Every now and then you’ll come across something that does exactly what it says on the tin. Nottingham’s own DIY Poets are a prime example of this, with their tagline “We’re Nice and We Don’t Always Rhyme” neatly printed on the front cover of each issue of their monthly zine. We decided to pop in for a chat with the gang to get a gauge of just how nice they are, and we were not disappointed.
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Frank [McMahon]: Well we’re a poetry collective that has been going for about 15 years now. We publish a free quarterly magazine (we’re up to forty issues, now!) where we showcase members’ work, and we hold monthly meetings where we discuss the kinds of things the group is planning on working on in the future. We also host our quarterly poetry events at the Maze, which is a great way for new starters to get involved and take part in performance poetry.
Andrew [Martin]: We do organise our own gigs, but you’ll probably bump into us at other gigs around the city. We’re usually turn up at Crosswords and Speech Therapy, and a lot of our members get involved with benefit gigs for things like International Women’s Day and other charitable causes.
Martin [Grey]: I think the magazine is pretty important too. We distribute them all over the city centre and they’re completely free, so anyone can pick one up and find out about the group that way. That’s actually how I first got involved: I saw the magazine in Alley Café, saw the call for submission on the back, submitted a poem, and a few years later it’s really snowballed.
Andrew: He’s been stalking us ever since!
And what do you think the main ethos of DIY is?
Frank: The second part of our monthly meetings are fairly informal – people will show the poems they have to the people around them, and give and receive constructive feedback. It’s great to hear what works well, what needs tweaking. As well as that, we think its important to give people a space to develop as performers as well. If a person has never performed before they can read out a few of their pieces, get some feedback, and then bit by bit work their way up to our feature-length sets.
John [Humphreys]: I think what makes us important is that we’re even in how we give out opportunities. At our quarterly gigs, everyone apart from the featured artist gets a five minute set, regardless of whether they joined two weeks ago or fifteen years ago. We’re a true co-operative: everyone can get published, it’s a good way for people to see themselves in print, and we try to encourage everyone to write the poetry that they want to write.
Clare [Stewart]: It’s very egalitarian in that way, definitely.
Dwane [Reads]: So for example, at our thirtieth Maze gig [tomorrow], there’ll be ten people on the open-mic, and only about eight of them will be DIY members. Even if they just get up and read the one poem, we want everyone to be included.
John H: Exactly. “We’re Nice and We Don’t Always Rhyme” is our slogan, so frankly if somebody joins up and isn’t nice, they tend not to last very long. We all enjoy sharing our work and the limelight, and we operate as a democracy.
How do you go about writing your poems?
Frank: Well I used to carry a notepad with me, but I just use my phone now. When I get an image or a rhyme I’ll quickly jot it down, rush it over to a computer and type that up, then I’ll go about getting feedback from other people – usually the people at DIY. If it doesn’t work, I’ll always have that initial idea or metaphor written down so I’ll use it elsewhere.
Andrew: I use news items, actually. I’ll see a headline and it’ll just spark something. Jeremy Clarkson, Nigel Farage, all this stuff with Carillion – I like to just sit down with something I’ve picked up from the news and try to untangle it through poetry.
Dwane: Anything can be a prompt, it’s all about how you use it. The best thing about a group like this is that it’ll help you work out what you can do with these prompts. And the proof-reading and editing process is important too – I’ll often turn to Clare for her advice because she is fantastic at proof-reading a piece and finding the bits that make it great.
Martin: I agree. I think that a lot of the time poetry is what happens when your social conscience kicks into gear. You’ll see something that you think is wrong – homelessness, military air-strikes, anything really – and it sparks something and stimulates you to create.
Sue [Allen]: I like to look at the funny side of things – I’m not deep and meaningful like this lot! I like to take piss, honestly.
Do you think there’s a specific “DIY style” when it comes to poetry?
Andrew: Oh no, not at all. Everyone’s got their own style, there’s no-one that’s like anybody else.
Clare: We all influence each other, but I don’t think there’s an actual “style”.
John H: We like to encourage poets to find their own voice. You won’t necessarily find us talking about form and formalities, about haikus or sonnets or whatever, it’s more about whether the poet has succeeded in bringing out what they find in themselves.
Andrew: It helps that we’ve got people from all over taking part, too. Dwane is from Derby, we’ve got Sue from Sutton, and because everyone comes from a different place and different background we’ve kind of got a bit of everything.
Do you think that there’s something about Nottingham as a city that encourages creativity?
Sue: There’s a great vibe in the city. There are so many great opportunities for people to get creative and try out their poetry.
Jake [Wildeman]: For years I had no idea just how easy it would be to start performing. I’d been writing for a few years and then one day I thought “well, I have nothing to do tonight – I’m going to check out some poetry”, and here I am.
Alistair [Lane]: I think it helps that everyone is so supportive. People are so open and receptive in Nottingham that it almost creates a “no-fail” environment, where it doesn’t matter how shit you think a poem is or how shit you think you’ve performed it, there’s always someone willing to egg you on and give you that bit of encouragement to try again. Honestly, performing poetry in Nottingham is addictive.
Do you have any big projects that you’re looking forward to over the next few months?
Frank: Yeah, the thirtieth Maze gig is definitely the thing we’re most excited about right now.
Clare: There’s International Women’s Day coming up. The women of DIY Poets have got together and will be hosting an event at Sobar on 9th of March, and I’ve been organised a weekend event with Contemporary Music For All (CoMA) which is going to be fantastic.
Martin: The poetry festival is coming up too, and we’re planning on hosting an event for that on the 27th April at the Writer’s Studio. It will probably be similar to one of our quarterly gigs, where we’ll have a featured poet and a musical guest as the headliners. We’re also running an event for Light Night on the 23rd of February, where we’ll be filling out Alley Café with bicycle lights.
For more information on DIY Poets, check out their website at http://www.diypoets.com/. If you'd like to submit to their monthly magazine, send an email out to [email protected]
Ah, Poetry! A Night of Weirdness and Wordsmithery at the Maze with Diy Poets
The Maze on Mansfield Road is no secret to the music fans of Nottingham. The venue has been the break-out point for artists and musicians of every size, shape and style. However, once every four months the Maze undergoes a transformation – rather than the usual sticky-shoed live music aficionados, the back room is flood by fans of the spoken word scene. Ranging from old to young, novice to veteran, these are the DIY Poets, and they bring with them one of most unique atmospheres on the Nottingham poetry scene.
This event, held on Thursday 8 February, was no ordinary DIY Poets event, as it marked the group’s thirtieth gig at the Maze. Introduced and joint-hosted by long-time members and comperes Andrew Martin and Sue Allen, the event boasted a wide range of styles and content – from Allen’s playful and surreal pieces to the lively, joyful work of John Merchant, right through to the emotive and nostalgic poetry of Martin Grey and the intricate storytelling styles of Clare Stewart and Martin Dean. Frank McMahon, group founder and “wearer of hats”, takes to the stage briefly with a few poems reflective of his upbringing – geeky, tumultuous, innocent and fascinating.
DIY’s quarterly gigs make a point of celebrating the talent from within the group’s ranks, and this event featured Jake Wildeman as the headline act. At 22, Jake is one of the group’s younger members, but he took to the stage with an easy charisma, his wild mane of hair catching the venue’s dim lights in a manner befitting a crown. His poetry, with each piece dedicated to a defining influence from his life, toes the line between deeply passionate and gently affectionate, and his stage patter, while occasionally minimal, carries a sharp and often witty brevity. The event was finally rounded off by the musical stylings of the Dukes of Pork, whose brief set of acoustic covers set that felt right at home on the Maze’s stage.
Events hosted by DIY Poets have the kind of atmosphere you don’t often see outside of small pubs and casual gatherings. Those in attendance take poetry very seriously, but there is an air of kinship that is apparent with every round of applause and cheerful heckle. The groups’ ethos, one of informality and “niceness”, does well to dispel the myth that poetry is a stuffy, dull affair.