There is a lot of spoken word to be had in Edinburgh. The city has open mic nights, slams, revues, experimental shows and all manner of opportunities for page and performance poets and storytellers. A firm favourite over the past six years has been Blind Poetics, but last week they bid the spoken word scene farewell.

Background

  • Blind Poetics was named after the pub where it was held, The Blind Poet on West Nicolson Street (now closed after 25 years, allegedly to give it time to transform into some sort of megapub)
  • It was hosted by Alec Beattie and Roddy Shippin, with turns from Rachel McCrum and Bram Gieben in its early days
  • It was frequented by all that is Hot Right Now in Scottish spoken word and, during festival time, those who are Hot Right Now in spoken word from the rest of the UK.

It took place on the second Monday of every month and was a mixture of open mic performers and one headliner. The headline act would be paid in the grand tradition of the Free Fringe, by way of audience donations in a bucket – and in an industry where performers are often asked to do stuff for free, or the cost of their bus fare, this is pretty good.

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What’s it to me?

I feel a personal connection with Blind Poetics because I hold it almost entirely responsible for my husband’s shift in focus from short stories and stand up comedy to poetry. After reading a couple of stories there and finding the five-minute open mic slot a bit constraining for prose, he tried his hand at a few poems. In 2013, they put him in their pamphlet. In 2014, they gave him a headline slot (and another one alongside Ross McCleary in 2015). This year (2017, fact fans), his first actual bonafide book of poetry is out on House of Three. Would this have come about without Blind Poetics? I genuinely wonder.

The friendships and working relationships that have come out of this night have really impacted on our lives. I’ve seen amazing performances there, I’ve seen some utter toss, and I’ve watched a few writers metamorphose from clichéd earnest young man at an open mic to really engaging performers. One thing I quite admire about the culture there is the way the performers all chat to each other about what worked and what didn’t. Regular readers of mine will be only too aware of the stock I set on having readers who understand what you’re truing to do and will tell you where you’re going wrong. Imagine having the opportunity, every month, to go network with a bunch of people that will give you constructive peer feedback, as well as seeing how a crowd of poet friends and partners react to it on stage. A far cry from struggling on in obscurity with your novel!

Having said all that, I sadly can’t claim to be a Blind Poetics super fan. For the past four years or so I’ve casually dropped in and out, and I’ve definitely been amongst the hated number who leave early because I’d seen the friend or partner I wanted to see do their thing and couldn’t be bothered with the rest. I did think about signing up for an open mic slot myself a couple of times, too. I never did, because I’d have had to write something special to fit into the aforementioned five minutes. Not to mention the fact that long form children’s fiction isn’t necessarily the natural bedfellow of political activism, love or list poems… But I did think I’d get round to it eventually. I’m a bit sad I never will.

The Legacy

Blind Poetics was a good place to learn how to read a crowd, how to perform better, how to use (or break) a mic, and how to up your game in a safe, supportive space. The received wisdom is that if you want to write you have to read a lot of books, but it’s also worth going to an open mic to see how other people do that out loud. It’s a great way to see what works, as well as what really doesn’t.

Saying farewell to Blind Poetics feels like the end of an era, but other spoken word nights are of course available. In the words of the popular meme, poetry can never stop.

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For open mic-ers, if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, there’s Inky Fingers. Interrobang also has a couple of open mic spots at its nights, and if you’re up for going to a studenty place there’s Soapbox.

For those who prefer to see their spoken word more fully curated, there’s Loud Poets, Flint and Pitch, or I’m told Neu Reekie is VG. If you want to see poets talk to other poets there’s K/RK. For affectionate piss taking, there’s Poets Against Humanity.

Having said that, almost all of the people running those nights featured at Blind Poetics at one time or another. It will be missed.

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