From Surrey to Sale, via Wales and Belfast: online open-mic accesses all areas
Hands up who’s missing live, “real” poetry open-mics? How many have taken part in their online equivalents? I dipped my toe in the water last night, joining the fun at Sale Write Out Loud’s second online open-mic, with guest poet Louise Fazackerley, and compered with warmth and bonhomie by Sale organiser Sarah Pritchard.
Sale, in Trafford, Greater Manchester, was one of the pioneers, if not the pioneer, of online open-mic, going virtual on Zoom the night after the UK lockdown was announced. Part of the etiquette of online poetry – on Zoom at any rate - is muting yourself most of the time, so that not everyone is speaking at once. But Sarah asked us to unmute ourselves at the end of each poem, to deliver live applause.
First thing to say, whatever you may lose in atmosphere, you gain in accessibility. We had poets from Northern Ireland, north Wales, myself from Surrey, plus Wigan, and even Bolton. The only one suffering technical problems was me; something to do with having two mics, which meant I had to wear headphones when listening to others, but needed to take them off when I read myself, because of echo. I know, it’s my age.
Among our number were two poets who appear in the wonderful NHS anthology These are the Hands, Debz Butler, and Sarah L Dixon. I was also introduced to disabled poet and wheelchair user Shaun Fallows, of whom more later. Also on the open-mic bill were Lisa O’Hare, Steve Smyth, Penny Sharman, Elizabeth McGeown, Elizabeth Gibson, Tracey Williams, and Dave Morgan.
Sarah introduced the evening by saying that she knew a lot of poets were “blocked” with their writing at the moment, because of the “unprecedented” times. Nevertheless, following Sarah’s own poem surveying the current chaotic pandemic situation, we managed to come up with a string of lockdown- and coronavirus-related poems in the first section, including Elizabeth Gibson’s poem ‘The Ballad of the Red Plaid’, dedicated to “to my wonderful queer women’s film group, who epitomise everything I am currently missing”, and Dave Morgan’s, which harked back to an earlier disaster, the 2004 tsunami. Dave is a poetry organiser in Bolton, and of similar vintage as myself. He also has the distinction, with Julian Jordon, of being co-founder of Write Out Loud.
Guest poet Louise Fazackerley lit up the second section, with poems from her recent publications The Lolitas and Bird St., the latter launched online earlier this month. She is an engaging and effervescent perfomer who, as she agreed herself, usually waves her arms around a lot on stage. Restricted to the screen, she still communicated energy and passion and an enjoyment in the power of language, painting rich wordscapes that belied if not transformed the deprived landscapes she often speaks of.
The third open-mic section was possibly more enjoyable than the first, in that it was virus-free. Debz Butler, who also runs the Testify night in Chester, read her poem in the NHS anthology, ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, about dancing with a patient in the dark, and Sarah L Dixon read hers, ‘Media Room’, about her experiences as a medical lab assistant. Sarah’s second poem, ‘These Yorkshire Skies’, was about moving from Lancashire to Huddersfield, and to “my new valley”.
Shaun Fallows read a moving poem called ‘What They Said To Derrick’, which summed up his own defiant attitude towards disability, and another, ‘Thank You, Big-Time’, about his appearance on Channel 5 News when he talked about creativity and disability. First-timer Tracey Williams read confidently, and Elizabeth Gibson delivered a sonnet about her adopted city of Manchester, ‘Arrival’.
I hadn’t been planning to write about this evening in advance, and so I fear I didn’t note down details of every poet’s readings. Among the other poets and writers who read, Steve Smythe runs the Speakeasy spoken word night in Stretford with Andy N; Penny Sharman’s debut poetry pamphlet, Fair Ground, was published by Yaffle last year; and Belfast’s Elizabeth McGeown also popped at a Devon online night in the early days of lockdown, a few weeks ago .
Dave Morgan wound up the open-mic up with ‘In the Sunlight Super Store,’ from his debut collection, and ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, about ageing, from the Flapjack Press publication The Anthology of Tomorrow.
Tomorrow? Now, there’s a question. We’ll still be taking part in online poetry open-mics for a while yet, that’s my prediction. And if we are, following the communal and friendly model spearheaded by Sale’s Sarah Pritchard would be a good path to take, if you ask me.