Page v Stage- Performance Poetry in Sheffield

17 Dec

Me, reading sonnets and villanelles at a Word Life event in Sheffield, February 2012. I did not obtain permission from other people to use their likenesses for this post, so I’ve had to submit my own! [Photo copyright © 2012 Sara Hill]

Hello readers of ArtiPeeps! My name is Kate, and welcome to my guest post for December. I am a poet. I’ve also performed on stage as a singer and an actress in the past. So I’ve always been a poet, and I’ve always been a performer, but I haven’t always been a performance poet; that is, I have not always been a poet who reads work out loud in front of an audience, with attention focused on vocal inflection and how the words will get across to the audience. That all changed in the last 18 months or so, thanks to some encouraging established artists and my location – Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

My first public poetry reading was part of a community event at a local secondary school, and I was terrified. Reading in front of the Lord Mayor, local MPs, and not least of all everyone I knew within my local community, was daunting. But I was hooked. Following that experience, I participated in the first Nuneaton Summer Poetry Day in July 2011. After getting to know more poets in the Midlands, I wondered if there was anything going on in my local area for hearing and sharing work. That’s when I discovered Word Life, a local literary organisation founded in 2006. My first Sheffield open mic performance was at one of their regular open mic nights. From there I discovered that Sheffield has no less than six regular spoken word nights, and that nearby towns Chesterfield and Rotherham put on poetry nights as well. This went beyond what I’d  expected when I started looking for like-minded folks in my own city. Who knew it was so popular?

Sheffield Speak Easy

I’ve attended events that were sold out and standing room only, some featuring headlining poets all the way from the USA, or from other parts of the UK. Currently I’m part of the Speak Easy team, helping to organise monthly open mic nights at the Sheffield Hallam University student union. Speak Easy was established by Hallam lecturer John Turner following the demise of an older open mic organisation, Words Aloud, in 2009. It’s seen a lot of new faces over the years, and had a lot of helpers, but Speak Easy remains one of the most welcoming ways to get involved in the spoken word scene. This is especially useful for those who are a bit frightened of the bigger open mic nights, or various competitive poetry slam events. Everyone needs to start somewhere!

Whilst I’m on a related topic, I can’t ignore that performance (stage) poetry is often dragged  into debates, pitting it against printed (page) poetry. Not everyone does it, but it happens. In my honest opinion this is self-defeating from either side of the debate. The argument usually runs something like this: poetry isn’t real poetry without strong emotion; or poetry isn’t poetry without formal technique; or page poetry that doesn’t carry over well to the stage (or vice versa) and isn’t as good as poetry written for performance (or vice versa).

Poetry Books

It’s a bit extreme, really, and I always wonder, are people arguing for the sake of it? Or are some simply out to protect their own ego by saying they’re right and others aren’t? Some individuals are going to be moved by certain things, and other people aren’t going to care about the exact same things. Art is subjective. I don’t argue on this topic because I enjoy page and stage equally. Page poetry is my solitary comfort blanket. I sometimes curl up with stacks of poetry books and let the emotions and images fall over me like rain, savouring the sounds of words rolling around in my head. Stage poetry is an electric, social adventure. There’s a crowd, and the words are formed out loud in varying accents and unique voices, and there is opportunity for instantaneous discussion. As a poet myself, I feel satisfied when the words are down on paper, and energised when I’ve read them out to an audience. But in my view neither stage nor page is categorically “better” than the other. It really is that simple.

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Before I outstay my welcome here at ArtiPeeps, I will leave you with a few sites of Sheffield literary loveliness below. But it doesn’t stop there: if you’re interested, search on Facebook for Slam Bam Thank You Ma’am, The Shipping Forecast, Spire Writes, and ROMP. Come to Sheffield – whatever you’re looking for, we’re a poetry city. And keep an eye out in your own town or city, you never know what’s going on locally in the way of interesting wordage!

See the links below:

 21 Poets for Sheffield (This was a digital poetry slam put on by Word Life in October- November 2012 for the Off the Shelf Festival of Reading and Writing):

Gorilla Events



  • Your 4th helping of ‘Flash Fortnightly’ with LAURA BESLEY …on Wednesday 19th December ….a pre Christmas dose of Flash Fiction
  • Watch out this Friday 21stfor our Festive Xmas Blog featuring 3 poets: TIFFANY COFFMAN, NAT COLE & JOHN MANSELL and 3 artists: AMANDA BECK MAUCK, JAMES MACKENZIE & HUGO SMITH
  • ArtiPeeps is so pleased to say that the Visitor Peep Page has now been borrowed by LILI MORGAN who’ll be featuring her new work there from mid January 2013.
  • The details of our first large Collaborative Poetry Project ‘TRANSFORMATIONS’ were posted last Wednesday. You can find them here. Please do get in touch if you’d like to get involved.
  • There will also be a special ArtiPeeps blog on Thursday 20thoutlining the opportunities and plans for the ArtiPeeps year ahead.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: