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Interview: DIY Poets' Francis McMahon

5 March 15 words: Aly Stoneman

"We want the public to want to read poetry and not see it as an irrelevant art form"

Who are DIY poets?
DIY Poets started around twelve years ago and we have about ten people actively involved at the moment. We have a DIY attitude towards publishing, including producing a free A6-sized magazine (with a print run of four hundred copies) about three times a year, which we distribute around shops, cafes, bars, and pubs in Nottingham. We also organise regular poetry events, including quarterly nights at The Maze. People can access current and back issues of the magazine and find out about spoken word events on our website. At our monthly meetings, we plan future events and new writing is shared in a supportive environment.

What's your ethos and what makes you different from other poetry groups in Hood Town?
We aim to give budding poets the confidence to write and submit their work for publication. If they get published in the magazine, at least 400 people locally will read their work. At the meetings we try to give constructive feedback, we won’t just say “That’s nice”. Through our spoken word events, we give local poets the confidence to perform their poetry live and we organise poetry performance workshops to facilitate this aim. We are different from other writing groups in that we produce a long-running free magazine and the poems are illustrated, with the illustrations preferably provided by the poet. We want the public to want to read poetry and not see it as an irrelevant art form. Hopefully we have got members of the public to read poetry who didn’t do so before!

Your Facebook page states you are: “A place for poets who choose to make their own books rather than publish through a commercial or self-publishing company.” Isn’t there room for all?
I wouldn’t try to discourage poets from trying to get published, but the poetry market is so small, and the chances of getting published in terms of a whole book are quite small. The circulation is usually pretty small too because poetry is, in terms of popularity, the croquet of the arts rather than football! I self-publish my own books using Microsoft Publisher and local printers and distribute them online and at gigs. All the work at DIY Poets is free to access on our website or at local outlets and events.

What can people expect if they come along to one of your spoken word events?
We try to create a non-reverential atmosphere – all the poets are people who have come to DIY Poets’ meetings and helped to contribute to the group, there’s no open mic. The featured poet is also from the DIY collective and they get a longer slot of about 25 minutes. As compere, I am quite strict about each poet keeping to their time limit (usually around seven minutes) so they don’t eat into the time of poets coming on after them, or the headlining musicians at the end of the night. After the seven minutes they get a white light (the white light of enlightenment). After a further minute a red light is flashed (the red lamp of shame). The latter usually persuades the long-winded poet to conclude their set.

Which Nottingham-based poets do you rate and why?
Miggy Angel, Mulletproof Poet and fellow DIY Poet John Humphreys, among many. They can use wit and the power of their poetry to hold audience attention and convince the sceptical that poetry can be enjoyable.

If anyone wants to join DIY poets or submit work, what should they do?
It’s free to join - just come along to our next meeting upstairs at Broadway Cinema. To submit work, just email [email protected] Poems need to be 25 lines or less for the magazine. Paradise Lost and The Canterbury Tales would not have been accepted.

Francis' Poetry Performance Pointers:

  • Print the poems in large font - it’s easy to read and the poet can look at the audience as well as the page.
  • Hold a large folder rather than a single sheet of paper to help nervous performers hide shaking hands.
  • Give a brief introduction to each poem when performing. The audience has one chance to understand - when the poem is on the page, the reader can revisit.
  • Regularly try to get feedback from someone friendly, constructive and honest.

DIY Poets meet on the first Wednesday of the month at Broadway Cinema Mezz Bar at 8pm. Their next quarterly event is at The Maze on Thursday 14 May at 8pm, £3 entry.

DIY Poets website

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