Newcomers rock up for a ‘turn’

“This is the first time we’ve gone public,” says Parveen as platters of sandwiches and samosas are laid out in preparation, “so I’m really excited about that.”

It’s Friday night and yet again we’re at Sensory World in Dewsbury for the fourth edition of Creative Scene’s spoken word event.

Up until now organiser Parveen has invited local writing groups and poets first hand. “For tonight’s event we had some postcards printed and I put them in libraries, in the railway station and around the pubs that I know do open mic events. Let’s see who rocks up.

“This is tonight’s host,” says Parveen introducing me to a man rubbing the front of his T-shirt. “I’ve just been for something to eat,” says Phil Pearce, “and got mango chutney all down me.”

Phil and I find a quiet corner for a quick interview. “What did you make of it when Parveen asked you to compere this evening?”

“I wrote my first ever poem and performed it on stage last October, so all this is very new to me,” he says, “and this is the first time I’ve been asked to host. It’s brilliant.”

Phil tells me he started to write when he was in prison. “In 2013 I was convinced for drug offences – I’d been addicted for 10 years – and the first poem I’m going to read tonight is about my addiction.”

More people arrive, most are regulars but I spot a couple of faces I haven’t seen before. “I work at Dewsbury Library,” says Katie. “And this is Ash.”

“Do you write and perform?” I ask Katie’s friend.

“I’m in a band and write music,” says Ash, “but no, we’re just observing tonight.”

“Well, last time a young woman was so inspired by what she heard in the first set that she wrote a piece in the break and performed it in the second half,” I say. “So you never know. Have you got a pen?”

After a brief welcome from Parveen, Phil is on his feet and, by way of introduction, apologises for the chutney stain.

His poem about drugs – “Hello, my name’s Phil and I’m an addict” – is followed by a very personal one about cancer and a third about knife crime.

“Let’s get all the heavy stuff out of the way in the first half,” he jokes, “so we can lighten things up after the break.”

One performer follows another. There are pieces about dementia, loneliness, volunteering, NHS privatisation, community unity and a lament for the passing of the X33 bus.

While we all tuck into the sandwiches and samosas at half time I notice we’ve been joined by a group of five young woman.

Maariya tells me she’s been writing a blog for a couple of years now and she heard about tonight’s event at the library. “What’s your blog about?” I ask.

“Contemporary topics about Indian life,” she says. “I write about marriage, friendship, forgiveness, the future, ego, that sort of thing. But I’ve never read anything in front of a group before.”

“Are you nervous?” Maariya holds her hand flat above her head.

“You’ll be fine. They’re a friendly and supportive bunch.”

Before the second half kicks off I catch up with Katie and Ash again. “Written anything yet?” I ask Ash.

“No, but, to be fair, it’s been very inspiring. It has actually made me want to give it a go. Maybe for the next one.”

“Wow, brilliant,” I say genuinely. “And Katie, I’ve just been chatting to Maariya.”

“Yes, she was talking to a colleague about her blog and I gave her one of the postcards Parveen had left. And yeah, she’s come along tonight.”

“Okay,” shouts Phil, “Are we ready for the second half?”

For details of the next It’s a Word Thing, keep an eye on Creative Scene’s website or email parveen@creativescene.org.uk

“I don’t do slam poetry, yet. But watch this space.”

Tonight I’m the roving reporter. Before the presentations kick off at The Butchers Arms, Vicky and I leave to catch the second half of a poetry evening back in Dewsbury.

“There’s a lot of interest in spoken word around the area,” explains the Creative Scene producer as we pass under the railway viaduct, “and some popular poetry groups. With this event we’re trying to bring some of that together and draw on the cultural background of West Yorkshire.

“So anyone can present their work in whatever language they’re comfortable with.”

We arrive at Sensory World on Westgate during the break which gives me the chance to put my tape recorder in front of Vicky’s colleague, Parveen who organises It’s A Word Thing.

“There’s a real openness about this group,” she explains, “some people come to perform their poetry, others come just to listen. But everyone is really supportive and nurturing.

“What’s happened so far this evening?” I ask. “What have we missed?”

“We’ve already had three poems about the election,” says Parveen. “There’s really something immediate about this artform, something urgent. Last time we met on the day of Trump’s inauguration and we had two poems about that.”

“This is the third one we’ve had and it’s lovely to see that already we’re getting a cohort of regulars,” says Parveen. I notice Glen, Marina and Jason who I’ve met at Creative Scene’s The Social, a networking gathering that hosted at The Old Turk across the road.

And there’s Stella from the Idle Woman canal boat project who’s brought along some local women they’ve been working with. Parveen says one of them, Nicola, has been so moved by what’s she heard in the first half that she’s penned some verse – her first ever – for the second.

“Okay, shall we get started again,” calls out tonight’s MC Tamsin Cook above the chatter.

Tamsin kicks the second set off with a poem she considered performing earlier. “I didn’t feel we knew each other well enough back then,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek. “The reason will become immediately clear: I wrote this in response to some everyday sexism I experienced walking home one evening.”

Tamsin’s ‘adult’ poem draws hoots of laughter from many in the audience but, judging by the odd stony face, it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

After a couple more, she introduces the second half performers. Some are seasoned performers. Others, like Nicola, are trying this for the first time.

Mancunian Joel reads from his first book. “All these poems are about freedom,” he says, “sometimes personal freedom, sometimes political.”

Judith from Batley recites some traditional verse about trees whereas Marina gets stuck in with poems about feminism, swearing and another about the election.

“This fatwa on foul language is just a distraction/what counts in my book is the sum of your action.”

After Jason and Parveen have done their bit Tamsin brings the evening to a close and I get to speak to some of the ‘turns’.

“I love all the different types of poetry at this event,” says Judith who is a member of poetry groups in Batley and Cleckheaton. “My poetry is a bit old-fashioned because I like things to  rhyme. I don’t do slam poetry, yet. But watch this space.”

“It’s good to meet local people,” says Marina, standing with Glen. “We often go further afield to spoken word events. But it’s not ideal. You have to leave early for the last train and you miss all this chat.

“I definitely like this open mic format,” she says. “It’s good to listen to people who are a bit nervous and haven’t shared their work before. It’s an honour for us isn’t it? They feel comfortable enough with us as their audience. And we feel proud that we’ve made it possible for them.

“The bigger venues aren’t special like that. This is really open. Open to anyone who wants to speak.”

For details of the next It’s a Word Thing, keep an eye on Creative Scene’s website or email parveen@creativescene.org.uk