This Wednesday I was able to attend a staff meeting for Apples and Snakes, “England’s leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word.” Apples and Snakes is an associate of Free Word and is based over at The Albany in Deptford, South London. I’ve been attending poetry slams and open mics for 6 years now and have been reading my own poetry for about 2, so I was eager to connect with this particular organization. With bean bags on the ground and fitness balls as desk seats, the cosy office space was just as welcoming as the staff who occupied it. I sat in an oversized scarlet chair, surrounded by employees who spoke of exciting past and future programs. Most of the staff are poets themselves and are immersed in their work for the spoken word community. It was really quite moving, actually.
Apples and Snakes hosts regular open-mic readings, manages free expression workshops (some with inmates in prison) and have most recently launched a nationwide youth poetry slam competition called Shake the Dust – all ambitious endeavours for a relatively small organization. But what I found most impressive was their work with individual spoken word poets. The organization acts as a consulting service to new and old poets who need to get their feet off the ground. They challenge writers to go beyond their comfort zones, providing for them avenues of exposure while teaching them the necessary skills to grow as performers. It’s a service I know I’d seek out if I were a London poet.
After the meeting, I was fortunate enough to attend Apples and Snakes’ free performance poetry night called Jawdance. Though I didn’t plan on reading at the time, Free Word and Apples and Snakes staff convinced me to sign up. I hadn’t read my poetry in London yet, and I hadn’t been on a stage in months, so naturally I was completely terrified. But reading was something I really wanted to do during my stay in the UK, so I suppose I was apprehensively thrilled.
The stage that night saw a diverse group of poets. There were newbies, oldies, experimental poets, some soulful, some humorous – all entirely accepted by the audience. They even screened a couple colourful poetry shorts. It was a variety I hadn’t seen before at other readings. It really got me thinking about the limits of spoken word, and the boundaries I have placed around my own poetry. It was a refreshing open-mic experience. Inspiring. In a safe space like Jawdance, where all forms of spoken word expression are accepted, there is so much potential for new ideas. And of course it made it easier for me to get on stage and spit. It’s the type of community you can be proud to be a part of, and I was extremely proud to share the stage with such talent that night. It’s an experience I will never forget. Check that off my London bucket list.
Here’s a neat vid of what Jawdance is all about: