Iris Columb on her forthcoming course ‘Making Poetry Happen: Poetry Performance by Women & Gender Nonconforming Artists’, beginning Thursday 25 January 2024.
The Risk of Liveness
I attended my first poetry night, by chance, in 2014. It was through watching people share their words with a room full of friends and strangers that I really connected with poetry. The tension, the intensity, the immediacy, the risk of liveness filled me with incredible excitement. Performance drew me into poetry, and I was quickly captivated, hooked, actually obsessed. I didn’t just want to perform my own poetry, I wanted to experience everything everyone else was making. For the next few years, I spent most nights at poetry events. I started with open mic nights and slams, and soon I was going to all kinds of reading series, book launches, book fairs, and festivals.
“I got to know the work of a range of poets and artists working with sound and movement, chance, constraints and improvisation”
Above all, I was, and am still fascinated by the work of performers who challenge the traditional format of ‘the poetry reading’ by exploring new ways of working with text and liveness. I was eager to discover as many approaches as I could, so I talked to people, collected references, curated and co-curated events and commissioned new pieces. In this way, I got to know the work of a range of poets and artists working with sound and movement, chance, constraints and improvisation, as well as various kinds of scores and performative writing strategies. Each of their practices expanded my understanding of what language and liveness could do. Making Poetry Happen is the result of close to a decade of this intense engagement with performative poetry.
“In every poetry scene I have engaged with, cis men seem to take up a significant amount of space, to say the least.”
In every poetry scene I have engaged with, cis men seem to take up a significant amount of space, to say the least. I am especially weary of this when I teach, since in every creative writing workshop, course and module I have taught the vast majority of participants and students have been women and gender nonconforming people. Designing Making Poetry Happen has been an opportunity to react to this disturbing imbalance. I decided to focus entirely on the work of women and gender nonconforming artists, and this has challenged me to shift my focus and reframe my approach in curating a new and meaningful constellation of performative works.
Making Poetry Happen does not in any way aim to exclude cis men but rather to celebrate the work of women and gender nonconforming performers. It invites students to dive into the incredible creative possibilities their practices open up. People of all genders are welcome to join the course and I can’t wait to see everyone experiment with new ways of working inspired by these exciting contemporary artists and poets. Devising this course has been incredibly stimulating and empowering for me, and I hope it will make students feel the same.
Iris Columb is teaching our course, ‘Making Poetry Happen: Poetry Performance by Women & Gender Nonconforming Artists’, starting Thursday 25 January 2024