I have been meaning to write this post for some time now but I’ve never quite got round to it. You see there is an issue which has been bugging me for a while and I think it needs to be urgently addressed and that issue is the behaviour of some people who attend spoken word nights. You see to be honest, I find the lack of manners of some people who attend these nights in which I have been involved in one capacity or other since 1993, to be absolutely astonishing. It has in my opinion reached the stage where someone has to call it out and make no mistake I’m just the girl to do it.
Let me start by saying that this is by no means a new phenomenon. I can recall some really ill mannered poets back in the day. This however was at a time when the spoken word scene was much more male dominated than is the case today and no doubt some people would put it down to raucous testosterone adrenalin fuelled lads having a lark about. Trust me sometimes this testosterone fuelled behaviour could result in a very unpleasant atmosphere and that is never a nice thing to experience.
Eventually things changed for the better and the performers were able to read their work an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere at all the major events of the poetry calendar.
This was with one or two exceptions the norm for most spoken word events from around the millennium until the last couple of years when gradually this toxic drip found its way back to planet poetry.
It seems to be from the end of last year that this ugly trend has accelerated and it disturbs me to say that this lack of acceptable behaviour has made a dramatic return to the scene and believe me I am not the only one whose noticed. Indeed in the last few months three of my favourite poets Jenny Lindsay, Kevin Gilday , and Lesley Traynor have all called it out to me and expressed concern with regards to this issue. Kevin and Lesley spoke to me on the night of the Scottish slam final and Jenny on Sunday at the last ever Rally and Broad.
Whilst Kevin and Lesley’s comments were on the constant finger clicking which marred the event for performers and audience members alike, Jenny complained about someone though she wasn’t sure who talking all through her set at Sonnet Youth which is possibly the most exciting new performance night on the Scottish spoken word since yes you’ve guessed it, Rally and Broad.
This to me is just plain bad manners and that is something for which there is no just excuse. Don’t get me wrong spoken word poets by our very nature love to be centre of attention and we’ve always had our fair share of what I’ve been taught to call spotlight junkies but some of the recent behaviour has been disgraceful.
The finger clicking incident at the Scottish slam final earlier this year really got on my nerves. To be honest I found it reminiscent of the kind of juvenile delinquent prank so beloved by the more obnoxious members of middle class society who think that anyone who disagrees with them as a peasant or an idiot. Someone needs tell these people that poets are not servants and will not jump for anyone. To think otherwise is delusional in the extreme.
Another bone of contention are those poets who consistently talk through other people’s performances. Now I hate to say this but I know of quite a few people who fit in this category and they are not solely confined to those in what sociologists would call the lower working classes. Trust me there are quite a few who would fit in to brackets far higher up the social ladder and some of them are amongst the worst and most frequent offenders.
This behaviour is not only annoying to those in the more immediate vicinity to the poets vocal range it is annoying to everyone in the company and disrespectful downright rude to the performer who is on stage when it takes place. It is bad enough when the person concerned is an audience member who is making a one off or annual attender at the event but when it comes as it so often does from a regular attender at the event or worse still a fellow poet then it is my view completely and totally unforgivable.
My message to this group is both simple and uncompromising and it’s time they were told
this behaviour is unacceptable and if they can’t accept that then maybe they need to have a serious think as to whether or not they should be attending spoken word nights and if they themselves are a performer they should perhaps ask themselves one very simple question. How would they feel if someone talked through their set? Would they be happy about it. I bet they wouldn’t. So my advice to a group my former mentor the late Hughie Healy would have called spotlight junkies is if you don’t respect others then you can’t expect them to respect you.
Now some people may think I’m being a wee bit hard-line on this issue but believe me I’m only saying what many others if they are being honest with themselves are privately thinking. Well let’s be honest , I’ve had more off the record briefings on this matter than political journalists get on the Queen’s speech. Trust me this is a thing in the spoken word community and it time it was brought to an end.
During the past few years I have witnessed a gradual increase in this type of unacceptable behaviour put it is in the past I was able to put this type of heckling down to either the perpetrators drunk or in some cases lacking the education or social graces to understand the etiquette around proper behaviour at spoken word nights. Even at my own night there are those who frequently overrun their allotted and then get more than a bit uppity when you explain this to them. Indeed I was told by one such individual to shut up when I corrected them on this issue and told them to stop banging on tables during performances.
Not content with making a fool of themselves once, this same person also made another huge blot in their copybook when without prior permission they informed a musician I had previously never heard of, though I have got to know the guy since, that he could come to an event to be featured musician because we were in this person’s words struggling for musicians. Now apart from the fact this was nonsense, and caused a lot of unnecessary hassle, if the person concerned who is known to be a spotlight junkie had opened their ears and shut their mouth just a wee bit more often they would have realised that this particular night had been planned months in advance. However as is always the case with this particular individual shutting up does not come easy since they are low on attention span and high on self importance.
Since the person I refer to in this last instance is perhaps shall we say not the brightest bulb in the light factory I try to accommodate them and give them a bit of leeway. At least I have done until now what I don’t do however is give that same leeway to those who I believe should know better yet continue to show disrespect to other performers by clowning around and acting like idiots whilst other people are attempting to read their work.
This to me shows a lack of respect for other writers and is never acceptable under any circumstances. Maybe it was because when I was schooled in the spoken word scene it was by poets and writers like Words and Music co-founder Pamela Duncan her partner in crime, and the man I succeeded as compere of Words and Music Hughie Healy and Castlemilk’s first poetic family Jim and Cathy Craig that I knew the value of listening to other performers. Sad as I am to say it this is not always the case at this moment in our history and some people seem to think that not being on stage gives them a licence to talk. I have news for these people this is not true nor has it ever been.
If certain people have problems with shutting up there are others who draw attention to themselves by having other equally annoying habits such as making seal noises instead of giving the traditional and appropriate round of applause at the each poem. The first time I heard this I found it slightly strange but it didn’t bother me too much, but it wasn’t long before it became irritating to the point of annoyance. Like the finger clicking brigade this is the kind of action that I know annoys others because they have spoken to me about it and commented on both the immaturity and lack of respect conveyed by this kind of behaviour. On chatting to the culprit I asked him in true east end Glasgow girl
style what the hell he thought he was doing then without a trace of irony he said I’m giving the seal of approval.
Now I hate to disillusion the guy but having been a regular attender at spoken word nights since 1993 I don’t need his seal of approval or anyone else’s for matter. You see I know a good poem when I hear one or for that matter write one. It is I think fair to say that this kind of attention seeking behaviour really gets on my nerves. There is no place for on the spoken word scene for this kind of inflated sense of self importance and it can and does tend to spoil people’s enjoyment of the evening.
Now I don’t I want that kind of attitude what I do want is to be able to perform my work and listen to that of others in an atmosphere where everyone is included valued and welcomed what they can bring to the event.
It is for that reason that I believe this post had to be written. You see sometimes in life you have to speak the truth to power and controversial though my views may be to some I believe it is time to value our poets and musicians by shaming the serial offenders because it’s time to call time on the spotlight junkies with attention seeking syndrome and tell them to seek attention elsewhere.
Love And Best Wishes