How To Ask For Poetry Gigs

Poets are hungry folks. We’re constantly looking for new audiences and venues to perform in. We’re a little like sharks: if we stop, we’re done.

Having said this, trying to find those gigs we want can require a more delicate touch than simply firing off a public comment. “Fancy booking me for a feature set?” isn’t the way to go.

Firstly, I’d like to state that a promoter’s private social media profile is usually their private space. If you wouldn’t be comfortable knocking on their front door, you shouldn’t message their private page unless they’re using that to host the gig. Most poetry promoters will have a public page or event for their night or themselves, which you can message. Some even ask you to send an email, especially if you’re asking for feature or headline work. Don’t think you’re being smart or jumping the queue by sending someone a direct message, you just look arrogant. Just like submitting written poetry to a magazine, you need to check the process and follow it.

If you’ve used the proper channel and haven’t heard back after a while, it’s okay to send a follow-up message. However, consider how long it’s been since you sent your first enquiry. Most promoters are busy mid-career poets who are dealing with their own bookings, their current feature acts, and promoting a night, alongside side jobs and family life.

If they don’t want to book you, don’t take it to heart. They might have specific criteria they are basing booking decisions on (such as gender representation) or your work might not be the right fit for their night. Be polite and thank them for their consideration. No one has ever changed their minds when seeing an ego flare up.

Now, onto the actual asking…

Don’t be too upfront and name drop/strut your accomplishments. This is especially off-putting to newer promoters, and in their eyes, you can actually disqualify yourself by sounding too good. It’s also really arrogant to assume they want to know; they may have an entire year of features booked up and here you are, rubbing what you’ve done in their face. Promoters are also almost always poets and sometimes, a little jealousy can creep in.

The best way to start your enquiry is to show that you have actually considered their event instead of sending the same email to a hundred different poetry nights. Most importantly, have you been to one of their events before? If not, have you looked at their work online? Do you follow them or have you heard great things from people? Let them know that! It’s softly appealing to their ego before you’ve even thought about asking for something from them. You are trying to start a dialogue rather than holding them hostage until they agree to book you.

So when is the right time to ask about booking? Once you’ve let the promoter know that they are being personally contacted, you can ask to be considered. Lay out why you’re asking for a gig; are you going to be in the area, or do you have a new book or show you’d like to promote?

The tone of your message should balance between humility and with a confidence befitting your work. If you genuinely feel you deserve the opportunity, it’s easy to make that case, but if you know you’re fishing, it’s easy to go on the offensive and scare promoters away.

I like to include a separate attachment that functions as a kind of CV or résumé, covering my bio and other achievements. It’s important that you don’t exaggerate yourself. Paint an honest picture of the work you’ve done. As an example, if you have won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam, don’t tell people you’re THE Hammer & Tongue Champion, just say you won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam.

Another particular bugbear of mine is this: don’t tell people you’ve supported major names if that’s not the truest case. If you’ve performed on the same stage, as part of the same event as a particular poet, and been booked to appear, then you have supported them. But if you were on a different stage during the weekend that that poet performed at, you haven’t supported that act. If you were part of an open mic or slam that a performer headlined, you haven’t supported them. If you cannot suitably fill in your accomplishments, perhaps you shouldn’t be looking at applying for feature sets just yet.

Finally, thank the promoter for their time. They’re busy people and even if they don’t want to book you for that night, a good impression can lead to other opportunities down the line. Some promoters will program festivals or work on fundraisers, or even run separate nights. You may be perfect for those future opportunities but if you don’t come across well, you can miss those chances.

Even if the opportunities don’t come, keep at it. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in a better position, professionally speaking, and you’ll be the right person for a slot in the future. Getting to those moments through hard work and growth feels so much better than trying to force your way into these things.

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Storytelling Lessons From Professional Wrestling

In the world of writing, there is a multitude of forms to be creative and each one requires its own education before it is tackled. A different approach is needed for novels, short stories, poetry, TV, film, stage, non-fiction; each is a fascinating discipline to explore and each can inform your approach to another. Everything I do – from screenwriting to poetry – has been to help me understand prose better, to inform the novels that I work on.

