In advance of Spoken Word London's 3rd Anniversary special this week, we caught up with the creatives behind it all, Patrick Cash and Hannah Gordon, to pick their brains about this beautiful weekly happening!
Q: SWL is celebrating its 3rd birthday! How has the event evolved from infancy to its toddlerhood?
Patrick: Spoken Word London began in the summer of 2013. At our first event, there were about 10 people huddled into the corner of VFD, and since then it has grown to a thriving event boasting a beautiful community of words and rhythms: both at the night and online on our Facebook page. Hannah Gordon was one of our most committed regulars and I was honoured to have her join as co-host in January of this year, and her help and commitment has been invaluable! We’ve never been a night for “Hollywood poets” and have always stayed true to our equality ethos where everybody gets five minutes and nobody gets more than five minutes. The only time we have featured speakers is at our special events, and the open-mic is always at our heart.
Hannah: I came to SWL for the first time in January 2014, when the event had already been going for six months and it was really busy, diverse and often spectacular. It still is. I was completely blown away by the variety of readers and the talented writers sharing their work and the sense of community surrounding the night. In the last two and a half years that I've been part of the community at SWL and poetry scene in London, it has grown so much. I remember Pat saying at a night in March 2014 that the Facebook page had reached 1000 likes, it's now at close to 5000! Despite the changing faces of the readers, the night has retained its welcoming and engaging atmosphere, creating an inclusive, safe space for people to share and experiment with different styles of writing and performance.
Q: At VFD we are huge fans of artists like Kate Tempest and Saul Williams. Can you recommend other notable artists whose work you’d encourage people to seek out?
Patrick: Oh definitely Dean Atta, who’ll be doing a big event with us in October (more info on that coming soon!) and of course those awesome featured speakers taking part in our third anniversary event next week: Dean McKee, who sets the mic alight each time he speaks; Rachel Nwokoro, such an electric and beautifully worded poet; Alexander ‘Woody’ Woodward, a true gentleman and deep speaker of the scene; Iris Colomb, liquidly fluid and eloquent weaver of words; Felix, whose honesty will take your breath away; and Rebecca Cooney, sharing with you the spoken gold of her experience.
Hannah: I would encourage people to check out Liv Wynter who is a hugely talented writer, performer and activist and whose style is very much influenced by grime. I really enjoy her poem 'F#@kin Artists' which, along with her Lunar Podcast interview, makes for interesting listening.
Q: You’re strong on ‘anti-hate’ as a theme at your events, what impact do you think this has on the prevailing hate-fuelled narrative of society today? Can you cite an example where the power of spoken word has effected change in your experience?
Patrick: The entire ethos of the night is built around empathy: sharing words and experiences, and building a connection with others through the tools of speaking and listening. These tools seem so simple but their memory stretches back throughout human history: before language was written it was spoken; in the modern microphone within a basement there lies atavistic memories of tribal fires, the oral tradition of travelling bards, there’s Homer’s The Odyssey being passed from mouth to ear for years before it was ever written down. Whatever time period it happens in, truly listening to somebody else and understanding their lived experience can only enhance our feelings of shared humanity and emotional truth. It’s what the greatest art achieves. Therefore in a time so riveted by division, by ignorance, by fear, by prejudice, we want to celebrate that unifying power of the spoken word. And as for an example: the last three years of hosting Spoken Word London, undoubtedly! My view of the world has been invaluably enrichened, and changed.
Hannah: I think the anti-hate theme opens up discussions that serve as an antidote to the hate fuelled narratives we are seeing in society and the media. The nature of SWL allows for such a broad range of people to share their first hand experiences often of discrimination or expressing identities marginalised by society at large and this, I think, creates a deep sense of empathy . Like Kate Tempest says of poetry in general, that it's there for us at our most vulnerable, when we need to know that others have been there and felt this. SWL enables readers to express themselves and their experiences in a sometimes personal way and this can be transformative for both the reader and the listener.
Q: How will you be celebrating the 3rd anniversary of SWL? Have you got any surprises up your sleeve for the occasion?
Patrick: As described above, we’ve got six amazing featured poets speaking to the theme - although our open-mic is still open for all to sign up and speak, as always! And yes, Hannah and I have a little surprise up our sleeves for our performance… Athough I can’t give it away, haha.
Hannah: We will be celebrating by having some incredible feature poets alongside our usual open mic. I'm really looking forward to seeing all our features, especially Rachel Nwokoro, who is the current UK Slam Champion and Dean McKee who never fails to impress with his lyrical content and powerful delivery. Myself and Pat will be performing too, with a twist... But you'll have to be there on the night to find out what it is...
Q: What advice would you give aspiring writers / performers who have not yet taken the plunge and signed up for their 5 minutes on the mic?
Patrick: I guess the basest advice is: dive in, and sign up. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be polished. If you’re scared you’ll forget your words, read from a piece of paper - and have that piece of paper to hand if you’re reading from memory! There have been times when I was starting off where I’d be reciting from memory, I’d make eye contact with someone in the crowd, and suddenly there’d be this cosmic blast and all the words would go out of my head… If you have the poem with you, you can just refer to it and finish, which is better than walking off early. But definitely go for it: the more you put it off, the bigger the shadow looms in your mind, and what we’ve tried to do at Spoken Word London from the very start is provide a friendly, supportive night that means anybody can feel confident to get in front of our very, very bright light!
Hannah: I would say do it! It's an amazing feeling to perform at SWL and it's a great place to start out as the audience are supportive and once you're up there you usually can't see anyone due to the spotlight! I would also recommend reading one of my favourite books: ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by R. M. Rilke, it’s full of advice for anyone, but especially for aspiring poets.
Spoken Word London 3rd Anniversary Special Wed 3 August Doors open 7.30pm / free entry