Discover England's Spoken Word Cities and Poetry Hotspots This National Poetry Day

Friday 11 August 2017

Poetry is undergoing a definite renaissance, with sales of poetry books having gone up by more than 50% in four years and contemporary poets such as Kate Tempest performing to thousands at Glastonbury. This year, National Poetry Day (28 September) will see the launch of a major new four-day festival devoted to spoken word in Hull, 2017 UK City of Culture; line-up details for Contains Strong Language have recently been announced, featuring John Cooper Clarke, Kate Tempest and Imtiaz Dharker on the bill, alongside an accompanying series of programs on the BBC. There’s no better time to discover cities and destinations across England with thriving spoken word and poetry scenes; during VisitEngland’s Year of Literary Heroes, plot a cultural getaway spanning open mic nights, poetry readings and trips to arty cafés, bars, bookshops and more.


Spoken word and poetry events

Birmingham has fostered poetry talents from Benjamin Zephaniah to ‘poet with punch’ Matt Windle, currently the city’s Poet Laureate and also a professional boxer. Regular spoken word events include Apples and Snakes’ Hit the Ode at historic pub The Victoria and weekly open mic night Poetry Jam by Beatfreeks, held at Impact Hub Birmingham. Poetry on Loan promotes contemporary poetry across the West Midlands, while the fabulous arts venue mac birmingham regularly hosts spoken word events and poetry courses. This year Birmingham Literature Festival turns 20; poet Hollie McNish is one of the hot names on the bill (7-15 October).

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Visit the largest public cultural space and largest regional library in Europe, the iconic Library of Birmingham, which hosts an array of events and festivals – or to buy, not borrow, head to the indie bookstore Ikon Shop, part of the Ikon Gallery. The Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen, located at the trendy Custard Factory, is an inviting hangout – grab a bite and enjoy film marathons, quiz nights and themed events. For a bookish bevy, settle into the Alice in Wonderland-themed courtyard at The Jekyll and Hyde, or for comedy and cocktails make a beeline for The Rose Villa Tavern in the Jewellery Quarter.


Spoken word and poetry events

Bristol puts on a regular program of spoken word nights, poetry slams and riotous storytelling, including critically-acclaimed Raise the Bar at The Watershed, which has previously hosted Hollie McNish and Soweto Kinch. Monthly events across the city include Milk Poetry at the Tobacco Factory Theatres, Sharp Teeth at the Wardrobe Theatre and events at the Bristol Old Vic. For an evening of ferocious poetry slamming, check out Bristol Hammer and Tongue. Bristol-based charity Poetry Can puts on the Bristol Poetry Festival every autumn, with a focus on contemporary poetry.

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Make the crossing to Spike Island to tap into the city’s contemporary art and design scene, and stock up on poetry at bookshops across the city from Beware of the Leopard to ‘anarchist bookshop’ Hydra Books. For beautiful coffee-table tomes, hit The Arnolfini Bookshop.

The Kitchen, Strawberry Thief and The White Bear put on occasional spoken word events in addition to their enticing menus. For a cuppa with a literary flavor, head to recently-opened Chatterton’s Café at the birthplace of 18th century poet Thomas Chatterton. Now a respected contributor to Britain's literary past, he went to London seeking fame and wealth and, finding neither, sadly took his life aged 17.


Spoken word and poetry events

It’s no surprise that culture hotspot Brighton is home to fantastic spoken word events. Wordsmiths and comedians collide at regular Stand up & Slam at Komedia, which combines stand-up comedy and performance poetry with six acts competing for victory as the audience favorite. Komedia also welcomes regular visits from acclaimed UK and international performers. The Brunswick in Hove is home to regular Rattle Tales, which is part stage performance, part writing workshop and part night in the pub. On 3 September Linguistic Calligraphy takes over the Brighton Open Air Theatre, with a top line-up of UK Poetry and Slam champions.

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Bookish visitors will be delighted by The Kemptown Bookshop, which could absorb hours of your visit, while Hove boasts the beloved City Books, which hosts literary evenings. Seek out The Smallest Bookshop in Brighton, which is actually a number of mini libraries found in some of the city’s loveliest cafés and bars, from The Dover Castle pub – which hosts an open mic night every other Wednesday – to Mojo Coffeehouse, whose cakes are delightful. Creative types will enjoy the newly-opened BYOC, a ‘Narnia of cocktails’ with no drinks list – instead customers bring their own spirits and the bartenders whip up whatever your heart desires.


Spoken word and poetry events

Hull will be a hotbed of spoken word action in September when Contains Strong Language is launched in the 2017 City of Culture. The new festival will be packed with world premieres, gala readings and events, with performances from John Cooper Clarke, Kate Tempest and Imtiaz Dharker. Hull is already home to a long-running spoken word night, Away With Words, which puts on poetry, comedy and open mic sessions and there’s also the monthly Women of Words event, which provides a platform for the female voice – male audience members are also welcome. There’s also the annual Humber Mouth Literature Festival and Lit/Up East Riding, which includes the Bridlington Poetry Festival.

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Hull is the UK’s 2017 City of Culture, so there’s no end to fantastic places to hang out, people-watch and soak up all things arty. Head to Kardomah94, an eatery and entertainment venue in a former bank where you can enjoy pizza before heading into the intimate performance space – Women of Words is held there. The Fruit Market is the city’s happening new cultural quarter, home to Humber Street Gallery, craft brewery The Yorkshire Brewing Co, Oresome Jewellery – where you can learn to make your own – plus fantastic boutiques, restaurants, bars and performance venues.


