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Blog - Richard Downes

The Show Must Go On


A reflective Richard Downes looks back on four turns at REaD Rhymes Live his first experience of curating, MC-ing and performing at a self designed show for Disabled Poets at the Karamel Restaurant

The Show Must Go On

A note came out of the blue from the chair of Collage Arts suggesting there may be a regular slot for a Disability Arts Poetry event at the Karamel Restaurant. I chased this up and was given a six month residency in Wood Green, North London. A tour if it worked well.

Here was a dream opportunity. For me personally as a curator, MC and performance poet but also for all the other poets I was going to take on board with me. Here are a few lessons from the dream.

Curating is hard. You are responsible for the event. You want to innovate. You create a poetry circle. None of your poets will have performed like this before. They have to be up for it. If they’re not it’s difficult and reflects on everyone else. If they are the dream works well and becomes magical. Egos get in the way, bad habits get in the way. Access remains a key component. Access remains different for everyone. My needs are not your needs. On the one hand you have to accommodate everyone, the basic legislation needs to be met. If not I take it back to the organisers but some access needs are so personal; the other hand calls on everyone to make the best of what we’ve got.

Working through dilemmas the curator reshapes the show. It’s better now, it’s got a better flow. The last two shows; one with Colin Hambrook, Jessica Lawrence and Sarah Doyle and the other with Ju Gosling, Janine Booth and Andrew Rea were flawless. Anyone who knows these names will be going oh yes, I got them from the disability movement and or survivors poetry. You will also be thinking I wish I’d seen that and this is where the show was not so hot. The audience is minimal. Appreciative but very small in size. The curator works with the teams to push promotion but do people want this. Will we carry on after May and June or just give up the ghost. Thanks to all the poets and friends who have pushed REaD Rhymes Live. Thanks to all those who came and watched and applauded.

MC-ing. Wow!! That’s just another skill entirely. I am a long long way off mastering it or understanding it. I don’t see it often. The Karamel has another bi-monthly event called Poetry and Poppadoms. Paul Lyall, the MC, knows what he’s doing. He’s been at it for 30 years. Then there are the Survivors Poetry Team of MC’s Alastair Murray, Dave Russell, and George Tahta; all with their unique style and personalities. I may just about be getting away with it. Usually by knowing the poets I am promoting or the odd activist in the audience who I can big up and genuinely credit their involvement.

Then there’s my performance as a stammering poet. Last time out I felt so relaxed standing on the mic I can’t remember a stammer occurring. There’s also a frisson from not always being able to trust my work. Usually the poems get two run-throughs from being heard at Survivors Poetry and the Highgate Society Poetry Group. Very few poems get scrapped at this point. I think of two that I want to re-edit. I guess though that I’m finding poems that I enjoy. The more I enjoy a poem I guess the better I perform it. Also I’ve not fallen into my usual trap of enjoying the poets I work with so much that I start demeaning my own work and yet there have been great poets on the roster. I guess I’m also finding out who I would want to work with again if only I can make these last two gigs work.

Coming up at the Karamel Club

May 31st. Catch me playing with Bernadette Cremin, Julie McNamara and John O’Donoghue
June 28th I’m at it again with Keith Bray, Dolly Sen and Wendy Young.
Where; The Karamel Restaurant, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UL
£5 admittance, £3.00 for open mic-ers

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