The days of stuffy, pretentious performance poetry in empty hipster cafés are long gone. The contemporary spoken word scene is dynamic, playful and far from dull. This oft misunderstood medium is an explosive, thought provoking and beautiful (not to mention considerably liberal and left-wing) form of expression, and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy it for yourself.
The other glorious thing about the world of performance poetry is that it’s not strictly a spectator sport. If you want to get up on the stage and reel off some self-penned prose about the state of the government, that person at work who steals your sandwiches or the charming bastard that broke your heart — dedicated open mic nights and slots featured in main events are an ideal stomping ground for those wanting to cut their teeth. There's a vast range of workshops to sharpen your skills, too.
Spoken word events
Bang Said The Gun
With a sharp comedic edge and huge dose of irreverence, Bang Said The Gun proudly pegs itself as ‘the poetry event for people who don’t like poetry’. Emphasis on audience participation and having a damn good time has earned it a stellar reputation as one of the liveliest, loudest and most raucous poetry gatherings in the country and, according to co-founder Daniel Cockrill, ‘probably the whole universe’. Showcasing the talents of some of some of best spoken word artists around — from Kate Tempest to John Hegley — it’s a two hour word-ridden riot that takes place every Thursday at the Roebuck, south east London.
How does it work? Part of the night features the ‘Raw Meat Stew Golden Gun Award’, a quick-fire open mic slot, where the winner is chosen by the audience and awarded a 10 minute stint the following week.
Bang Said The Gun is on every Thursday at The Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street, SE1 4YG. Tickets £8 / £6 on the door
Feted as one of the most laid-back, friendly and varied night on the circuit, Chill Pill is a space where up-and-comers are welcome to showcase their work, billed alongside more established names. A collective formed of artists Mr Gee, Adam Kammerling, Deanna Rodger, Raymond Antrobus and Simon Mole, it regularly venue-hops from The Albany in Deptford to Soho Theatre, although the next instalment takes place at Canada Water Culture Space. Expect lashings of witty chat, some headline-inspired rhymes and a special evening out.
If you liked the video, you can check out more brilliant Chill Pill Shorts on YouTube.
How does it work? It’s a straight forward ‘first come, first served’ sign up sheet, so get in quick.
Chill Pill returns 26 February, Canada Water Culture Space 21 Surrey Quays Rd, Canada Water SE16 7AR. Tickets £5
Hammer + Tongue
Originally founded by Steve Larkin in Oxford, Hammer + Tongue is still going strong after 10 years, currently hosting two nights in north/east London.
Green Note in Camden is the older, more experienced sibling of the London slam network (it started in 2007), created and run by Michelle Madsen; poet, writer and journalist. It’s on the second Monday of the month, and dwellers of the north can check out Mancunian ‘punk poet’ Thick Richard performing in February.
Then there’s the newly relaunched Hackney shows, which are the latest residency at The Book Club, Shoreditch. Curated by poet Sam Berkson, these shows are held the first Tuesday of every month, with two guest performers and an open mic slam. Def Jam poet Staceyann Chin takes to the stage next month.
How does it work? Slots are open to the first eight poets who sign up on the night, but it’s a serious slam — far from getting up there, ‘doing your thang’, sitting down and rewarding yourself with a nice glass of pinot nior afterwards. It’s a fully fledged, fierce competition where each contender has three and half minutes of stage time, and is judged by five random audience members. The victor goes through to the June final, which leads to the national finals.
Hammer + Tongue Hackney, The Book Club, 100 Leonard Street, EC2A 4RH. Tickets £6 / £5 on the door
Everyone from The Guardian to The Independent to Time Out is enamoured with the Tongue Fu collective, hosted by founder Chris Redmond (who has some seriously impressive credentials behind him, including Scroobius Pip’s The Beatdown) due to their mixture of live literature, music, and heaps of improvisation. The result is exciting, raw and unpolished. They have an autumn/winter residency at Rich Mix, Shoreditch every other month, with stints around London and the UK, including hanging out at festivals during the summer months. Following on from that, they’ll be spending the autumn touring with Animal, their new spoken word comedy musical.
How does it work? While they don’t have an open mic spot, they are still dedicated to nurturing new talent, and are running a two day workshop at The Roundhouse on 27 and 28 May, as part of the Last Word festival. The info will be live in the next couple of weeks, so if you’re a young spoken word artist, and interested in developing your art with with music, pop by the the venue’s website next month.
The next Tongue Fu shows is on March 12, at Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA. Tickets £7 / £5
Presented by Apple and Snakes (more about those guys in a bit) Jawdance is one of the most eclectic and unpredictable nights on the list, chock full with a roving rota of billed acts, celluloid, and music — with the main focus on the open mic. It holds court on the fourth Wednesday of every month. And it’s free.
How does it work? As we said, it’s all about the open mic here, yo. But you are strongly advised to turn up early and bag a place quickly — an array of talented performers got their start here, so it’s a mecca for those making their debut, or the slightly more seasoned trying out new material.
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA
Workshops, support and other resources
So you’ve got the stage bug, but running material by your cat isn’t generating much feedback. Or maybe you want to explore other nights. Below are some fantastic places to get more information and support if you’re considering improving your set and making it audience-worthy.
Apples and Snakes: An almost encyclopaedic portal of information, busting with information for poetry lovers and aspiring artists alike. Events, development schemes, advice. It’s all here.
Spread the Word: Funded by Arts Council England, this writer development organisation is the best friend of any fledgling young poet, running the Young Poet Laureate for London scheme, Podium Poets (for those who made the long list) and Lewisham In Poetry (LIP) for teens.
In addition, they cultivate workshops with the likes of Joelle Taylor (who in turn has her Slambassadors programme) and work closely with the Poetry Society and Barbican Young poets, and with much more in the pipeline — this is most definitely a site for your bookmarks folder.
The Ideas Tap Spa: Yet another fantastic resource, Ideas Tap regularly offers free talks and workshops for writers and poets (as well as actors, dancers and singers, if that happens to be your field) on the ‘Spa’ section of its website. All you have to do is sign up and log in. Event you want to attend booked out? Join the wait list and check emails regularly — tickets usually start being returned in the hours leading up to the event.