Poets are everywhere! They’re in your bars, on your TVs, lurking in the shadows of West End side streets reciting half-remembered sonnets. In coffeeshops crying over black, leather notebooks with liquid ink pens. They’re in your dreams and your worst nightmares and they’re on the bill for every big event going on in your city. They are engraining themselves into your minds, such that come time for you to put together your charity fundraiser, or opening night, your brain heaves under the weight of verse and meter.
So, you decide to book a poet! But HOW?
Here is a rundown of three considerations to make, in this poetry heavy city, when you want to showcase a performance poet. Tips to make the night run well and the lives of both you, and your performer, a helluva lot easier.
- Choose a poet that fits the event.
Some poets aren’t a good fit for some shows. This means that before you approach that one fantastic act you saw at that one show you were at, or the one girl your mate won’t stop going on about, look at their work. Check their online presence, the previous shows they’ve done and if possible, see them live before you set your heart on them performing at your events.
If you don’t know any poets that fit the bill, and you can’t make it along to any upcoming shows to scout talent – the internet exists! There are many, many places to post up Calls for Performers where you can explain what you need when, and watch as the poets fight amongst themselves for your attention until the winner emerges, blood soaked and stage-hungry.
- Be clear about what you need and what you have.
YAY! You have the ideal poet for your show, now you need to contact them. Easy enough to do, apparently difficult to get right. Most poets will not, or will not want to, show up on the night with a repertoire of everything they’ve ever written to last whatever set list you wish to give them. We write, we learn, we devises sets with themes and narratives and then we practice incessantly in the weeks leading up to the show. It seems common sense, but that can’t be done if we don’t know whether we have five minutes, or forty-five.
Now, with that level of work in mind, let’s talk about payment. You can’t always offer payment, and not all poets will always expect you too. BUT, you also should never book any performer (poets included) to go through all of the steps above, and then take your stage without having at least considered if you can pay them. Whether it’s an unpaid charity show (and that’s fine), a cut of the door sales (also okay), or an agreed fee, just be upfront with the performer at the first point of contact. As Scott Wood says in this very helpful article on paying poets, “What the poet offers is clear; what you offer is not.”
- Remember – they are a poet, not a musician!
So, it’s the night of your event! You have a big name poet who fits your theme perfectly and you have come to an arrangement over time and payment. What do poets need on the night?
Booking a poet isn’t always like booking a musician. We don’t need to be there two and a half hours before doors open to mic check, most of the time. A quick shot on the stage, a couple of words through the mic is the most that’s generally needed – especially in a new venue. Other organisational considerations can make all the difference as well, knowing when they are going to be on stage and a host to introduce them.
It is also the case that poetry doesn’t work as well as music if you’re looking for background noise to general bar chit-chat or other events in the same room. For the loudest and the most energetic of performers, a noise-y and otherwise occupied crowd is disheartening, but for page poets and the more softly spoken, it is sheer kryptonite.
HEY! LOOK! You just put on an awesome show with a poet in it! Everyone’s happy! You’re furthering the wordy revolution!
I hope it’s the case that none of this came as a surprise to anyone. I hope you now think me an idiot for stating the obvious over a long winded internet blog. I hope you have poets booked up for all of your upcoming shows with confidence everyone will have a good time. Because none of these things should put you off booking a poet. It’s easy. Just different. And that’s what you’ll get from it, a show which is diverse and fun. So do it. Find the right poet! Make your pitch! Treat them like a poet! And run an awesome night!
[Ross McFarlane – @RossDMcFarlane]