Easy does it … some poetry organisers ready for careful return to live venues
Leading performance poet Tony Walsh is looking forward to live venue appearances again as poetry makes tentative steps towards returning to venues as lockdown eases. Tony said on Twitter: “Live events are a big part of how I make my living and so it's a joy to pencil in a few real life bookings!” Those bookings include a night at the Carriageworks theatre in Leeds organised by spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and hosted by Matt Abbott on Thursday 10 June.
Matt said: "It's a socially distanced event - all tickets in one, two or four 'bubbles' must be purchased together. The reduced capacity is 105 (down from approx. 350). Fully Covid safety measures will be in place at the venue. It's surreal to imagine it, to be honest, but I can't wait."
Welshpool poetry festival promised a ‘live’ day on Saturday 5 June. Its website said: “Hand sanitiser will be available for your frequent use and anyone who wishes to may want to wear a face covering. Tables, chairs and surfaces will be regularly wiped down between use and windows will be kept open as much as possible to allow good ventilation. There are hour-long gaps between sessions and we recommend ‘taking the air’ to avoid being indoors for unnecessarily prolonged periods. There will be good spacing between seating and you will know best if there are friends/family you feel comfortable sitting next to. If there are any specific government or venue guidelines which we are advised of nearer the time, rest assured we will inform you of these and ask for your compliance.”
In Derby Brian Bilston, aka the ‘poet laureate of Twitter’, read to a socially distanced and livestreamed audience as part of a 'hybrid' Derby book festival. Afterwards he said on Twitter: "I had a blast; it felt so good to be out in the world again."
Poetry publishers are trying out live-venue launches again, too. West Yorkshire poetry publisher Yaffle will be launching Peter Spafford's collection Frisk live at Heart Cafe, Headingley, Leeds at 7pm on Wednesday 30 June – the publisher’s first live-venue launch since the first lockdown. Co-managing editor in chief Mark Connors said: "We're delighted to be launching Peter's second collection in the flesh, so to speak. Our last live launch was Pat Edwards’ Only Blood at the Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire back in the autumn of 2019. It's great to be hosting live events again for our fabulous poets.”
Meanwhile poets in Yorkshire took the wild and wide open spaces of Baildon Moor above Bradford for a poetry reading on Sunday. One of those taking part, Nick Toczek, told a story about a previous gig on the same moors by poet Heathcote Williams back in the mid-70s. Booked by Ilkley literature festival, he found it elitist and, by way of protest, did his performance to a flock of sheep on the moor
Words on the Wall at Hexham, Northumberland is planning a return to the County hotel on 26 June, with guest poets Rosie Garland, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, and Rob Walton. Organiser Joe Williams said: “At the time of posting, we’re hoping that we can run this event without any restrictions, in line with the roadmap as currently planned, and that participants won’t be required to book in advance. If this changes, or we receive further rules and/or advice, we will of course be following all the guidelines in order to make the event as safe as possible. We’ll be liaising with the County to make sure we’re adhering to their policies too.”
An open-mic night that has been operating in Chichester, West Sussex, for a while on Zoom – with plenty of input from poets in California – was going live in the cathedral city at the beginning of June. Organiser Ken Jones said Words Out Loud open-mics will be taking place on the first Wednesday of each month, starting on 2 June from 6.30pm at Wagtail Coffee and Yoga, while Zoom open-mics will continue on the third Wednesday of each month.
Organisers of Write Out Loud events are taking a cautious approach. Ian Whiteley at Wigan is waiting to hear from the Old Courts arts centre, which has hosted its live events for several years, and more recently on Zoom. Write Out Loud Woking is concerned about safe distancing and number restrictions in the café area of its pre-lockdown venue, the Lightbox art gallery. We also plan to keep our Zoom meetings running in some form, along with a return to live venue nights.
And Jeff Dawson, of Write Out Loud Bolton, is understandably worried about safety issues, in an area that has been identified as an Indian variant hotspot. Their pre-lockdown venue was the cosy bar area of Bolton Socialist Club, which is not expected to reopen before September. Jeff said: “We will keep the Zoom meetings going for a while yet.”
Stockport Write Out Loud's organiser John Keane said it was not yet clear when they would be able to return to meetings at Stockport art gallery, "although most of our members have been double-vaccinated (either for age or underlying health reasons). No matter, our Zoom meetings are working just fine until we can return. I myself will definitely continue to attend online events ... It is great to be able to share poetry with Americans and Australians in real-time."
The National Poetry Library on London's Southbank is reopening on Friday 28 May. Visitors will be initially llimited to 17, with a socially distanced queue in operation at the doors of the library.
PHOTOGRAPH: DAVID ANDREW / WRITE OUT LOUD