Licensed to Rhyme, Barnt Green, Birmingham
In the second of a new series highlighting events listed on the Write Out Loud Gig Guide, Maggie Doyle, pictured, answered questions about Licensed to Rhyme, the event in Birmingham that she co-hosts with performance poet Spoz, pictured left. The next Licensed to Rhyme was due to take place on Monday 11 December with leading spoken word artist Steven Camden aka Polarbear - but has been postponed because of snow!
Where do you meet?
We recently moved to Café Morso, Barnt Green, Birmingham, having transferred from the Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove.
What’s it like as a venue?
This is a much more intimate venue than the Artrix and, subsequently, creates an atmosphere more quickly.
What’s the format of your night?
The evening starts with signing up as many open-mic requests at the door as we can accommodate – most email in advance. My co-host, Giovanni “Spoz” Esposito and I then do some “housekeeping” (where to find the toilets, when the interval will be, books for sale, etc. and stress open-mic time of three minutes or one poem) and then one of us usually kicks off the evening with a short poem. We always have a “guest” poet who has a 10-minute slot and they commence the actual evening. These are followed by the open-mic poets, usually seven to eight of them, followed by the interval. Books and CDs are sold (if there are any) during the interval as well as at the end of the evening. The second half of the evening commences with a short poem from either me or Spoz, depending on how many open-mic slots there are (usually six to seven). Sometimes we skip our personal poem if there are more takers for the open-mic. We allow 20-25 minutes for our headliner and aim to be finished by 9.45-10pm.
How long has it been running?
December 2017 will be our fourteenth Licensed to Rhyme, 12 of them having being held at the Atrix.
And what made you think you should set up a poetry event in Birmingham?
Since co-curating SpeakEasy in Worcester with my mate Fergus McGonigal, pictured right, for two and a half years, I wanted something that was nearer Birmingham which has such a dedicated poetry scene, and where I hoped to encourage new and younger talent to a venue mid-way between Birmingham and Worcester. Where we are now is a two-minute walk from Barnt Green rail station. Although we had excellent facilities and support at Artrix, Bromsgrove was awkward to get to without a car, and is also a bit of a “cold spot” for community activities.
Do you have guest poets? If so, how do you choose them?
Yes, we do have guest poets and add them almost as mini headliners. Guest poets have been people Spoz and I know, or who we have seen at other events and want to showcase at Licensed to Rhyme, or emerging poets we feel should get the chance at performance poetry.
What are the highlights of running a poetry night?
The event itself: seeing everything come together on the night; hearing poetry of all genres; supporting those taking their first tentative steps; watching new poets blossom whilst delighting in the skills of the more seasoned poets; making professional poets accessible to local audiences who may not otherwise be able to experience their work; watching audience reaction as the spoken word is spread and enjoyed; listening to the non-poetry chat exchanged by all – the poetry vibe!
And the difficulties?
I could say time and effort but these aren’t really difficulties, these ensure that the event should go smoothly. However, finding money to pay headliners has been a challenge. We are dependent on our audiences so it is vital that we attract people. We have always had great headliners but this does not necessarily mean we will have big audiences.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of setting up a poetry night?
Think long and hard! Location plays a huge part of a successful event. You will also need limitless enthusiasm and a fair amount of energy. If you are considering a regular event, the hosting/compering is vital to get right. Open-mic timings – you must be firm (pleasantly) with performers, some of whom knowingly or unknowingly lose the concept of time when they get in front of a microphone! Payment for headliners and, maybe, guest poets. I have always wanted to pay headliners for their performances, to acknowledge the value of what they do. Poets are generally very generous with their time and willing to help. However, this should not be interpreted as going here, there and everywhere without some reasonable financial contribution by event organisers. Get out and about to other poetry events. Watch, listen and learn.
You can have one poet – living or dead – read at your night. Who will it be?
This is a real toughie. There are so many I enjoy for so many reasons and so many I have seen (or heard) and then when I have seen or heard them again I have been disappointed. There are so many I never tire of seeing or hearing. However, I would love to have Mike Garry as a headliner (Roger McGough comes a very close second!) I have only seen him once and was totally captivated, and have not had the opportunity to see him again (missed him in Dublin earlier this year) and be disappointed, or not.
Questions compiled by Emma Purshouse and Steve Pottinger