Poetry and Spoken Word Night at Union Mash-Up, Hull
When first embarking on my poetic adventures, it used to feel as though the opportunities to actually perform my work were few and far between, but in 2022 I discovered ‘Away With Words‘, a poetry and spoken word open mic night organised and hosted by legendary Hull poet, Jim Higo. This free event has been running since 2012, so is over a decade old and, whilst it’s had different venues across the city of Hull during its lifespan, it now occupies the ambient rooms of Union Mash-Up on Princes Avenue. The event is renowned in Hull as a forum for celebrating and supporting local creatives. As soon as you enter the doors of the building, you instantly get a welcoming and intimate feel from the place, and that’s in no small part thanks to Jim Higo and the passion and commitment he has invested in the event, right from its very beginning.
Having learned of this event from some other poets, I decided to give it a go myself and see if I could muster the courage to read a few verses. So, one evening in the early Spring of 2022, I went along to Princes Avenue, Hull, to share a few lines with an unsuspecting public.
The Union Mash-Up is a bar and restaurant that plays host to arts and cultural events on its first floor. The venue is converted from former residential premises and there are charmingly nuanced traces throughout the building, that reveal its former use as a home; perhaps none more revealing than the old fireplace directly behind the stage! Once you ascend the old staircase you’re greeted by a wall of warmth, generated by the gathering crowd and the relatively small space. It actually feels rather cosy, and everyone is there to have a good time and listen appreciatively to what all the poets and spoken word artists have to offer.
The friendly atmosphere of the venue helped to put me at ease as I took my seat, pint of pale ale in hand, wondering if my drink would help add to the sense of relaxation, or render me slightly too tipsy to read properly! Jim was working his way down the rows of seats, taking down the names of people who wanted to go up on the stage, and allocating the running order. When he came to me, I elected to do my stint in the first half of the evening, deciding that it would be better to get it out of the way as early as possible and save my nerves. After registering as one of the poets for the night, I sat back and waited to see what happened next, the dim light of the room adding to the anticipation.
About three or four performances in and a sudden wave of fear came over me as I watched in awe at the polished professionalism of the people taking to the stage. It was clear that a number of the performers were accomplished entertainers, generating huge laughs from the audience through their spoken word acts. As a fledgling poet, who would consider it a success just to read a few poems from his tablet, I wondered for a moment if I’d made the right decision, but this is the beauty of the ‘Away With Words‘ event; all are welcome. It’s about celebrating the range of works, performances, and creativity that the city has to offer, and so it really doesn’t matter whether you have a finely tuned stand-up routine, or are just reading from your mobile phone. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged. As the night wore on, I could clearly see this was the case and so as my turn approached I was much more reassured.
I like to write all kinds of rhyming poetry, both light and dark, and I’d recently shared a particularly contemplative poem on social media , called ‘The Omega: Dark’, about the experience I had living with an alcoholic landlord, who tragically died. After doing this, Lucy Clark (formerly of BBC Radio Humberside) commented on my post and said I should do ‘Away With Words’ at Union Mash Up. I took this to mean that I should read my dark, brooding poem at this event, so I now had it lined up on my tablet, ready to go on the night. After soaking up the atmosphere though, I could see that most people seemed to have come here for a night out, to be entertained, and I began to doubt Lucy’s advice about reading my sinister little poem! With hindsight, I think she just meant that I should go along to the event and do a reading, but it was my plan now to read this particular poem and I was sticking to it.
I got on the stage with my tablet and began to read to the audience my rhyming verse about the harsh reality of alcoholism as they supped their pints of real ale and sipped at their cocktails! I felt like I was going to be heckled as some sort of Puritan preacher, but despite feeling like I’d misjudged the whole thing, the audience were brilliant and so appreciative, which I think signals what a great and welcoming event ‘Away With Words‘ is for anyone who just wants to come and try out their work on a public audience. After reading ‘The Omega: Dark‘, I rattled off a couple more poems that were less stark, but still fairly traditional works. For me, it was ‘mission accomplished’ and actually a great feeling to have played a small part in the evening.
Sadly, the shift pattern of my day job has since clashed with every ‘Away With Words‘ night this year so I’ve been unable to get back again. If it comes to it though I’ll try and get some time off and return to have another go. Hopefully, next time I’ll be able to try out some of my lighter material!
By Sam Bartle
For details of the next ‘Away With Words’ poetry and spoken word night, visit the Union Mash Up Events page