Monday, December 12, 2016

A new way for poetry?

It began as a frustrated question on social media on June 21 this year: who in Brighton would be up for a massive fund-raising poetry and music event to support organisations helping displaced people?

Within minutes people were responding, count me in. Nearly six months later the Brighton Poem-a-thon happened at Komedia Studio Bar in Gardner Street. We weren't counting but reckon at least 500 people (probably more) came and went during the day. The bar was full for 10 hours and for that entire time there was a performer or a compere on stage. We are close to a target of £30,000 for the Refugee Council and hopefully around £1,500 for the School Bus Project.  

When I first helped put on readings with Brighton Poets in the 1990s we didn't have social media. We printed out flyers and posters and stuffed envelopes to a mailing list. Since then (and probably before, but I wasn't in the city then) there have been many enthusiasts for live poetry who've put their time into providing a platform for performers and a place for readers to listen. The big issue is always how to make it pay. 

Event organisers sometimes get public funding, but mostly don't - or at least, the small event organisers don't. So the model we all turn to is charge on the door and give the takings to performers after the venue hire's paid. 

It was a model we knew wouldn't work for a charity event. Sasha Dugdale, editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, came up with the Poem-a-thon model, which had been done in Sheffield and London and raised thousands of pounds for charity. 

It is a brilliant model because all the money comes from sponsorship raised by each performer and there's no need to charge an entry fee. But something else happened yesterday. 

Many of us have asked ourselves if there's really an audience for poetry. We've believed that it's terribly limited, a niche, something the ordinary person isn't at all interested in. We've put up with factions and in-fighting within the very small community that dominates what we describe as the poetry world. We've believed snobs and doom merchants, we've allowed critics to pit page poets against performance poets. We've been distracted away from appreciating the joy of writing and fallen into the bitterness of not-quite-enough-success. Well, perhaps I shouldn't speak for anyone else. I know I have, often. 

Take away the ego, the personal struggle to be seen and heard and replace it with a common objective, to raise money for charities that are doing really important work and suddenly the face of poetry changes. 

Brighton's poetry community and beyond showed that generosity of spirit and collaboration can bring in audiences - yes, waves of people, all through the day and night for all types of poets and poetry. The biggest single poetry event Brighton has seen. We were a large and energetic team of performers, organisers (and their families!), charities, listeners, sponsors, donators of prizes, photographer, designer and Komedia. Everything is possible....

The other factor that might be important is that we weren't charging to get in. We didn't need to - all the performers were there to honour their commitment to sponsors and did not expect a fee. 

I can't draw conclusions from this, but it is making me think. How do we look at this, as poets, if we want readers? Do we have to change our expectations? There are few poets who can count income from readings as a significant element of their earnings. Is this Poem-a-thon phenomenon part of something else? Should all poetry events be free? And what does that mean for organisers, performers, venues?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

All the poets at the Poem-a-thon

In alphabetical order: here are the pics of all 61 poets in the Brighton Poem-a-thon raising funds for the Refugee Council and School Bus Project

Niyat Asfaha, Attila the Stockbroker, Sean Baldwin, Ros Barber, Simon Barraclough, Lynn Bartlam, Daisy Behagg, Clare Best, Tab Betts, Elena Bianco, Sophie Brown, Maude Casey, Elana Crowley, John Davies, Helen Dixon, Sasha Dugdale, Hugh Dunkerley, Clare Eddison, Inua Ellams, Marie Ellis, Ella D.Gajic, Vanessa Gebbie, Sarah Hesketh, Sophia Hill, Sarah Howe, Maria Jastrzebska, Sally Jenkinson, Tess Jolly, Ellen Jones, Fawzia Muradali Kane, Camilla Lambert, Caroline Maldonado, Lorna Martin, Deborah Martin, Olivia McCannon, Tanaka Mhishi, Grace Nichols, Stephanie Norgate, Ruth Oliver, Jamie Osborn, Helen Oswald, Mandy Pannett, Michael James Parker, Stephen Plaice, John Prebble, Annabel Pribelski, Ricky Purnell, Michaela Ridgway, Samira Said, Sonya Smith, Gareth Strachan, Edin Suljic, Janet Sutherland, Kay Syrad, Lousia Tomlinson, Marion Tracy, Ruth Valentine, Kay Walton, Clare Whistler, James Wilby, Jackie Wills

Timetable of readings

12.01 Elana Crowley

12.11 Hugh Dunkerley

12.21 Ruth Oliver

12.31 Marion Tracy

12.41 Louisa Tomlinson

12.51 Stephen Plaice

13.01 Michaela Ridgway 

13.11 Helen Dixon

13.21 Maude Casey

13.31 Jamie Osborn

13.41 Clare Whistler

13.51 Fawzia Muradali-Kane

14.01 Samira Said

14.11 Maria Jastrzębska

14.21 Ricky Purnell

14.31 Tess Jolly
14.41 Helen Oswald

14.51 Kay Walton

15.01 John Prebble

15.11 Olivia McCannon

15.21 Sonya Smith

15.31 Niyat Asfaha

15.41 Clare Eddison

15.51 Ruth Valentine

16.01 Mandy Pannett

16.11 Camilla Lambert

16.21 Ellen Jones

16.31 Caroline Maldonado

16.41 Lynn Bartlam

16.51 Sarah Hesketh

17.01 Sasha Dugdale

17.11 Edin Suljic 

17.21 Annabel Pribelski

17.31 Tab Betts

17.41 Lorna Martin

17.51 Sarah Howe

18.01 Clare Best

18.11 James Wilby

18.21 Grace Nichols

18.31 Janet Sutherland

18.41 Ros Barber

18.51 Kay Syrad

19.01 Vanessa Gebbie

19.11 Ella Dorman-Gajik

19.21 Gareth Strachan

19.31 Séan Baldwin

19.41 Sophie Brown

19.51 Inua Ellams

20.01 Attila the Stockbroker

20.11 John Davies

20.21 Deborah Martin

20.31 Marie Ellis

20.41 Sophia Hill

20.51 Daisy Behagg

21.01 Michael James Parker

21.11 Tanaka Mhishi

21.21 Elena Bianco 

21.31 Stephanie Norgate

21.41 Sally Jenkinson

21.51 Simon Barraclough
22.01 Jackie Wills