There is one medium of storytelling that is never discussed, the low-brow cousin of all other mediums, the one medium that no self-respecting writer waxes lyrically about: professional wrestling.

In a sense, the storylines that fuel wrestling are much like the serialised novels of the Victorian era. Charles Dickens released his stories chapter by chapter in newspapers, writing them as he went along. He used letters from fans to either comply with or subvert their expectations, making his stories at times unpredictable but always rewarding. Shakespeare used a similar idea, changing his plays based on the reactions of the audience.

Professional wrestling is both a long and short-form example of screenwriting. The weekly shows need to be self-contained within the narrative of “this is a TV show about wrestling” but they must also advance the storylines that run between major Pay-Per-View events. Sometimes, these stories can take years to fully unravel, creating some of the most complex tales seen on television.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at one of the biggest storylines in recent years, told in WWE, the biggest professional wrestling company on the planet: Seth Rollins & The Authority.

This all takes place within a fictional company; imagine it as a sport-drama based on a company like UFC or Bellator. Professional wrestling fans know this is all fake – if we wanted to watch people backflip off ladders and kill each other we’d be psychopaths, but because it’s fictional it’s okay.

In 2014, WWE was ruled by The Authority, a group of evil business people and led by the Daughter and Son-in-Law of the company’s founder. They were the spoilt children who now had the keys to the kingdom and they were intent on making sure everybody knew they were in charge.

At the same time, a group of new wrestlers had invaded the company, ostensibly under the guise of inflicting their own brand of vigilante justice. The Shield wasn’t afraid to twist the rules in their quest to clean up the WWE, they were blood-brothers, only able to trust each other and dedicated to their purpose, but this meant they were directly opposing the managers of the company. Over and over, The Shield would foil The Authority’s plans until eventually, The Authority themselves directly challenged them to settle their score in the ring. The grizzled son-in-law Triple H, once a decorated wrestler, found himself about to face off against an enemy much younger, faster and more resilient than anything he had faced before, and now he was older, slower but more vicious and calculating. Beside him in the ring, he chose partners he’d worked with before: Randy Orton, the son of a decorated wrestler himself, with chiselled features and all the genetic tools to be the greatest wrestler ever, held back only by his entitled attitude, and Batista, a hulking brute who had left the company many years ago and was now back to promote his first major film.

The Shield emerged from the conflict victorious but the next night, as they stood in the ring to celebrate, Triple H revealed his “Plan B” and they were attacked from behind by one of their own. Seth Rollins had been lured to The Authority. Under their mentorship, Seth was guaranteed to become champion and surely The Shield had only been effective because of Seth and his mind.

The Authority continued their reign, now with a new fresh-faced weapon. If it seemed like he’d lose, The Authority saw no harm in evening the odds, interfering in Seth’s matches as they saw fit; it wasn’t long before Seth had the belt and the large payday that came with it. However, rather than be grateful for the opportunities he had been given, Seth saw himself as truly deserving of his accomplishments and The Authority were forced to act as mediator between Seth and the various other villainous wrestlers aligned with them. In an effort to humble his protégé, Triple H would force Seth to fight against some of the most destructive fighters under WWE contract until, eventually, Seth injured his knee, worn down by his constant fights.

Unable to compete, Seth was forced to give up his championship, the symbol of everything he thought he deserved – the money that came with it and the pride in being the hand-picked future of the company. He vowed that once he had healed, he would be back and the belt would be his again.

While he was gone, Triple H arranged a tournament to declare a new champion. The winner was Roman Reigns, one of the former members of The Shield, who Seth had betrayed. Triple H saw an opportunity. He could offer Roman everything he had given to Seth, only to have Roman refuse; if he was to be champion, he’d do it under his own terms.

After months of interference and unfair odds, Roman would lose the belt to Triple H. He’d go on to defend it against Dean Ambrose, the third member of The Shield, a former loner who had finally found a home, only to be betrayed, but Triple H’s reign was to be short, one can only play the game for so long before you lose, and Roman became champion once again.

