It is often said of Liverpool that many of it’s inhabitants are unaware of the variety of cultural events that occur regularly. Last year I went to my local pub for some much needed refreshment after walking around Light Night. When I began talking to one of the regulars about what I had seen his reply was “I didn’t know about that. It wasn’t well advertised was it?” This seems to be the case all too often. As Peter Guy posited in a recent article for the Echo we just do not seem to know what we have got.
One such entity of which people seem blissfully unaware is the spoken word and poetry scene. Many “open mic nights” are held at various venues all over the city every month. One such event is Rhymes And Records which is run by Lyndsay Price.
Held on the second Tuesday of every month Rhymes And Records, as it’s name suggests, originally took place in Jacaranda Records which occupies the top floor of the iconic Slater Street bar.
However it soon outgrew it’s original space. This took Lyndsay and the venue by surprise. “It’s not often that spoken word or poetry nights are populated that much” she tells me just before she sets up the chairs for the October event. “For the first one I was not expecting it to be as big as it was at all.”
Rhymes And Records differs from other events in a number of ways. It features a headline act every month. “That gets people in and I think it attaches a bit of quality to the night, knowing that you get to see somebody.” Lyndsay tells me. It was also originally planned for the night to be filmed and put online. Whilst she has not been able to do this for the past few nights it is something she intends to start again as soon as she can.
Another factor introduced to distinguish Rhymes And Records from other night is the monthly theme. A suggestion box is put by the door for ideas for the next event. This is to encourage people to write new material and can encourage people to write about topics that would not have occurred to them otherwise. Although the theme for any one evening is by no means set in stone. “People can opt out.” Lyndsay says as some people arrive early during our chat. “That is fine.”
Also the central ethos of the night is the idea that it is a “safe space.” Lyndsay explains “a lot of people will use poetry as a tool to speak about things that are most important to them. For a lot of people that can cover all sorts of topics: homophobia, racism, classism, abuse, mental health, the list goes on. I think it’s really important to give people a space where they can express themselves but alongside that certain things have to be in place in order to make sure that people enjoy their night as much as possible. We ask performers to include a trigger warning if they feel there is a chance someone may be affected by the themes in their poem.”
Whilst the idea of performing may fill some people, especially first time performers, with dread the atmosphere of the night is welcoming to everybody who wants to get up and perform.
“I think everyone who comes to the nights now holds a certain level of respect for one another. Be that performer or audience member. When we have people perform for the first time one of the things I always hear is that they were surprised by how supportive the other poets and audience members where. People will go out of their way to speak to someone about their poem if they enjoyed it and I just love that. I think we’ve definitely started to create a little community here and that’s such a positive thing to see!” Lyndsay tells me as the cellar space begins to fill and it becomes obvious that our interview must come to an end. I take a spot at the back of the room to watch the open mic performers.
Whilst there is no theme for tonight many of the performers, inspired by the recent World Mental Health Day, choose pieces about their own mental health. Californian Maral Kassabain-Svendsen performs a powerful piece inspired by his own experiences. It is also his first performance as a man having recently transitioned. He tells me that the finds the atmosphere at Rhymes And Records makes him feels at ease when performing.
Continuing on the subject of mental health, scouser Georgina Tyson performed a piece about returning to work after time off. She tells me later that she uses poetry to deal with her depression. Maureen Amadi also addresses her mental health and experiences living with an eating disorder in her poem entitled “The Desperate Life Of…” She also performs “Return To Home” a work inspired by her impending return to her native Nigeria after living and studying in the UK for six years.
On a no less personal note Amina Atiq performed “In My Name And In My Presence I Defend” a powerful piece inspired by her own and other people’s experiences of islamophobia. She also gave a rendition of “What Do I Know, Oh People Of Yemen?” a work inspired by her home country but written some time ago. Tonight’s performance was inspired by recent military action that resulted in the bombing of a hospital by Saudi Arabia. Further missiles were launched a short time after the initial attack in order to target the people who were coming to the assistance of the initial victims.
As people leave I get the opportunity to talk to the evening’s headline act. Edinburgh resident Miko Berry was European Slam Champion of 2015 and is a full time poet. “I’m one of the lucky ones” he tells me laughingly “if that’s the way you want to look at it positively.” He comes to Merseyside quite often and holds workshops with various schools and youth groups.
When asked what he liked about the evening he talks about the respect that the other performers and audience had for the people on stage. He also liked the variety of different styles on display. “If you were a heavy metal guitarist at a general music night and someone did Beethoven you mightn’t appreciate it. I am the opposite I love seeing people do things that I can’t.”
Miko’s set included “Sorry” which was inspired a work by Scots poet Jackie Kay but about his own suicide attempt. “That horrible embarrassment of waking up and your mum being there and feeling like a child again” he tells me “there is so much emotion in a situation like that on both sides.”
However his performance is far from somber. “I love tricking people by making them laugh and then tell them something serious” he tells me. This was obvious during his performance when he pauses in the delivery of this rather personal and heartfelt work to acknowledge the fact that Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” is playing on the jukebox upstairs.
The next Rhymes And Records takes place on November 8th. The headliner is yet to be announced. For more information check out the Facebook page here.