Spoken word


By Cressida Peever 

“Toast + Jam is an exciting new addition to the Durham arts scene. Taking place from 7:30pm on 18th June in The Empty Shop, it is an evening of spoken word, live music, art… and toast!”

We interviewed Hannah Andrews the Event Producer to find out what the event is all about…

What can we expect from a ‘spoken word’ performance?

Spoken Word is poetry intended to be read out loud, rather than being destined to stay on the page. You should expect a spoken word gig to be a high energy and powerful form of expression, that is funny, relevant, and often moving.

What drew you to produce such an event?

For me, there is nothing more exhilarating producing a live arts event, bringing together different creative elements to produce a transporting experience for the audience. I also feel that, whilst spoken word is thriving in cities across England, and in particular London, sadly it is still a very unfamiliar art form in Durham. With this event, I hope to produce something fun and contemporary, that helps add another element to the Durham arts scene.

Who will be performing?

We have three really great poets coming from Bristol, Leeds, and Sheffield all of whom are students and very talented artists. They will be performing alongside some fab live musicians from the local area.

Why have you chosen these artists in particular?

They are all very talented, and all have a very distinct style. Their styles really complement each other, and together they make for a very varied and exciting line-up!

Why should readers come to the event?

It is unlike most other events that you are likely to see in Durham. It is an opportunity to become part of a big and fast growing arts movement across the UK, and world. Most of all, it will be a whole lot of fun!

What sort of person would enjoy the evening?

Anyone who is creative, or enjoys live performance, comedy, or music would enjoy this event. If you don’t think you like poetry, you should come along just to see how different ‘poetry’ can be from the expected norm.

What’s all this about toast?!

Aha, you’ll have to come along to find out!

We also spoke to one of the event’s poets, Jasmine Simms. She is 18 years old and is coming to Durham next year.

How would you describe your poetry?

My poetry is largely observational. I write about things which are familiar to me: music, school, the internet, people in my life. It tends to be written from female perspectives (though not always), and my better poems also use speech which is idiomatic to me.

When did you first start writing and why?

I began writing poetry seriously at aged fifteen; the same time as I began reading poetry. The contemporary poetry on the GCSE syllabus attracted me, and I felt empowered to respond in the same language. I had a very nurturing and inspiring English teacher.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been driven by a single conscious motivation. I sometimes feel that poetry is how we answer our own questions – those underwritten in our unconscious. Writing a poem is like surprising yourself with answer, then you have to go back and try to work out what the question was…

Writing a poem is like surprising yourself with answer, then you have to go back and try to work out what the question was

What about your work makes you most proud?

I’m pleased with a poem if I feel like it’s resolved something for me. I’m not sure to what extent we can ever be sure it will have resolved something for others; that part of the process (sharing) is always a leap of faith.

But I feel happy whenever a friend, or anyone, reads a poem of mine and says it speaks to them. I suppose that’s why poets are in the business really – besides the fact that writing is compulsive, and the poem, it seems, needs to be written whether you ‘intend’ to write it or not.

I’ve had so much support as a young writer and I like to think that when I experience pride, it’s as much for the community I write in, and for how we are able to relate to and empower each other.

Who has had the greatest influence on your work?

The first contemporary poetry I ever read was Simon Armitage, which had a transformative effect on me. I remember my shock and awe at how he used “stuff” in a poem. I love that word far too much now, and have to restrict myself – no more than once every three poems. But it’s a fantastically meaningful word if used genuinely.

At this moment, I’m very interested in American poet Adrienne Rich, particularly her later stuff (see – a great word!) which is often quite fearless in subject matter. Good poetry is often brave, I think, although frequently in an every-day sort of way.

Why are events such as this one important to you?

The nice thing about writing poetry is you get to read it out in your own voice, with your own presence. Events like this are where I and other new poets get to do that, so for us they’re invaluable.

But also from a more general perspective, I suppose Arts Festivals are integral to the continued reception of new work. Which in turn is part of how we continue to communicate our experiences and make sense of our lives. It saddens me to see the arts being devalued in our education system.

What makes poetry still relevant to a 21st century audience?

Ezra Pound famously said “poetry is news that stays news” – a literary truism that’s been so over-quoted it’s almost taken on a distinct, obscure meaning. None the less, I understand it to mean that poetry conveys what could never have been said in literal terms, but somehow engages with our collective unconscious. So a poem never ceases to be ‘true’ in an immediate sense – its urgency is retained by the fact we can’t ever fully understand it.

Another popular idea (and one that I relate to) is that we’re all essentially writing the same poem over and over, or adding our single voice to a ‘choir’. In that sense, poetry becomes just one of many mediums for being a part of and engaging with the world. We still live in the world, and it’s the same world. So it’s still relevant.

Tickets are £2 (conc)/£3 (standard). No need to book in advance, just turn up and someone will be on the door to let you in!

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