Triple H then created a new belt. If he couldn’t be champion, he could be the one to decide who was champion, he could be a kingmaker. He picked the contestants – including a newly-recovered Seth Rollins – and a match was held to crown the first champion of this new belt. In the fight, Finn Balor, though he would win, suffered injuries too great to see him defend the belt and he was forced to give it up the next week. Seth had failed him, however. Triple H had given Seth one last chance and now he would put his protégé in his place. A new battle was to take place to crown the champion and Triple H once more put Seth into the contest. As the fight raged on, Triple H interfered, assisting Seth to knock his opponent out the ring but as Seth turned to thank him, Triple H struck out, hitting Seth with his finisher – the most debilitating move he knew – and giving Kevin Owens the chance to claim the title. Kevin was a prize-fighter, ready to do whatever it took to win, and he leapt at the chance to claim the championship and the patronage of the great Triple H. The next month, Kevin proved himself worthy of the belt, defending his title against Seth.

Seth would begin a path to redemption, playing by the rules more and trying to show the audience he was no longer the villain he was at Triple H’s side. All the while, he is begging for a chance to fight the man who manipulated him and robbed him of everything, even using Triple H’s prized finishing move in an attempt to rile him and ultimately going as far as to make an appearance at the developmental show that Triple H managed. Knowing Triple H would be there for sure and that he would get his face-to-face confrontation, Seth vows to stay in the ring until Triple H acts like a man and comes out from backstage. Seeing no other option, Triple H emerges from backstage, furious and glowering, silently he motions for security to assemble and remove Seth by force.

The scene is now set: Seth knows he’s got into Triple H’s head. He has played the master manipulator for a fool and shown him to be a coward. The next week, Triple H took to the ring; everyone awaiting him to announce he will fight Seth at last. However, he instead brands Seth a failure. Triple H tells the crowd that no one has ever been given as much as Seth, only to fail, that he created Seth and that Seth’s destroyer is waiting for him.

Seth comes out, ready to face the man calling himself a destroyer. Alone, without any of the family he once had, Seth makes his way to the ring when suddenly, from the wings, he is attacked from behind, just like his attack on The Shield. Triple H knows he has Seth’s number; he knew Seth would rush out and he knows that the assault would remind him of the mistakes he made. This attack, however, led to a real-life knee injury. Just as he missed his chance to fight at Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year, previously, Seth now looks at a longer recovery. For a moment, it seems like Seth will never wrestle again, with two knee injuries so close together.

But Seth is a new man, he is driven and single-minded, and he continues to harass Triple H, vowing to never leave him alone until he gets his chance to prove that he is the better of the two. Triple H finally agrees, on the condition that Seth waives any liability in the match. If Triple H injures Seth, ends his career or even kills him, Triple H is not liable. Seth agrees and finally, at the largest event of the year, barely healed, Seth Rollins defeats Triple H. The King is dead, long live The Kingslayer.

What I have told you here is an abridged history of one man’s journey (over almost three years) to becoming one of the most recognised figures in professional wrestling. Despite its setting, wrestling manages a cast and interweaving plotlines that rival even the grandest TV shows, and every week there are new stories beginning and ending. Sometimes these stories are so densely packed it is impossible to see where one ends and another begins, such is the talent of the writers.

Wrestling is a storytelling medium first and foremost, but it is one where real-life events affect the fiction, from rising and falling merchandise sales informing those who will see major focus, to the risk of injury from the in-ring action. The wrestlers themselves are also likely to try influencing their storylines from week to week, pitching new ideas and exercising backstage political clout to see themselves rise to the top.