Spoken word and poetry events

The Isle of Wight is full of noises. The Reading Between The Lines collective, headed up by ‘King Stammers’ Tim Callaghan-Martin, can often be found performing at The Black Sheep bar in Ryde, while Wight Lines offers the chance to hear poetry and spoken word from locals. The former home of photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Dimbola Museum & Galleries, hosts monthly open mic nights. The island is a festive place year-round, with the famous Isle of Wight Festival – featuring a Speaker’s Corner – the Literary Festival and Ventnor Fringe, a multi-arts festival with a vivacious spoken word element ‘Open ya mouth on the island!’

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Feeling crafty, head to Quay Arts – who sometimes host Wight Lines – for exhibitions, talks and drop-in pottery workshops. For books, visit the Aladdin’s Ryde Bookshop. The Dimbola Museum & Galleries is a charming hangout with a sweet tea room and bookshop, while The Piano Café, once the home of Queen Victoria's piano tuner, is now a lovely place for coffee, drinks and dinner – then take a literary walk over Tennyson Down. The Isle of Wight Literary Heroes trail, launching September 2017, will take readers on a tour of literary hotspots and hangouts synonymous with poets including Tennyson and Keats.


Spoken word and poetry events

Manchester nurtures poets aplenty, such as ‘punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke, Lemn Sissay – who became Chancellor of Manchester University in 2015 – and Tony Walsh, aka ‘Longfella’, whose inspiring poem This Is The Place brought solace to Manchester residents after the city’s tragic terror attack. For a monthly fix of spoken word find Bad Language at Gullivers in the Northern Quarter; the neighbourhood is also home to Jimmy’s, who host SPEAK, featuring ten open mic spots and a special guest each month. Every quarter One Mic Stand sees the city’s finest young performers hit the stage with an open slam and special guests.

And more besides…

If coffee, cake and books is all you need to make you happy, head to Chapter One, a fabulous new bookshop-café in the Northern Quarter. The Northern Quarter is an inviting maze for arty, crafty, bookish and vintage fashion lovers to get lost in, where much of the city’s creative community is based. One of the quirkiest hangouts is Ziferblat, the largest of its kind worldwide, a giant co-working and lounging space where you have access to WiFi, newspapers, unlimited coffee, cake and access to a piano (!), paying only for the time you spend there – it’s 8p per minute.


Spoken word and poetry events

Newcastle University’s Centre for the Literary Arts (NCLA) puts on a programme of free performances each month, including poetry readings, while its poetry PhD researchers are responsible for some of the city’s top events: Tracy Gillman and Joanne Clement run The Cold Boat, which promote ‘the poetry of witness’ through pop-up live events, and Jake Campbell and Joanne Clement run Haliwerfolc in Newcastle and Durham. The annual Newcastle Poetry Festival is growing in popularity – and length, from three to five days – and attracts top poet performers and musicians. And check out the impressive Lit & Phil, which host events for local publisher Red Squirrel Press, including poetry readings.

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Download the Steps in Time app to take a poem-walk across Newcastle-upon-Tyne, taking in lesser known places, guided by sixteen poets, including local writers. The Bridge Tavern is one of Newcastle’s best-loved pubs, and hosts the occasional Haliwerfolc event, while other pubs and cafés with literary leanings and friendly atmospheres include The Cumberland Arms, Bar Loco, The Chillingham Arms, and The Settle Down Café. Loved books since you were a kid – or got a little bookworm in tow? If so, Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, is a must.


Spoken word and poetry events

Now a UNESCO City of Literature, the place that was home to the first ‘rock star poet’, Lord Byron, continues to nurture lyrical talents. Wire & Wool events put on by I’m Not From London include poetry nights around the city; past venues include caves, The Alley Café (under the Nottingham railway arches) and alcohol-free café-bar Sobar. Poetry is Dead Good is ‘reclaiming poetry for people who aren’t boring’ (!) at the Jam Café. Atmospheric cave-dwelling The Malt Cross houses Crosswords, a night of poetry, prose, storytelling, a cappella singing and monologues. DIY Poets kicked off Nottingham’s poetry scene ten years ago, and host quarterly night at The Maze. 

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Wired is ideal for serious coffee-lovers and also serves up regular poetry nights and supper clubs. The Angel pub and microbrewery is a great Lace Market hangout for beer geeks, and also hosts occasional poetry nights. For a literary dinner with a decadent twist, head to newly-opened The Curious Tavern, where Charles Dickens stayed for six months – it’s now a coffee house and oyster bar! And for a poetic memento head to Bookwise, an astonishingly orderly charity book store, with proceeds going to local initiative Music for Everyone.


Spoken word and poetry events

Southampton is home to a thriving spoken word scene and even hosts its own annual spoken word festival, SO: TO SPEAK (20-29 October this year). NST (Nuffield Southampton Theatres) has run 451 for a number of years, a bi-monthly showcase of local, national and international spoken word with open mic slots; The Art House hosts regular music and poetry nights, plus the monthly Moving Voices open mic night; and local poet Issa Loyaan Farrah hosts Write a Note each month, a platform for poets and spoken word artists of all genres. The University of Southampton puts on experimental poetry events Entropics.

Arty bars, bookshops and more…

Craft beer haven BrewDog hosts occasional pop-up spoken word nights, but even if there’s no such event happening there are still always 18 taps of delicious beer and delicious pizza (which staff can pair with the perfect pint). And for a literary souvenir head to revolutionary store October Books, which is so beloved by locals that it was saved by a public outpouring of support when closure threatened.

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