Poetic revolution

Matt Abbott, founder member of A Firm of Poets.
Matt Abbott, founder member of A Firm of Poets.
  • A group of Yorkshire poets are taking spoken word on the road for a UK tour – and they are inviting people to take part. Yvette Huddleston reports.
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Poetry – and particularly performance poetry – has been enjoying something of a resurgence over the past few years. And not before time – it is an art form that makes an instant connection, a distillation of emotion that speaks to people in a direct and visceral way.

That connection is exactly what Yorkshire-based collective A Firm of Poets are seeking to bring to a wider audience on their People’s Republic of Poetry UK tour.

Founded by poets Matt Abbott and Ralph Dartford after a visit to Glastonbury two and a half years ago, A Firm of Poets now also includes fellow poets Genevieve Walsh, Matthew Stoppard and John Darwin as permanent members.

“At Glastonbury we went to see a lot of spoken word and a lot of it was quite snobbish poetry written for other poets,” says Abbott. “It frustrated us because we think that poetry should be more accessible, so we thought we would try and get something going in West Yorkshire.”

Since then they have built up quite a reputation and a following, having appeared at several festivals including Harrogate International Arts Festival, Grassington Festival, Wakefield Lit Fest and Beacons Festival where they were named Word of Mouth Sensation 2014. Last year they also established a monthly Poetry and a Pint residence at Café Lux in Pudsey and they have twice supported star of performance poetry Kate Tempest.

“The whole point of A Firm of Poets is not to dumb down poetry but to make it entertaining – although it’s not all comedic, some of it is quite hard-hitting,” says Abbott. “We have people in the audience who might be coming to a poetry night for the first time and they have a really great time. We are challenging their perceptions of poetry.”

Key to The People’s Republic of Poetry is the participatory element of the show.

“For every date on the tour we organise a workshop beforehand in which we give tips on performance technique and if you feel comfortable you can perform as part of the show that evening,” explains Abbott. “Anybody can do it – not that it’s easy – but most people can have a go at writing a poem. It is a condensed way of people documenting their opinion and, as Twitter has proved, people want that opinion and commentary. With a poem it can hit you straight away.”

The group’s aim is to create a network of spoken word performers throughout the UK and work performed by the participants in the shows will also be added to an online e-book, which will grow as the tour travels around the country. Already a few dates in, Abbott says the tour is going well so far, while the workshops and the novice performance poets taking to the stage have all been of a high standard.

“You never know what to expect, it’s brilliant,” he says. “And that part of the show is always one of my favourite bits. It starts the second half and the audience are so responsive – they are always really encouraging. Poetry brings people together.”

• Firm of Poets are performing The People’s Republic of Poetry at Musicport Festival, Whitby on October 17; Cast, Doncaster, October 22, Helmsley Arts Centre, October 31; HUB Leeds, November 8; Unity Works, Wakefield, November 26; and The Civic, Barnsley, November 28. www.afirmofpoets.com