But it’s within this flexibility that wrestling writing becomes most rewarding. To be a wrestling fan is to receive constant lessons on storytelling. Frequently, the wrestlers you like won’t be the focus; they will be dropped mid-story and the on-screen product will evolve to correct this. If you have an opinion of the stories of wrestling, it’s born from a subtle education in storytelling, based on what they have done wrong or how you would have done it. More than any other medium, wrestling invites fans to critique it. A glance at the online fandom for professional wrestling might lead you to wonder if they truly are fans – such are the level of complaints – but this is exactly what wrestling encourages. Often, we become so conditioned to the idea that a story should flow a certain way that wrestling companies are able to swerve and confuse fans. The rage one feels in this moment is all down to learning how a narrative should work but wrestling is an experimental medium, one in which sometimes our frustrations make the pay-off for a plot all the more rewarding.

Every other form of storytelling is one in which the audience is a passive component of the story. Due to its long-form and data-driven stories, the audience is as much a writer and editor of the stories as those employed by the company itself. With its blurring of the real world and the fictional, wrestling can perhaps be considered not as storytelling but rather as post-storytelling. By adopting similar techniques, a writer can surprise their readers and evolve their stories.

No Apologies – How to introduce a poem

I’ve seen it a hundred times. A newer poet takes the mic, prepares themselves to read their work and utters the fateful words “This probably isn’t any good.”

At this moment a handful of things happen. Firstly, the audience switch off and begin talking with their friends or checking their Facebook. Secondly, the host gets a little irritable, wondering why you’re taking mic time if your material isn’t good, and lastly, I, in the back of the room, wince.

People think they’re being humble when they say “this isn’t very good” or self deprecating when they say “this is really depressing” but the truth is by building these low expectations into your set, you give the audience the right to ignore you. Why would people want to listen to bad poetry?

To be a performance poet, you need to have a little bit of an ego. Nothing too crass but enough to justify standing on a stage and saying “these are my feelings and you should listen.” Even if you don’t feel like a rockstar, you have been given that time behind the microphone to wow a room. It’s okay to not rush into performance, to hold back work while you edit and make it better or to only perform when you have new work ready but you should never apologise. There is a validity in everyone’s poetry, including yours.

Another negative point about telling the audience your poem will be bad, you are telling them what to think. The poem, upon leaving the mouth of the poet, becomes that of the audiences. It is there’s to make of it what they wish, to find the notes that resonate with their own lives and the particular wordplay that appeal to them. Not every poem will be for everyone and that’s okay. Even if you connect with one person in the room, you have accomplished something wonderful.

We apologise before a poem because that’s when we are at our most nervous. Some go the other way and deliver long monologues before their pieces exploring the themes and inspirations behind everything. Once this has been done, is there really any reason to hear the poem?

This is done so one can acclimatise to the stage and the audience but it robs a performance of it’s power. Introducing poetry is hard, you don’t want to give too much away but you’re also compelled to show people what you’ve done and why.

Before beginning a poetry performance, I take a second to look out at the audience. I will adjust the microphone properly and then I will say hello. Nothing grand, just a simple hello. The audience is here to share an intimate moment with you and should be treated like a friend. This is all you need, those few moment of comfortable stillness.

Your introduction should be planned before hand. No more than two or three sentences. You are here to perform poetry, not to monologue. The simplest introduction is “This is a poem called…” and it works. The poem should speak for itself. You can say “this is about…” and give away the broad theme. The important thing is to not dwell on specifics and to have a clear idea of what you’re about to say before you say. This is where planning your set is absolutely vital. As you become more confident as a performer, you can start improvising but only once you’ve built that back catalogue of pre-amble and developed your confidence as a performer.

I often tell people the performance poet should be 1/5th a standup comedian. This doesn’t mean you need to be a wacky madman behind the mike, it just means as poets we can draw up the same confidence, story-telling and presence you see in comedians. We’re not given as many performances inspirations as poets outside of those we see live and on the internet. Stand-up comedy, provided you fully analyse the differences between the genre and poetry, is the closest we will usually see in our everyday lives.

Once you have taken the time to intro your piece, clear your throat. Step away from the microphone, give a little cough or sip of your drink and have another micropause. You’re about to switch from one gear to another, and like a car, you can get the engine jammed. Taking that time to refocus your headspace can make the difference between a flawless set and one with a coughing fit in the middle.

