Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Notes from the Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour

While Jamie's been publishing books up in Scarborough at a rate of knots and also planning our engagement party (yes, this is happening), I've been on tour. Poetry tour. This still feels a shocking state of affairs, given my fear of public speaking and still-fresh memories of dreadful Latin reading competitions, but I'm learning to deal with it and with every show my nerves are slightly better.

My flier design for the tour
Needless to say, it wasn't my love of performing which led me to plan the Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour. Rather, it was my enjoyment of all the conversations Rachel (Piercey, my co-editor and co-conspirator) and I had with the poets from The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse when we met up with them to introduce ourselves. I wrote about one aspect of the experience over on the Erotic Review, but what I didn't mention was how dazzled I was by all the poets' thoughts on eroticism. It felt like a natural – albeit terrifying – step to create a show around them and to take their poetry to a wider audience, so we started planning a tour: a small one in case we didn't get Arts Council funding, and a larger one for if we did.

Amazingly, we did. Thanks to a couple of very helpful discussions in the Arts Council London office, tweaking my application to emphasise the way we were trying to reach people who might not usually attend poetry shows, my proposal was accepted and we were able to go ahead with the 10-date tour and actually pay the poets and ourselves. I'd cut it quite fine with my application, so I was plunged instantly into a whirlwind of tour admin at the same time as planning the launch of the anthology and now, just under 2 months after receiving the funding, we're already halfway through the tour.

Jon Stone performing at the Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
We kicked off straight after the launch party with a tiny gig on September 28th in the shop window of Penny Fielding Beautiful Interiors in Walthamstow, home of mildly erotic poet Ruth Wiggins, before heading to Bethnal Green, stomping ground of Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving, for a larger show at the Gallery Cafe. Then we had a couple of weeks off before resuming the tour in Brighton, Belfast and Stratford-upon-Avon, all in the space of 6 days, visiting local poets Hugh Dunkerley, Stephen Sexton and Richard O'Brien respectively.

Introducing the poets at Bookfinders, Belfast
And it's been going well! We've had audience sizes ranging from 8 to 39, and people have emailed us afterwards to describe the erotic epiphanies they've experienced as a result of the show (kidding). I've loved seeing how the people respond, and I've even begun to relax enough in between introductions to actually listen to the poems myself. The best show so far might have been Belfast, which Stephen Connolly from The Lifeboat helped me organise. The audience was small but so responsive that they burst into spontaneous applause at some poems, much to the EP crew's delight. The open mic section at Stratford-upon-Avon was also very exciting, as the local poets really embraced the theme. I'm still frantically promoting the remaining 5 dates, but after that I will begin thinking about my next tour, because there must be a next tour, and it must be even bigger! Jamie is currently planning his VP50 (Five Years, Fifty Books) nationwide tour, so between us by next year we should have accumulated some pretty extensive experience and our subsequent touring powers will be pretty spectacular.

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The Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour is stopping by London (31st Oct), Norwich (2nd Nov), Reading (3rd Nov), and Oxford (8th and 16th Nov). Full details here.

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