The poetry scene - not ALL sweetness and light
I started the Bards of New Brighton poetry club six years ago with the vague notion it would become a northern English version of the colourful and bohemian poetry nights I'd so enjoyed in Hackney, East London, in the late 1990s.
In fact, the Bards turned out to be warmer and more life-enhancing than anything on the London scene.
As each month rolled by I would turn up - whether I felt in the mood for it or not - to run these open floor poetry sessions; at first held in the cosy front room of The Ginny pub, than, as we grew in numbers, at the larger Magazine pub.
These New Brighton nights became very important to me, mainly for the following reasons ...
(1) I would witness people come to their first poetry night and just listen, often nervously, to others reading poetry.
(2) Those same people would return the following month, usually to read a favourite 'classic' poem; then they would return the month after that with pieces they themselves had written, and they'd read those out.
(3) I watched these people come back month after month, and I witnessed them grow in confidence and eloquence.
Let's repeat that, because it is important ... people who come to poetry nights can, and often do, grow in confidence and eloquence. How great is that?
Sometimes the poetry read out or 'performed' at our nights can be uncomfortable to hear; but much more often it is inspiring, funny, spiritually profound, wise, politically savvy, though-provoking. Well, that's poetry for you, daddy-o. It explores the meaning of being human; always has done; always will do.
There are all sorts of poetry groups. The Bards and our sister club in Liverpool, The Liver Bards, are fairly boisterous free-for-alls. Admission is free. You just come to the pub and read. At both nights you will usually be called on to read at least twice - each time being given a four-minute slot.
It's a formula that works for us; but as I say there are other nights which have a more structured approach. Find one that suits you.
Just recently - on the evening on Monday 14 May - we held our open, free-admission poetry competition.
Seven winners were announced altogether (five from the Bards section of competition, and two from the Liver Bards section). Some of the winners were given cash prizes (the first prize was £75) and others won subscriptions to literary journals. We also decided on special commendations for a couple of poets, who narrowly missed out on prizes. Offering subscriptions as prizes meant that winning poets would receive encouragement to get published.
Now. A lot of organisation goes into running a poetry competition, and no-one gets paid for doing it. All the funds for this, the Bards' and Liver Bards' first ever poetry competition, were raised by ourselves and our supporters through raffles. We do not accept any public funding.
My co-host Dave Costello worked passionately to get the two competitions up and running, including the raffles. He also came up with the excellent idea of giving subscriptions to literary journals as prizes. He MC'd the event and he even prepared the certificates presented to the winners on the night. Dave - himself a fine and prize-winning poet - deserves all the credit for what was a wonderful competition.
What he did NOT deserve was for one contestant from the Bards competition - someone who was not awarded a prize by the judges - to complain about the judging in unpleasant and offensive terms on Facebook and to denigrate our worthy winners.
A poor loser exhibiting wormwood tendencies - that's a most unattractive thing. I wonder why anyone who claims to be a poet would do that; would embrace the infantilism of emotion that Facebook unfortunately offers.
A bit of bitching around the scene, a few satirical barbs here and there, is nothing to worry about. In fact that stuff can be quite funny. But VILE TROLLERY is not acceptable.
It is not the first time I've seen on Facebook bitter and indeed defamatory remarks from people involved in the poetry scene. It saddens me but does not greatly surprise me. Nor does it bother me much.
What does impress me is the way that on this occasion so many decent people from the regional poetry scene rallied round - to defend the organisers, the judges and the winning poets of the Bards / Liver Bards competition.
Be assured of this. At our poetry competition, held in the historic the Magazine pub, there was a lot of affectionate fellowship in the room, a kind of magic at work, and scrupulously honest and fair judging.
And the air was positively charged with grace-filled aural art.
I know all of this to be true. I was there. I was proud to be there. Others will concur.
We are taking a break for JUNE. Our next poetry open floor night is The Bards at the Magazine pub CH45 1HP, Monday 9 July starting at 8pm.
This follows on directly from the Wirral Festival of Firsts poetry extravaganza in Hoylake, at which the Bards is hosting a poetry proms (open-mic) upstairs at the Vanilla bar in Market Street on Sunday 8 July, 2.30pm to 4pm.
Then up next is The Liver Bards, upstairs at The Ship & Mitre, Dale St, Liverpool city centre L2 2JH, on Monday 16 July, starting 8pm.
Come along, see what all the fuss is about.
And give the minority of poetry trolls a two-fingered salute...