Step back to the microphone, take your final breath and begin. You’ve set them up, now knock them dead.

What I’m Learning about InstaPoetry

I wasn’t a very big fan of InstaPoetry, the genre of poetry spawned from the photo sharing app Instagram. Poets like Rupi Kaur and R.H.Sin have built their brands on sparse, singular images, and people have accepted it. Often times I’ve found these poems to be fragments, parts of a whole that will never come to fruition.

I believe being a poet is work. We spend our days ruthlessly self-editing and boiling our creations down long after the initial conception of the idea. There is a dignity to this, the idea that we may not have captured the fleeting image in an instant and accepting that we, as writers, will continue to grow and become better.

By contrast, the InstaPoet seeks to capture the moment as they see it. These errant ideas belong to the moment, sometimes without even the time spent to proof-read. I’ve lost count how often I’ve seen typos in InstaPoems that wouldn’t stand elsewhere. I have seen InstaPoetry as lazy, and arrogant; lacking that time and dedication, and proclaiming that poetry is easy.

That’s the crux. Poetry in it’s simplest expression should be easy. The labour and grinding we put into it is part of becoming a great poet but to just be a poet is achievable to anyone; we just have to allow the barrier down. As social animals, we spend our days filtering our expression and in busy modern life, we have no time to wax lyrical or loquacious on the beauty in the everyday. InstaPoetry jumps this, provides those single snapshots of the moment and celebrates that. It may not be great poetry but it is poetry and to dismiss it, is to limit one’s contemporary influence.

Not every single shred of writing should become an epic. Some tiny scraps of poetry are beautiful in their own right and to drown them out with excess noise is to do them a disservice. The haiku is one of the most beautiful forms of poetry, in my experience, and InstaPoetry belongs to that same mould of capturing beauty where it is found in the most succinct fashion.

Of course, not all writers are beautiful yet. Some have raised issues on identity politics, some have typecast all women as tragic or in need of the love of a man. These issues are not exclusive to InstaPoetry, and it’s short-sighted to believe otherwise. Problematic poetry exists in all forms of writing. What has become troubling is the success of those InstaPoets who exhibit these tendencies.

As the genre evolves, I am almost certain that we will see an evolution in these tendencies. New poets will rise and give way to the next big medium but for the moment, we should be glad that people are still making time for poetry, albeit briefly.

Connor’s InstaPoetry can be found at @connorsansbywriter

So You Don’t Have Time to Write?

Modern life is busy for all of us, especially those who juggle a publishing schedule, blog posts and readings on top of a 9-to-5 job. So how do you manage to get your writing done? For the most part, you have to make the time but here are six tips for getting things done.

1. Think about the time you spend in front of the TV.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of the TV? Many of you will consider this valuable recharge time but having a pen and paper in easy reach can be a godsend. Whether you decide to sketch out a scene or take note of a particular turn of phrase someone on TV has uttered, the time spent watching TV can be valuable “people watching time”

2. Set a daily goal.
Some days you don’t want to do anything, whether you’re looking for that all-important recharge time or you aren’t feeling with it enough to crack on.
It’s okay not to finish something every day, and you don’t have to have a daily word count to be successful. What’s important is making sure you have no “zero days.” That is, there should never be a day when you accomplish nothing. I think this is important for life in general but especially so if you’re trying to forge a successful writing career.

3. Use your phone.
I’ve heard every iteration of the “no time to write” spiel and it’s simply not true. In your pocket is a tiny computer capable of taking notes at any turn. As Nora Ephron said, “everything is copy.” As a writer, you explore life and channel that into an art, taking notes on your phone is a simple way of catching the moment and injecting that authenticity into your work.
I recommend Google Docs or Evernote to sync your notes in one place but the default note app on your phone is good enough if you check it regularly.

4. Don’t stop.
It’s easy to miss a day. Sometimes you’re out the house before the sun’s up and you’re only back home long after it’s set. The important thing is to not let that zero-day become a zero-week. The easiest way to create a writer’s block is to stop writing for an extended period of time. If you have to have a zero day, that has no bearing on the next day, so pick up a pen at the next available opportunity and get back on with the grind.

