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The Speakers' Corner, York: cosy, crowded, eclectic. Give them a round of applause!

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The friendly, welcoming hosts, Laura and Andy, have moved The Speakers’ Corner to the exquisite, community-owned Golden Ball, a time-warp pub with several good (real, of course) ales, and artisan bread for sale (but don’t let that put you off). It’s a proper local, a near-perfect venue of a type increasingly hard to find, with a separate room whose door eliminates most noises off. Its cosy-to-cramped space gives a cabaret club feel. All right, Weimar Berlin it isn’t, but it hints at such in its invitation to all types of performer: poets, storytellers, comedians, raconteurs. Fire-eaters and jongleurs not specified, but I bet they’d be welcomed too.

And there’s the oddity. Having a wide range of readers/writers/performers in a cabaret-style open mic suggests this is anything but a literature event. Yet it is mostly poetry, with even prose welcomed rather than merely tolerated or even shunned elsewhere – largely because it often doesn’t work well read out loud. And, more unusually, when poems are read here the protocol is that applause for individual poems is not encouraged until the end, if reading several. I know that's how it’s done at publishers' launches or many – though no longer all – established poets’ readings. I am really not keen on this as, for me, one of the strengths of the open-mic/live poetry movement is in creating an ambience to help nervous newcomers feel comfortable reading out loud, by giving them applause for their words. If the first poem I read out in public had been met with silence, I don’t think I’d have read another.

Just me, perhaps, as it seems to work for Speakers’ Corner, the room being packed (around 35 people and a snoring dog) with enthusiastic open-micers and audience. There’s a guest each month, this one being a reader of his recently published novel and other fiction.  There was a marvellously eclectic range of topic, style and genre, making for a really worthwhile evening.

Speakers’ Corner, I’d like to give you a big round of applause. Readers, go and share your words with these wonderful new friends. You will enjoy it, and they you. The next Speakers’ Corner is at The Golden Ball on 13 May.

Julian Jordon


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