SPEAK OUT!

LGBT per­form­ers have the last word

Pride Life Magazine - - Contents -

Speak­ing out loud is some­thing that comes nat­u­rally to most of us. Whether we’re pos­ing a ques­tion, ex­press­ing an opin­ion or just pass­ing the time of day, the spo­ken word is our prime method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So it’s per­haps nat­u­ral that it can be turned into a per­for­mance, too. Spo­ken Word events are hav­ing a bit of a “mo­ment” right now, and LGBT Spo­ken Word artists are cre­at­ing nights that of­fer a safe space for writ­ers, po­ets and per­form­ers to ex­plore them­selves, the LGBT com­mu­nity and the wider world.

Dean Atta is a poet (check out his book I’m No­body’s Nig­ger) and runs LGBT Spo­ken Word night Come Rhyme With Me in both London and Brighton. Dean says safe spa­ces are im­por­tant for peo­ple to ex­plore writ­ing and per­form­ing:

“For us as queer writ­ers it’s im­por­tant that we have our spa­ces to do what we do, with a majority LGBT au­di­ence so we feel safe. I’ve re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated hav­ing spa­ces where peo­ple could ap­pre­ci­ate what I’m say­ing, as I don’t want peo­ple to cri­tique my art based on my life­style, but on its artis­tic value.

“Hav­ing said that, you don’t need to be LGB or T to lis­ten to an LGBT poet to un­der­stand them. You can step into some­one’s world for three min­utes and em­pathise with them – feel what they feel for a mo­ment.”

Spo­ken Word seems like a pretty broad term, a catch-all for any sort of spo­ken per­for­mance, but to some it’s ac­tu­ally quite a spe­cial­ist term, as Atta ex­plains:

“Spo­ken Word is po­etry, per­formed on stage or on video, in front of an au­di­ence. It’s about the sound of the words and it’s not the same as read­ing it on a page as it’s the writer de­liv­er­ing it straight to you, in their own voice, with their own em­pha­sis. It’s words writ­ten with the in­ten­tion of be­ing read out loud, with a pur­pose to make you laugh, think, cry, to make you un­der­stand how the artist feels. It gets straight to the point in a way a lot of other art forms can’t.”

Spo­ken Word per­former and poet Joelle Tay­lor agrees but says it’s about more than just the words:

“Spo­ken Word is es­sen­tially po­etry in per­for­mance or live lit­er­a­ture. The phys­i­cal body is as im­por­tant as the writ­ten script. It can have com­edy and mu­sic in­volved but it is es­sen­tially po­etry. It can also in­clude rap­ping and MC’ing, es­pe­cially when work­ing with chil­dren.

“It’s a re­ally im­me­di­ate art form, though – it de­mys­ti­fies po­etry and you can ex­pect it to be very in­ter­ac­tive as the au­di­ence com­pletes the poem. A poet knows the poem isn’t com­plete un­til it’s been per­formed as the au­di­ence is as im­por­tant as the poet.”

But El­lis Collins, who runs Brighton-based Spo­ken Word night Have a Word, sees Spo­ken Word as be­ing wider than just po­etry.

“For me Spo­ken Word cov­ers all the gen­res of LGBT cre­ativ­ity. I’ve hosted peo­ple who write, re­cite po­etry, sing and even speak about their pho­tog­ra­phy. Spo­ken Word is po­ets or storytellers or nov­el­ists – peo­ple who come and share their words with my au­di­ence, in a non­judge­men­tal en­vi­ron­ment where they can be cre­ative, be lis­tened to and be heard.”

Spo­ken Word nights have been springing up all over the coun­try, some ex­plic­itly LGBT, oth­ers at­tract­ing a wider au­di­ence but of­fer­ing an LGBT-friendly space, such as New­cas­tle night Jibba Jabba.

London is par­tic­u­larly well served, with the hugely suc­cess­ful Po­lari sa­lons at the Royal

Fes­ti­val Hall, fronted by writer Paul Burston, at­tract­ing some of the top names in lit­er­a­ture, po­etry and spo­ken word, while new night QueerSay was re­cently launched by co­me­dian, song­writer and jour­nal­ist Rosie Wilby, of­fer­ing a plat­form for LGBT per­form­ers, also broad­cast on Out in South London on Res­o­nance 104.4FM.

So why do Spo­ken Word nights seem to par­tic­u­larly res­onate with LGBT peo­ple? Dean Atta thinks it’s be­cause the spo­ken word res­onates with the po­lit­i­cal as well as the per­sonal:

“There’s so much go­ing on in the LGBT com­mu­nity at the mo­ment and there are so many peo­ple with some­thing to say and spo­ken word is very di­rect. The LGBT com­mu­nity has so many im­por­tant mes­sages to get across about equal­ity and spo­ken word is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for an ac­tivist to put a mes­sage across – a lot of spo­ken word artists are ac­tivists be­fore they’re artists.”

El­lis Collins of Have a Word thinks LGBT peo­ple are be­com­ing more in­spired and con­fi­dent about ex­press­ing them­selves in their own words:

“Peo­ple are get­ting braver and re­al­is­ing that oth­ers are lis­ten­ing. For ex­am­ple, lots more trans peo­ple are com­ing out and one trans artist who per­formed their work for the first time at our event is now hav­ing a book pub­lished and is per­form­ing at non-LGBT events.

“I see more and more LGBT peo­ple get­ting in­spired and get­ting cre­ative and they’re com­ing to events like ours to ex­plore that. They’re lit­er­ally speak­ing what they’ve writ­ten and it’s like teenage di­aries com­ing to life – peo­ple writ­ing about their jour­neys. For an au­di­ence it makes you think about com­ing out, re­vis­it­ing your ex­pe­ri­ence through the ex­pe­ri­ences of some­one else.” Collins also sees a so­cial side to the LGBT events. “As we’re get­ting older and maybe not go­ing out on the scene as much, we’re look­ing for new places to so­cialise. Peo­ple come to Have a Word who I used to see in the clubs, but now they’re get­ting cre­ative and in­spired to ex­plore and write.”

Joelle Tay­lor thinks any­one with some­thing to say should get in­volved in Spo­ken Word.

“Peo­ple re­ally want to lis­ten to what you’ve got to say and how you use your words, ir­re­spec­tive of your back­ground. Go to an open-mic night, watch and join in. Most nights will have an open-mic sec­tion so get on stage. Re­mem­ber that the gay com­mu­nity is in­volved on all nights, not just gay nights.”

Dean Atta agrees that the best way to get in­volved is to dive in.

“You only es­tab­lish a rep­u­ta­tion by get­ting in­volved. Prac­tice is re­ally im­por­tant. Read a lot of po­etry, watch po­etry on­line, go to Spo­ken Word nights. Watch stuff you don’t like so you know what you don’t want to do. Get out there, be hum­ble, go to Spo­ken Word open-mic nights. If you find other like-minded peo­ple near you, start a writ­ers’ group or join one.

“LGBT voices need to be heard – we can’t sit back and wait to be per­fect. We need to be out there, im­per­fect as we are, to en­cour­age other peo­ple to also speak up.”

DEAN ATTA

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