Amidst the decline in record sales, an arts scene in turmoil and publishers worrying about disappearing bookstores, something has been missed - poetry is actually in rude health, as David Bryant observes.
Last week, I attended one of the most stunning, electric live performances I've witnessed in all my years as a cultural critic. The roars of enthusiasm from the audience left my ears ringing the following morning - they had all stomped their feet and applauded some of the most beautiful, engaging lyricism I've witnessed in a live venue. It's one of those moments that stays with you for a long time, and as I wandered about London on my business that day, I treasured my ringing eardrum like a momento of the occasion. The words of the performer were still reeling around my head, and so, in a very real sense, was the aftermath of the applause.
So where was I? At a pop concert by the Kaiser Chiefs, perhaps? At a live comedy show by the brilliant Jack Whitehall? Not at all. The spectacle I had seen was a new phenomenon known as a live poetry event. It's misleading to say this is anything new, of course - poetry readings have been around since the dawn of the form itself - but they didn't look or sound like this until a few months ago. Until now, you would have expected a few people sitting thoughtfully in a candlelit room sipping wine, but "Having A Word" is a night completely railing against such tedious trends. Staged in the dingy Unigate Diary Club in Camden, essentially a grubby pub backroom usually unbothered by cultural events, it's attracting some of the city's hippest movers and shakers, all there to watch poetry being delivered with passion and intent. I was in attendance to view and hear Mary Gold delivering rhythmic and rhyming truths about society in Coalition Britain, and everyone, from Kate Nash to the street urchins hanging out at the back, was enthralled. Just as comedy in the eighties took an alternative bent and began to challenge the status quo, that's precisely what the maligned artform of poetry has only just started to do today. Never before have I heard such cutting and relevant art delivered in such a stylish and engaging manner.
There are people who will falsely claim that poetry fails to connect with young people, and yesterday I also witnessed something staggering which proves them wrong. Whilst being robbed by a hoodie in a back street in a bit of Camden quite close to the venue itself, I took the opportunity to ask my assailant if there were any poets he liked.
"Yeah," he said, holding his knife thoughtfully for a moment so it glinted in the sun. "Mary Gold". Then he stole my Blackberry. But the loss was worth it just for confirming my conviction that poetry is well and truly Alive, and I almost skipped towards the police station to report him. You'd better believe it - from street corner hoodies to university professors, everyone knows the Bards are Back.