Poetika Open Mic Night The Winchester gate, Salisbury. Tues 21st March 2023

By Helen Edwards

A few weeks ago whilst scrolling through social media an advert for this event came up.  Intrigued and having never been to a poetry night before I popped it into my calendar.  The date soon came round and I nearly bailed… too much to do, too far to drive, too dark, cold, lazy.  But before making the final call I did some research.  My main discovery was that the 21st March is in fact, World Poetry Day.  So that was that, decision made and done.  I was on my way to have poetry fun (yep, I know).

I arrived at the pub adjacent to Salisbury’s ring road, went to the bar, and found myself standing next to a very tall Queen of Hearts. A huge auburn beehive wig added to her intimidating height.  The theme (I remembered) was ‘Through the Looking-Glass”.  Already feeling out of place with my usual jeans, sweater, and trainers garb, I tentatively walked into the intimate and warm side-room. Twenty or maybe thirty people sat, perched, or stood near tables decorated with playing cards and jam tarts, all facing the low stage embellished with tinsel and a large mirror reflecting their expectant faces.

Watching the final stragglers squeeze in, it became clear that most of the audience knew each other or of each other. Because of this the atmosphere felt supportive and inclusive.  I sipped my wine, relaxed and opened my mind. Then BAM.  The Queen of Hearts, Alice and the Rabbit, ‘I’m late, I’m late!’ jumped on stage and performed a semi-rehearsed intro show. Scripts in hand and costumes adorned, the passion and dedication to Poetika came across to all.  My initiation into the poetry night proved louder, brasher and way more fun than anticipated.

With the ice, and not the mirror, broken the poets took to the mic.  The Queen of Hearts, Nikki (I learnt at the interval that Nicki is the chief organiser of Poetika) stepped up to read her fast paced, caustic, funny lines. It wasn’t solely the poems that had me chuckling; Nicki’s striking resemblance in looks and mannerisms to the eclectic and talented Sue Pollard amused me throughout. When I told her in the break that her poems reminded me of John Cooper-Clarke, the famous punk poet and I was informed that she was his support act for part of a past tour. How cool.  It’s obvious that JCC has been a huge influence on her work. I was offered a slot on stage in the second half to read my own stuff and responded by nodding whilst shaking my head simultaneously unsure as to whether I’d just enthusiastically agreed or vehemently declined.

Back to the first half. After Nicki came a succession of amateur poets, including Poetika’s Alice (Ria) with her clever plot and sweet but sharp delivery and the Rabbit (Jamie).  I sat consumed, listening deeply, trying not to miss the, at times, lightning quick word concoctions. It became clear that this was theatre. This was not a read-off-the-page poetry recital but a pure and raw exposure of one’s writing, wit, and inner workings. Deep and true – as poetry can be … with a big dose of stage presence.  

Two of the next performers achieved a stand-up comedic delivery with inspired words and accompanying audience participation. Ripper’s ‘Cider’ poem, a fun crowd pleaser, was read with an air of self-deprecating, drole, deadpan humour. Move over Romesh Ranganathan.  The other, Craig, is a born comedian. He evoked laughter throughout his set but brushed aside each short poem with a ‘and that’s that one!’ remark, his poetry performance tic.

My favourite act of the night allowed all present to dive right through the looking-glass and into the authors heart. Echo, a beautifully presented human with self expression etched on every inch of clothing, jewellery, exposed skin and hair was outstanding. I cannot compare the writing to any other: FYI my current education level in poetry is pretty low so to me it was totally unique.  A mirror to the soul was shared and if I hadn’t heard another all night, the poem, ‘T1’ alone was worth hauling my butt to Salisbury for. Softly delivered, a hard-hitting exposure to drug use walked us around a squat and Echo’s mind.  A beautiful shock of a poem.  The lines, ‘I glance up, I see myself in the mirror malnourished, dying.  I look away quickly to convince myself my reflection is just simply lying’ speak for themselves.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Echo’s words are bouncing off much bigger venues’ walls in the future.

The event’s special guest came next, the professional poet, Claire H from Bournemouth. Claire began with a capsule lesson on poetry agreeing with another writer (sorry, source unknown) that poetry ‘isn’t a hiding place it’s a finding place’.  Claire H, a self-branded witch poet, told her transfixed guests that ‘poetry saved her life’. ‘That old chestnut’ I hear you smirk but I believed every word. And judging by the reflective silence that followed it seemed many were concluding similar, that words had performed a transformative magic on them too.

Claire’s stage presence, from her downright natural, cool-as demeanour to her dance-like arm movements marked her out as ‘the professional’ on the night. Even her poems had their own stand to be read from. I immediately connected both with Claire’s honest, clear and charged poems and her generous and kind personality. She told me at the interval that she reads tarot cards but apart from this and her signature black fingerless gloves I wasn’t really feeling the broomstick vibes. Maybe the reference to ‘burning effigies of all those women I wasn’t’ was the giveaway.

Claire’s ‘England’ poem was excellent: political, clever, personal and relatable. But my preferred piece was ‘Forty’ describing what it can be like to be a woman in the fourth decade of life right now. Spot on.  The snippet that has stayed with me however came from her ‘Love and Other Natural Disasters’ poem: ‘Fractured affections and dislocated devotions’.  Claire left us with the insightful advice ‘to look to the poetry of your intuition’.  

The interval was like a cold-water immersion into a truly creative bunch of people.  It was powerfully revitalising and eye-opening to see glimpses of lives lived so differently to my own. I wanted more.  

Act two came with more solid performances from Poetika trio, Nicky (reading John Cooper-Clarke), Jamie with his ‘Tory’ poem, and Ria with her superb ‘Black Dog’ piece. Ria’s quirky, sweet radiance could fool one into mis-labelling but listen to this poem, and you will hear a voice full of strength and intelligence. Respect to you, Ria, for picking a fight with Sir Winston Churchill.  You educated and made us see that his labelling of black dogs as synonymous with depression was wrong. I love how Ria’s quiet passion permeated the room and how her words weaved anger and the virtues of black dogs into a great poem.

We had a Gary Stringer (lead singer of 90’s band, Reef) look-alike sing a lovely song about his mum’s death, Lois a relative newbie reading her second poem of the night and more from the comedy poets Ripper and his mate ‘and that’s that one!’ Craig.  We had Hopper, confidently read his second poem and then we had me.  Confidence slipped away as I heard my name called. Tummy swirling, I floated above the scene and listened as I read out a personal piece of me.  I received a warm clap and vocal praise.  Thank you Poetika, my ego enjoyed the moment.  I write for me but sharing on the night was good.  And inspiring. The following day I wrote two poems.

If you want to sit back and take in the theatre, the warmth, the tough emotions and the laughter then I would highly recommend going along to Poetika in Salisbury. You will be welcomed and hopefully, as I was, surprised and inspired by the talent in the room.  If you have an inkling that you’d like to get up on stage to read then please do. I may have had an out of body experience but it’s charged me up like a supernova. You could always do what I did and go on your own.  If you die on stage you never have to go back… if no one you know hears it, it never really happened, right?

Thanks Team Poetika. See you in the future.

Next Poetika night: 18th April 2023, 7.30pm The Winchester Gate, Salisbury. Theme: tbc.


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