Sunday, 1 April 2012

Niall O'Sullivan on Poetry Unplugged

Following on from the interview with Emma Hammond, I decided to do something a wee bit more obvious for my second Morning Star article and chatted to Niall O'Sullivan about the long-running "Poetry Unplugged" evening at The Poetry Cafe in London.

Niall and I chatted for a very long time about the history of the evening and some of the memorable guests and memorable incidents there, from Pete Doherty's brief MC'ing stints, to poets bickering with each other over politics, to the big names who took their first nervous steps on the Unplugged mic, to the fisticuffs which seemed to be an occasional feature during the evening's more bohemian days. At the moment, "Unplugged" has settled down into a rather more conventional open mic night where you'll almost never see the same set of poets week in, week out. As such, it's succeeded in becoming London's most important platform for developing new spoken word and poetry talent, free of the stress and competition of slams and being exceptionally warm and welcoming to new, inexperienced readers. If I want to try new material out myself, I'll very rarely go anywhere else to do so - the diversity of an "Unplugged" audience means that the feedback received is always a bit more reliable than at other evenings which have cornered very particular poetry niches in their aim to create a strong identity for themselves. If the evening had to have an advertising slogan, it could possibly be: "If a poem goes down badly at 'Unplugged', it will probably go down badly everywhere"... although that's putting a bit of a negative spin on the whole evening.

The article appeared in "The Morning Star" in March, and in my efforts to keep the whole thing under 800 words long, Niall felt that one of the arguments he was putting forward perhaps wasn't given a completely accurate hearing. Suffice to say, the conversation we had was so interesting and loaded with observations about the history of the London poetry circuit that I could happily have written an article three times the given length and bored no-one, and pulling the entire thing in at the required length felt like a unique form of torture, involving me squirming as I ended up deleting brilliant quote after brilliant quote from the page just to deliver at the required length.

The final article can be found here, and Niall's detailed response where he talks in more depth about one of the key points raised is well worth a read. Apparently this created a lot of social networking gossip after it went to press, but unfortunately I was too busy that week to notice a lot of it - but I'm glad it managed to create a bit of a debate in the end, and hopefully no-one died.

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