Last night the last Find The Right Words before the summer, which means my last before I go off to uni in September 😥 It’s a bittersweet feeling, because I’m so sad to be leaving this regular poetry night that has been such a regular part of my month, and played such an important role in my development as a writer and performer… but it was a great show. This is less of a review, more a train-of-thought collection of feelings and ideas that came to me while I was watching the open micers and Buddy Wakefield’s incredible headline set.
Last night I really tried to pinpoint what it was about certain performances that I liked so much, so here are some of those ideas. In Buddy Wakefield’s performance, it was the way his dialect came through that really made it feel personal and direct and unique and broke down boundaries. It was how animated and energetic he was throughout the performance, the way he used movement in a way that mirrors his vivid and unexpected use of language. I noticed that in the open mic performances and Buddy Wakefield and in other poets that I like, a common feature is the use of an anecdote or a story or a specific memory as an anchor for a poem, as a trigger for memory and meaning – I realised some of my first and favourite poems are written in this kind of way. I think I appreciate these poems differently, too, like some poems the words wash over me and it’s nice don’t get me wrong but like anecdotes and stories and memories keep my attention better, I think. And I have also been thinking about how good artists engage the audience. One of the things I’ve noticed that’s most significantly different between myself and other newish poets and the more established, experienced acts is the ability to engage the audience, and I’m not sure if it’s just a skill that comes with time. But I have some ideas, I think laughter helps (and can work even if most of your work is serious). You can explicitly involve an audience by giving them a ‘chorus’ to join in with . You can unite people in breathing. You can directly address them in your poem. You can use common experience to make your work relatable.
Tangled thoughts, but I think they’re useful.
This year, I have decided to be a ‘Proper Poet’. Whatever that means. Like, in my head a ‘Proper Poet’ is an artist, and an artist is someone who makes a living from their art. But since I made that decision I’ve been realising more and more that art and survival are not necessarily compatible.
I have been listening to poets and performers, overhearing their frustrations about touring 9 months of the year just to keep themselves afloat, their incredulity at being constantly expected to work simply for ‘exposure’; and trying to work out how on earth I could make a life out of art for myself.
Last night at Find The Right Words in Leicester I got to hear an extract from Paula Varjack’s new show, Show Me The Money, which asks the question “can you become and artist and still survive?”. She has interviewed artists at various stages in their careers and put together a ‘performance documentary’ exploring the relationship between art and money. It encapsulated a lot of the feelings I have about money (“sexy but toxic”) and brought home the realities of art as a career path. That, even when you are actually paid, the rate will not reflect the hours the writing, producing and editing takes. That to be a full-time artist is impossible for most people. But also that to have another job alongside your art doesn’t make you any less of an artist, no matter what people might think. That art is valuable and rewarding in its own right, and that it feels kinda soulless to sell it. But that the fact remains that people want art, but still aren’t prepared to pay.
All this money talk could make a person feel hopeless. But actually this morning I feel more energised to pursue the arts than ever before. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s the honesty. So many people continue as artists without the financial incentive and there is something… pure about that, something that suggests art is immeasurably more worthwhile than some other career paths. It means that I will need to think seriously about how to balance doing what I love with making enough to survive (and that is scary), but I have come away with a sense of comfort in knowing there is joy and solidarity in making art and that is enough to keep me going.
I made another post a few months ago summarising my feelings about working for free: you can read it here.