'Raise the Bar’ - Boosting Expectations Everywhere

'Raise the Bar’ - Boosting Expectations Everywhere

Ah, poetry. A topic most people avoid out of fear of appearing ‘uncool’ or over-emotional. Bringing back memories of GCSE collections and endlessly trying to analyse form (what’s the difference between blank and free verse again?) School life usually sucks the fun out of the Spoken Word, making you examine just the written line. It’s far too easy to forget poetry is traditionally a verbal art form and where our beloved rap came from; after all, who really associates Kayne with something as sentimental as poetry?

So I was full of these sceptical pre-conceptions approaching 'Spotlight', a collaboration between Raise the Bar and Milk Poetry. Its place in the back of Crofters Rights surprised me; typically a room where DJs take the stage and Bristolians dance all night. With one strong spotlight blinding the person on stage, it freed the performer from worrying about the audience expression. As the observing crowd soon grew, I began to think I had something wrong – it was so popular. There were soon people lining the room, sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, crammed in next to someone’s feet and another person’s handbag; poets couldn’t even make it to the stage. The crowd grew as the night progressed with more audience members than the room itself could take. And I must admit, by the end of the night, all my pre-conceptions had gone out the window.

So, how can you explain the effect a dozen or so poets have upon a room in just a few words?  How can you describe an evening which touched on a dozen intimate subjects from cancer to confession, haikus to weeing whilst standing up and pooing whilst dining out, depression explained through Stranger Things and other stranger things like pillows representing exes. It was an evening of whimsy with interludes of sadness.

One of the night’s hosts himself opened with a heartbreaking poem about his dying friend. He appeared ready to burst with laughter by the end. I empathised with every speaker, their pieces original and personal.

Special mention goes to Richard Harris’s ‘Stand-up wee’ poem which tickled every audience member, whilst Kathryn O-Driscoll and Phil Brown’s heart-wrenching pieces will remain with me for a long time. Sam Grudging, too, captured the audience with his expressive moments voicing the turbulence that is recovery from alcoholism.  

There was an undeniable sense of community throughout the evening, with one host claiming that ‘we aren’t really a collective…we’re just a group of friends, really’. Exuding originality, and accessibility, it was atmospheric with audience interaction, and the frequent change in poets meant there was no fear of the evening becoming a little static. They embodied their poetry; all the performers seemed far from amateur.

The evening ended on a hilarious note with its guest speaker, Chris White. The astonishing poet transitioned between sadness and hilarity in each poem. One moment appearing a shy speaker who found himself in the wrong place, the next a powerful commentator demanding the focus of the room. White continued to stand out as his own unique performer. Think of the self-deprecation of David Mitchell and the open expressiveness of Russell Howard, and you’re halfway there.

So head on down to the next show – you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it and wish you could be that eloquent about subjects such as  ‘the stand-up wee’. Poetry is making a theatrical comeback – think rap battles between the likes of Cara Delevinge and James Corden – so you might as well give it a shot.


Kate Nicholson, Editor-In-Chief
photography by Perry Jonsson art  

To find out about more about Raise the Bar you can like their Facebook Page for upcoming Spoken Word Events,
meanwhile there is plenty going on over at Milk Poetry, check out their Events to keep in the know!.