Have poetry nights, open mics and slams finally shaken off the dank, dark, smokey beatnik stereotype? Is it now cool and in high demand as a rebellious discourse to the political arena? Poetry certainly seems to have clung onto a central role in cultural commentary. Much more now with the help of the internet, the UK spoken word scene is booming with voices, powerful, influential and relevant. As it grows, poetry nights have emerged, long and short term and have distinguished themselves by offering unique formats and quirks to set them apart.
In London, it is especially important to establish a unique poetry night as there as so many to choose from! One that we at Burning Eye Books are particularly interested and excited about is She Grrrowls – a night made of poetry, music and comedy that is run by and for self-identifying women.
She Grrrowls has been running for just over two years and is developing into one of the most successful nights of poetry. Showcasing the likes of Sabrina Mahfouz, Molly Case, Jess Green, Figs in Wigs, Bisha Ali and Sophia Blackwell. The DIY (Do-It-Yourself) ethics behind the curating and producing has encouraged a community that compliments the monthly events. A running call for submissions to a zine and call outs for open mic performers gives attendees something both to take home and to challenge themselves with.
Its founder Carmina Masoliver (Poetry Rivals Winner 2013) took some time to chat with us about She Grrrowls, it’s place in the UK scene and why it continues to be a success.
Tell us about She Grrrowls, how long has it been running? What’s the structure of the evening?
She Grrrowls has been running since 2013, though it’s been in different venues, mainly around east London. We have an open mic’ section – usually two lots of three at the start and after the break. I will do a poem to start off, and host it with help from Rowena Knight (poet) and new recruit Julia Watson (comedian). who also share a bit of their stuff. The night is mainly spoken word, but I like to have a bit of live music at the end, or poetry that incorporates music in some way, aside from the She Grrrowls playlist.
What prompted you to start She Grrrowls?
It began as a Feminist discussion group at the Feminist Library, which I started with Emily Prichard, but other than my friend Christina Lappia (who’s been helping on the door at events since the beginning), nobody really came. Being a poet, and having ran events as part of LitSoc at UEA, and then being a distant committee member of the Feminist Society while I was at UEA London, it just naturally evolved into what it is today.
The name ‘Grrrowls’ suggests an influence from the Riot Grrrrl movement, is there a connection there? If so, how does the night reflects this?
Yes, there’s a connection there, for sure. It was the first name that popped into my head, and really I guess that was because it was how I discovered that Feminism was something more than stuff in history books. I was at a mixed college after being at a girls’ school for five years and having no contact with boys for all that time. It was quite a shock to the system, suddenly being in the “real world” and I feel like Feminism became something that empowered me, and it still something I turn to when times are tough – both as something individually uplifting, or to remind myself that this is where my energy should be directed – fighting for equality and everything else that Feminism encompasses. Being an artist, I feel this is my path for making a difference, even if it is in a small way. The night reflects the influence of the Riot Grrrl movement with the music we play in between, which gives it that kind of vibe, as well as the content of a lot of the work people tend to bring to the table in their poetry and comedy. The music we feature is more varied, but I’d love to have more Riot Grrrrl inspired bands, as well as keeping some of the great acoustic acts we’ve had in the past. We had Cat Bear Tree play at a venue that didn’t allow a proper drum kit, and I’d love to have them back to perform with the full electric sound!
How do you find your headline acts?
I know a lot of poets, so they’re usually easiest to find and get in contact with, but for musicians and comedians I will either see them at other events or see them online somewhere, or people make recommendations to me. I also have people email me to ask, which I think is great. I wish more people would do that.
We chatted to Lydia Towsey and Hollie McNish about gender and poetry (here), what are your thoughts on promoting gender equality in the UK spoken word scene?
Yeah, Selina Nwulu was mentioned in that – the latest Young Poet Laureate for London. We used to have chats after going to poetry nights about the sexist and misogynist content we saw. Other than a couple of extreme examples that happened recently, there’s certain stuff that can go away unnoticed, I think simply because it’s so ingrained in our society. It’s hard when your peers say things you’re not sure about either – one of the things I wish I was better at is making funny come-backs, in a way that highlights it, but doesn’t make people feel attacked. It’s a real skill. Someone I know had good intentions recently mentioned in a poem that “pussy runs the world”. I’m sure many people could think of something to say after that, but I find that kind of thing so difficult! But I know it’s something we need to learn to get better at dealing with, as part of the reason people like to come to the night is because it’s different from most other nights in that way, but I wanted men to feel they could share their work as a way to encourage them to come too. I do wonder sometimes if the event would get a larger audience if it didn’t feature women only, but then it wouldn’t be doing what it is, would it? I’ve faced a bit of backlash from doing it, and that’s just the people who say it to my face! However, it really makes a difference when people tell me how important it is.
You’re planning on taking a break and re-launching at some point; what have you got in store?
Yes, I’m planning on going to live abroad for a bit. I feel like I could benefit from seeing the world a bit more, both personally and artistically. I will 100% be bringing She Grrrowls back, wherever I land back in England, and there’s some really exciting things in the pipeline. In terms of the event, I want it to be bigger and better when I return. It’s so important for me to pay artists, but I often can’t pay them as much as they deserve and opt for split door fee as it’s the fairest solution at the moment. I’ve luckily been using free, or near-free venues, but finding the perfect space is still a struggle, especially with no funding. Wheel-chair access is a joke, but that would be something I’d love to be able to cater for; it shouldn’t be that most arts nights are in these inaccessible places. I need to think more about all aspects of the night and take time to re-evaluate things in order to know how to move forward with it. I’d also love to start up sister events around the country as well.
Finally, any advice for a first timer at She Grrrowls?
As an audience member, come near the front! Our current venue has floor space at the front, and it’s BYOB (bring your own beer), so it can be like having an arts night in your living room. For performers, I’d say to take a risk. There was one night where someone from the audience who came quite regularly decided to tell a story about a tampon. You had to be there, but I think that’s always going to be one of my highlights! As well as the humour with that, I also mean take a risk and talk about taboo things, allow yourself to be vulnerable – it can be a really great place to share and start conversations.
The next She Grrrowls is 6th December at The Hive, Haggerston with Alice Furse (of Burning Eye Books), Sue John, Tom McColl, Cecilia Knapp , Laura Rae, Julia Watson, Ella Chappell and Emily Chruchill Zaraa. To sign up to the open mic portion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a sample of your work.