I've been part of the Brighton Poetry Scene since 2004. I've been a regular at nights such as Brighton Poetry Society's Open Mic, Hammer & Tongue Slam, Floetics, Horseplay, Wordplay and of course Poets Cornered meetings. I've also done special gigs like Brighton&Hove Peace Festival, Shoreham Beer, Cider & Literature Festival, The Bass Festival, All arts Fiesta, The Poetry Marathon Poets Corner Festival etc. I've had a good time and made lots of friends.
Yet, after five years I've realised that it's bloody hard becoming a professional poet, even semi-professional. You constantly have to suck up to other people in order to get gigs and it's even harder to get poetry published. I'm torn between being a "stage poet" and a "page poet". There are few people who can really pull it off, being good both on stage and page, like Bernadette Cremin and Ros Barber.
What I want to say with this blog post is not that I'm going to stop performing or stop writing poetry, but I'm not going to dedicate as much time to poetry as I used to. It feels like I wrote my best poems and did my best performances 2-3 years ago, and since then I haven't really developed. To become better a poet I need to put in a lot of work: courses, training, studying etc. If I'd put as much effort into poetry and performing as I have put into my novels I'd be a "big star" by now :), but it's hard to succeed in more than one area.
Mainly I'm a novelist and I'm better at writing prose than poetry. I've recently discovered that there's quite a good live scene for short fiction in Brighton with events such as Short Fuse, Sparks, Are you sitting Comfortably? and the former Tight Lip. So I'll cut down on going to poetry events and focus more on the short fiction scene.
It's scary though, starting all over again. When I go to poetry events I feel very comfortable as I know a lot of people and they know me. It's funny that there's a completely different crowd that goes to short fiction events compared to poetry events. What I really like about the poetry scene is that everybody is welcome and everybody can have a go and you get a great mix of people. Of course everybody is welcome at the short fiction events as well, but the main difference is that you have to submit your stories in advance to the short fiction events and only a few get selected to be read on the night, whereas anyone can go up and do anything at a poetry open mic night. It makes the short fiction scene more competitive, but I understand that this is necessary. You can stand listening to a poem that is not to your taste for 5 minutes, but it's worse listening to a story for 15 minutes that is absolute rubbish, so I guess you need some kind of filter.
The reason I started to write poetry at all was that I needed a break from my novel writing, the satisfaction of actually completing something. Poetry used to be my hobby, but somewhere along the line I started to take myself too seriously ... I need to find the FUN again.
I also must admit that I love being on stage. I'm quite shy in real life and often worry about boring people and taking up to much space, but on stage I feel absolutely free: it's my time to speak. Being on stage is also an excuse to dress up. As I don't go clubbing on a regular basis, as I used to in my early twenties, I don't often get a chance to dress up ...
Lastly I'm interested in blog readers opinions: Why do so few people write both prose and poetry? Well, some poets write short stories, but very few write novels. And very few novelists writes poetry, but do write short stories. (As mentioned before you don't see many people from the poetry scene at short story events or many people from the short story scene at poetry events.) For me it's either poems or novels; I find that short stories are a real challenge and haven't written that many, but it's time for a change ...
Photo: Kristen Healy