How many poetry scenes are there?
This is a very good question. The list below is not exhaustive and is based upon the experiences of our staff.
Readings (a): Events where poetry is mostly read and tends to be more serious, thoughtful and contemplative in nature: “page” poetry meant to be read rather than “stage” poetry which is written to be performed. Guest poets tend to have some sort of literary pedigree; i.e. have several collections published and /or have won a prize or award and/or be up and coming with a first collection. Poets are applauded at the end of their reading and not after each poem. A genteel, mainly white middle class audience in my experience (Nothing wrong with that, merely an observation). May or may not include an open mic session.
(b): High end "elite" readings. These are the type of events that most people think all poetry is like but are actually quite rare. There is no denying that sometimes, just sometimes poetry can veer towards the pretentious and it is in this type of reading you are most likely to encounter it. Poems are read which leave you bemused because of imagery or literary references so obscure you feel you need an enigma machine to decode it. Other trends include translations of 18th century Chilean poets; white people performing in West Indian patois; and writing in the voice of a middle-eastern orphan when the poet hasn’t even been to Calais on a day-trip.
Poetry slams: Poetry slams are on first meeting, a strange concept: art in competition. The merits of slams have been debated long into many nights by far greater authorities than me so let me just say they exist and what you can expect to find. Poets have a set time limit (usually three minutes) to read or perform their poem(s). The audience applaud, judges give scores and there is generally a more rowdy*, buzzy atmosphere.
Poetry slams tend to have a higher energy with performance skills valued as highly as writing. They tend to (sometimes unfairly but not always) favour comedy and / or the spurned lover (aka "but then you f***ed someone else" poems) and / or poems with a message. Often there will be guest poets who perform or read before or after the slam.
* Rowdiness can go down as well as up depending on the location, audience and how much alcohol has been consumed.
Festival slams: As above but with more chance of a "first look" audience particularly for performance poetry. Comedy and / or literary parody tend to be favoured here. Sometimes you can actually hear the penny dropping that poetry can be entertainment as well as art. Sometimes people want to burn you as a witch.
Open-mic nights: A democratic experience where there is no special guest and everyone gets the same mic time. You will usually find a mixed bag of page and stage poetry, sometimes musical backing. They can be awesomely brilliant or tediously dull and most have elements of both extremes each time. Open Mics are the bedrock of the grass roots scene and people who run them out of their love for the art form should be sainted, knighted and have all sorts of love showered on them but don’t.
Open mic with guests: As above except half the night is open mic but there will be one or more special guests who take extended feature spots.
"Named" or" branded" performance poetry events: These are events that have an identity or theme and each time you know the sort of poet you will be seeing although the line up changes. It may incorporate some open slots or a small slam but most of the mic time is given over to booked guests for your entertainment and edification.
Theatre or arts centre type performances: Unless your name is on the poster you won't be taking the stage. Poetry as performance to engage the audience, convey a message, make they think or just enthral. These performances may use visuals, music and other elements of multimedia and may have a theme or narrative.
Stand-up poetry (for want of a better term): In the same environment as above but will have jokes, banter or patter in between poems. 98.7% of the time, the gig ends with a song. Shows are often on their way to or from Edinburgh.
Bardic expressions: Nights and writers that invoke the spirit of Awen. Lyrical poetry dominates here often written to a theme such as "new life" etc. Music will be evident. Bongos will often be played, whether you like it or not.
Cabaret/burlesque: Poetry appears as just one strand of a mixed evening of entertainment featuring comedy, music, sketches, dancing girls etc. The poems often tend to be about sex.
Poetry club read-arounds: The poetry club sit in a circle and read poems on a theme. The poems may be original or previously published. Sometimes they will feature a specific genre or author. Sometimes they will have a guest poet and these will tend to be published “page” poets.
Well paid poetry: A mythical form of poetry that lives in the same spirit realm as the Yeti, unicorns and Shergar.