Although spoken word is not new, it is only now edging into the mainstream. A YouTube video featuring spoken word poet Mark Grist (currently studying for a creative writing MA at Lewisham’s Goldsmiths College) facing Manchester grime MC Blizzard in a rap battle recently went viral, gaining widespread media coverage, and thrusting the art of spoken word into the mainstream. (Please click here to watch the video.)
In east London the spoken word scene is huge; you can attend or participate in a performance almost every night of the week. Some are simply performances from featured guest poets; others feature short films, or musical accompaniment, and many more provide open mic slots for novices.
The variety within spoken word is reflected in the proliferation of these open mic events. Professional poets, part-time writers, and aspiring performers can sign up for a slot and share their poetry in whatever way they like. Crowds at the events are supportive, shouting encouragement and cheering on any performers that stumble. Every slot ends with a resounding round of applause.
Spoken word is an art form that combines poetry, music, art, and storytelling. With this in mind, we have produced a stop-motion animation to animate Nathan Thompson’s spoken word piece “Angels”, alongside an interview with the poet.
Russell Thompson is the coordinator of the London branch of the Apples and Snakes collective who promote spoken word event, Jawdance, at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green.
“Apple and Snakes was founded in 1982 to promote performance poetry as an art form in its own right, to push the boundaries of the genre and to use it as a tool for socio-political communication. It was initially run on a voluntary basis by a collective of writers from south London, it was later able to employ staff on a paid basis – first just one, now we have seventeen.”
Thompson has noted a spike in interest in spoken word, although fears it may be another 30 years before the art form is wholly integrated into the mainstream.
“Often an increase in interest can be attributed to the breakthrough success of one or two people. At the moment names like Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip spring to mind.”
Venues across the country would pay huge sums to attract the kind of audience that Jawdance, run by spoken word collective Apples and Snakes, gathers at their free events. It is youthful, rapt, arty and diverse, and it shows that spoken word, a free-form of poetry performance, is rapidly gaining popularity in east London, and nationally.
“It’s the most liberating form of art,” says Nathan Thompson, who travelled from near Wales to perform a piece about his love for coffee.
The star of the last show was the spoken-word ‘celeb’ Kat Francois, a playwright, comedian and poet who hosts a number of London events, including Word4Word and Come Rhyme With Me (a poetry event-cum-dinner party in Exmouth Market). “A lot of people have been saved from a beating by the fact that I like to write,” she admits, as she opens the event with her trademark dark humour.
Some poets at Jawdance were nice enough to give us an exclusive sample of one of their favourite poems, performed live to our cameras at the end of the night. Here we feature poems from Emeka Ene, Jason Pinney, and Nathan Thompson, who also told us about how they got into spoken word, and what the art form means to them.
Click on the images below to see each poet’s individual performance:
Spoken word events in east London:
If you like what you have heard, and are interested in attending a spoken word event in east London, then you’re in luck. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to all spoken word nights, festivals, competitions, and slams in the area (and a few more across central London). If you host a poetry night and want us to feature your event, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to add you to our listings.
These are open slots for you to take the mic and have a go. Sign up early if you want to perform; you usually need to arrive half an hour before the night starts, and you’ll be given a slot of between one and four minutes. The number of available slots vary, and some nights are always over-subscribed. We have provided contact details where possible so check with the host beforehand if you’re keen to perform. Open mic is not, of course, compulsory, but if you’re feeling inspired it can be a great way to show off your work.
Nights which feature line-ups with professional and renowned poets and performers.
Here you can find events that feature live music between poetry performances, or live bands to accompany spoken word pieces. You can also expect film screenings, and projections. If you’re keen for a night that includes dancing, you can find events which include DJ sets here too.
Spoken word is not always a serious art form, and many poets incorporate humour or stand-up routines into their performances.
A competition where artists perform short sets which are judged by the audience. Sometimes the competition is between professionals, sometimes just open mic-ers. Check with the promoter to be sure.
With special thanks to…
EastLondonLines would like to thank Apples and Snakes for their help in compiling this project – and for hosting a range of brilliant spoken word events across east London. We would also like to thank “Shot From The Lip” who, funded by the British Arts Council, produce some of the best guides to spoken word currently available.
Many thanks to the artists and poets who took part. Below, you can find links to the websites of the performers featured in this project (where possible):