I’ve been up and down the country over the past few weeks, doing poetry gigs, and – to be honest – I’ve had a blast. I’ve read in cafes, in pubs, and at festivals. I’ve stood up in front of strangers and shared my words and hoped that what seemed so well-crafted when I scribbled it down will manage to make some kind of connection with these people whose names I don’t yet know. And mostly, that’s exactly what’s happened.
In return, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to dozens of other voices. I’ve heard a bouncer read a comic poem about working in a club when it all kicks off. I’ve listened to love poems (gay and straight). I’ve heard poems about holidays, and poems about hating poems about holidays. There have been political poems, personal poems, heartfelt poems, poems that grab you by the shoulders and get right in your face, and quiet poems you’re still thinking about hours later. Poems by students and by pensioners, by office-workers and by punks. Joyous poems, funny poems, poems packed with rage. Confident poems by people who’ve read their work out loud a thousand times, and poems sick with nerves from people who’ve never stood in front of an audience before but have decided tonight’s the night they’ll give it a go.
It’s one of the things I love about poetry: that it gives everyone a voice. That’s really all you need. Pen and paper are optional, and you can sing if you want to, but really it’s just the voice. Your voice. Your chance to say what’s on your mind, no matter how old you are, no matter what your background, or your gender, your nationality or your creed. Because, at it’s best, poetry is wonderfully democratic. It’s all about communication, about me sharing my perspective with you, you sharing yours with me. As simple as that.
I know some people might get a bit sniffy about all this. They might mutter about the quality of some of the poetry, dismiss it as doggerel, or clumsy, or crude. But I see poetry evenings giving people the opportunity to to get up and say their piece, to share something they’ve crafted, and to listen to others. I see people meeting up, enjoying some sense of community, and learning from each other, if they want to. In a world which very often denies them a voice, they can become one of a million voices, all with something to say, and all listened to respectfully for the time they’re at the mike. And you don’t need to buy any expensive gear. There’s no branding, there’s no corporate nonsense. There’s just you, an audience, and the chance to say whatever’s on your mind.