Poetry at first glance is not the easiest scene to get into. Going to an open-mic with your poetry is an incredibly tough thing to do, and often feels like going to a student house party with a crate of non-alcoholic beer and a copy of tomorrow’s lecture presentation. But the spoken word scene is perhaps more easily accessible than you think: there are always like-minded people around you who want to share in a creative forum. It’s only a matter of finding them. Here are a few tips to get into your local scene.
My first piece of advice really only applies if you are in higher education of some kind, but the fact remains that university societies are often the most vibrant and accepting forums for spoken word work. I have managed to obtain gigs by being in contact not only with my English Literature society, but also the comedy society and even the LGBT society. Students love hosting open-mic nights, and the best way to get involved is to talk to the relevant societies. Even if you are not on the main bill, most societies will do some kind of open session at the end. Getting on a bill is as simple as asking: I went from an open-mic first-timer to opening a show as a “crowd favourite” in a year, so it can be done.
If there aren’t that many societies existing in your higher education institution that provide those kind of events, then create one! WhatsApp, YikYak and obviously Facebook are great ways of connecting with like-minded people. Up-and-coming student venues and bars are the perfect place for these events, as they often won’t charge for hire if they can take the bar receipts, and this arrangement can work well for first time poetry slams and open mic forums.
But what if you’re not a student and don’t really care for their youthful enthusiasm? Well, shame on you, but there are other options available. There are plenty of open mic nights available, but the best advice I can give is to choose your battles. Bear in mind that whilst the at an artsy bar with overpriced beer and bearded intellectuals may appreciate your nods to Rousseau in verse, the club that does four shots for a fiver and plays Karma Chameleon non-stop may not. It is always better to choose your first gigs with extreme caution, as being heckled is never nice, especially if you’re new to your local scene.
Another great piece of advice I can give is to get your work out there. Realistically, poetry and art events are only going to take you as seriously as you take them. So, whenever you are in the public forum, be professional. Start a Facebook page. If you become well known through your work, even if it is just posting on a regular basis as opposed to performing, you will find that event organisers come to you for bookings instead of the other way around. When performing, mention the fact that you’re on social media. If you are playing other venues later in the month, tell the crowd about them! It is an unfortunate fact of the scene that if you want to be taken really seriously in poetry, you have to maintain a professional public face. You don’t even have to know what you’re doing, just give off that impression: impressions are everything and can make the difference between being asked or not to perform at an event.
The final piece of advice is a hard one for a lot of people, but I maintain that it’s absolutely necessary: be confident. Without any confidence in your work, you will go nowhere fast. Everyone gets nervous on stage. It’s just part of the game, and if you let that get the better of you, no one will hear your work. So don’t be afraid to get up there or to engage a crowd: realise that everyone is going to have a bad show at some point. In my view, being slaughtered on stage is the baptism of fire that we all have to go through, a learning curve after which we can evolve into better on stage performers. But it all starts with you. If you want to write poetry, or get involved in poetry, the onus is on you to make it happen. So get out there and have some fun.
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