a vibrant and inclusive affair with all sorts of workshops, performances, open mic sessions - you name it. If you want to experience a passionate engagement with live literature wrapped up in lots of fun, head down there. Jean is doing her stuff every lunchtime. And they have John Hegley on Friday. Tomorrow, the colour theme is blue for those who like to chime with the time. I'll be dreamy in turquoise.
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.