5. Be efficient with your writing.
Maybe the problem your having isn’t that you don’t have time to write but that you’re not spending your time on the right writing. If you’re novel has been sitting unloved for months on end, maybe it’s time to stop posting to your blog every day.
While some platforms will penalise you for not posting, remember the point of a blog is to promote your work. You can’t do that if you don’t have a product to promote. Your readers will forgive you if it means they get to read something more substantial.

6. Learn the art of “5 minutes.”
Everyone can do something for five minutes a day. You probably spend more time than that in the bathroom or labouring over simple decisions you’ve already decided on.
The world will do everything it can to steal those five minutes from you but it’s up to you to block out the world and JUST WRITE.
You don’t need to write a whole scene in a single sitting, you can come back and edit any discrepancies in your voice later.
Stealing six blocks of five minutes back every day gives you a full half hour of writing each day. That’s a respectable amount of time, and once you add in those times where you “can write”, your word count will be unstoppable.

If you find something that works, stick to it and develop it further. No one wants to hear you talk about how you don’t have time to write or how your writer’s block is in the way. You can’t sell those excuses, so put them aside, pick up a good habit and work it.

So, how do you find time to write?

Thanet Poetry Journal Voume 3: Thanet Writers Takeover Edition – October 2017

Thanet-Poetry-Journal-Volume-3

We’re back for another spectacular showcasing of Thanet’s writing talent. For this issue we at Neanderthal Beard reached out to Thanet Writers, a local CIC that we work with on various projects. They’re great people who put a lot of time and effort into building and maintaining our local writing community, not just for poets but writers of all disciplines.

Fittingly, as we’ve just celebrated Hallowe’en, this volume dwells on the macabre and ethereal, almost casting Margate as a land of the dead. The name Thanet, it is sometimes said, comes from the “Ynys Thanatos” in Ancient Greek myths. Though there are many tales on how this Island got its name, that’s always been my favourite. On the foggy nights recently, you can almost see the boats, rowing the dead to their final resting place.

Though this may sound dark and gloomy, I think ultimately this is a collection of love, as many things are.

Thanet Writers have been, and continue to be, a blast to work with and I sincerely hope you enjoy this volume of the Thanet Poetry Journal, edited by The Thanet Writers Editorial Team. I hope many of you will find your way to their website and submit content, whether story, poem or even articles on the subject of writing. It’s all part of Thanet Writers mission to build, promote and educate the writer’s of Thanet.

For the next volume, we are proud to welcome Setareh Ebrahimi to the editors chair. Until then, curl up by a fire with this collection and look out over the water and try to find the pale oarsman bringing the dead home on the shores of Thanet.

 

Quantum Love Notes From A Typewriter Attached to a Phone

Sometimes I think I am writing messages in a bottle
made of ones and zeroes
like there is and isn’t meaning
behind the words I’m using
and I’m throwing them in an ocean
waiting to see if anyone gets back to me

Just because our social media
says we are in sync
doesn’t mean we can feel each other
across this distance
but when we stay up all night,
sharing pictures via wifi
of our pyjamas
it seems like the whole wide world
is just another, big round zero
and we are two ones
on different points of its curve
When I was at school
I was told than an infinite line with a slight bend
would eventually come all the way back round
and touch itself
but the phone lines between us
have been broken by satellites,
so each time we say “I miss you”
it is literally a voice from heaven
made up of ones and zeroes
like there both is and isn’t meaning in it

 

My girlfriend doesn’t live that far away but it’s far enough that sometimes I can miss her. Recently I went on holiday, away from the internet. It was only a few days but I missed her still and I thought of those people in long distance relationships with people on the otherside of the planey and the role the internet plays in their lives. This made me think of all the people who might be in a relationships if only they were a little closer, for whom that distance is the only thing keep them apart but it still seems so great that neither one will admit they want more than whatever they share with this person.