Welcome to the fourth UK issue of Poetry International Web, which takes for its focus poets who work within live performance and the spoken word, important forces within contemporary UK poetry. Our guest editors, Melanie Abrahams and Segun Lee-French, are both experts within that field: Abrahams is the Creative Director of renaissance one, “an agency that curates, programmes and produces poetry, prose and spoken word events”, and Lee-French is the Regional Coordinator (North West) for Apples and Snakes, an organisation devoted to promoting poetry in performance.
I am being careful to hedge around the phrase ‘performance poets’ here; it is a phrase that many poets, however excellent they may be in performance, dislike, mistrust, or endeavour to redefine through their work. The poet Jane Holland calls it “an umbrella term which is often misused”, preferring to refer to “poetry in performance” on her discussion and events site, Poets on Fire. An example of that misuse is (at the time of writing) visible on the Wikipedia entry for performance poetry, where it is claimed, dismissively, that “much performance poetry does not work well when printed”. That idea could be argued away, by reference to, say, Tony Lopez’s recent collection of essays, Meaning Performance ( Salt: Cambridge, 2006), which refers to this practice’s “interesting developments and destabilizing complexities for our conception of poetry”. However, it would be more effective to send you to the poets presented here - Michelle Green, Anthony Joseph, Shamshad Khan, and John Siddique - as their work can refute that idea comprehensively.
Rather than setting up a distinction between ‘page poem’ and ‘performance poem’, then, it may be more productive to ask how a poem uses its page or its performance to achieve its effects. This may be interpreted as an invitation to all this issue’s readers to read the poems aloud! (Web links for Anthony Joseph, Shamshad Khan and John Siddique allow readers to hear their performances too.) However, like any classification imposed on an artistic practice, it is far more interesting to observe how the actual poems inhabit and ignore the boundaries that it sets up. Michelle Green’s use of space, for example, is a pleasure of the page; Melanie Abrahams, in her introduction to Anthony Joseph, describes “a writer whose imagination and writing has reacted to and burst through stricture and tidy definition”. All an editorial can do, following that, is to encourage you to untidy any definitions you may have had, and to invite you to enjoy the poems.
The UK Links Page has been updated with sources of information on performance poetry.
Melanie Abrahams is a literature producer and curator. She is the Creative Director of renaissance one, an agency that produces live literature events and tours that reflect UK contemporary culture and stimulates collaborations between writers and musicians, DJs and visual artists. Productions for radio include Back Home: an email story chain for the BBC World Service and Facing Leicester Square for BBC Radio Three Drama. She has produced live literature shows for a range of venues including the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, Museum of Modern Art (Finland), Sadlers Wells and Miami Book Fair international. In 2004, she curated ‘A Great Day’, a photoshoot of fifty outstanding writers who have significantly contributed to contemporary British literature, at the British Library. She is also the current Director of the National Association of Literature Development (NALD)
Nigerian Mancunian Segun Lee-French is a singer, poet, producer/composer, playwright, film-maker & club promoter, fluent in French & Spanish. He is a founder member of Manchester’s Speakeasy People poetry collective. Segun’s artistic goal is to do things that frighten him. His debut solo show, Bro:9 at Contact Theatre, opened to critical acclaim in April 2003 & won Best Fringe Performer & Best Design in the prestigious Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards. He has also had several commissions & broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 & Radio Manchester. Segun is performing Bro9 in a UK tour in Spring 2007. Also touring the UK in Autumn 2006 is Booty Call, a play for young people written by Segun & commissioned by Eclipse Theatre & Big Creative Ideas. Since July 2003, Segun has been the North West Regional Coordinator for Apples & Snakes, the UK’s longest established performance poetry organisation.