Across the UK, the evidence is overwhelming that spoken word and performance poetry are flourishing against a background of austerity and savage cuts to arts and community budgets. Witness the popularity of Roundhouse events.
In Glasgow alone, the number of poetry open mics, slams, and spoken word nights that run weekly and fortnightly is impressive and growing. To judge whether these nights are popular with the locals and visitors, witness the guides offered in Glasgow Living and Glasgow West End or a recent Herald article that places Scotland currently within a ‘Golden Age’ of poetry. That many UK universites now offer Masters Programmes in Creative Writing, including Glasgow University which offers no less than 5 such programmes, is perhaps another indication of the health of the literary scene nationally and locally.
Feeding these nights, besides the MLitt students and many brave and seasoned individuals, are a growing number of writers groups and performance collectives. Some of these are relatively new, while others are now well-established on the Scottish literary scene. All, it might be argued, possess an energy and a collective spirit that has, perhaps, been lacking somewhat in the past. This in turn, may have grown out of the massive disappointment and anger felt by many Scots following the 2014 Independence Referendum. Then, of course, there was Brexit. It might be argued that the need for stronger individual, and a stronger collective voice for Scots has never been more pressing. Whatever is behind the growth of literary an performance collectives, it is a trend to be welcomed. After all, hasn’t Writing long been lamented as a grim and lonely business? For the bleary writer struggling post-1 am with that idea or scene that seemed so clear to you two and a half hours ago, the question,
What’s in it for me?
is a good one. In this writer’s opinion the answer would be
A heck of a lot.
You’ll gain the company of fellow writers and the opportunity to share ideas with them. This is something every writer needs to do regularly to help sustain through those bleak, post-1 am moments at the keyboard.
You’ll get the chance to participate in activities such as workshops and mentoring that will help you develop as a writer. Workshops are great for getting the creative juices flowing and helping you begin or develop scenes. Informal mentoring can work well within group settings as most tend to have a mix of people at different stages in their writing journeys. Just getting the chance to observe a more accomplished writer or performer at work can teach a beginner so much.
You’ll gain confidence in your writing and in yourself as a writer. Being part of any group helps ‘normalise’ the shared activity. The more grounded you are in your practice the more confident and open you become to exploration and experimentation in your work.
If you join a performance group you’ll also have opportunities to work on your performing skills. Rehearsals might seem daunting at first, but remind yourself you are allowed to sit and observe until you feel ready to step up to the mike. Eventually you’ll perform your work in a professional venue
So if you’re thinking of heading off to a festive Spoken Word do, like Tinsel Tales or The Christmas Speakeasy, make a note to yourself to chat to some of the writers and performers about their work when you get there and ask about any groups they might know of or recommend. Then follow-up in your new year’s resolutions. What have you got to lose?