Kevin Mclean is the Creative Director of I Am Loud Productions, formerly known as Loud Poets, a creative company that promotes spoken word and poetry across Scotland and beyond through its YouTube channel and social media, slams and showcases workshops, and more. We discuss the growth of I Am Loud Productions and the explosion of spoken word poetry, as well as touching on the special qualities of the spoken word scene, the diverse styles seen across Scotland, and their desire to elevate the art and offer alternatives to poets other than aiming to have a book published.
What was the seed that all of this grew from?
We started the night because a bunch of folk were around and there was an upswing in the spoken word scene at the time. We had all been going to a student open mic night, despite most of us not being students. It was really the only night where people did performance-y stuff and all the other nights just felt like a poetry recital or reading. That’s great work, I have a respect and appreciation for page poetry. But that’s not necessarily the poetry I want to hear out loud, or what I want to go and listen to on a Friday night.
We wanted something that felt like a comedy or music night where you go out and have a few drinks and have a laugh, but with poems. We quickly decided, well, we’ll just do one then! 180 people came and we went, ‘Oh, maybe other people want a performance night too’. We’ve been running ever since. That’s over nine years now, which is crazy.
It feels like you are Scotland’s answer to Button Poetry. How did you develop into having such a focus on the digital side of poetry?
When I look at poetry, I compare it to music. Music’s always existed, right? Words have always existed. In history, if you were a musician, you couldn’t have the world hear your music like you can now, so we figured out a way to put music onto paper and share it. To me, poetry is the same, but with music we didn’t stop at sheet music, whereas with poetry we kind of went ‘It’s in books now, good’.
For me, the main way to take poetry in is by hearing it. But you can’t go to a poetry show every night of the week, and you can’t access certain poets who are very far away, but now we live in the future and we have YouTube!
One of the key members of I Am Loud Productions is our art director, Perry Jonsson. He’s not a poet, but was key to our branding and became a filmmaker. It was a natural step to incorporate loads of cool film stuff. As a team, we’ve all learned to edit and use the cameras.
I want to try and show that your aim in poetry isn’t just to publish a book. There are other ways to have your work recorded and stand the test of time, and there are so many incredible poets who will never have a book. What we’re trying to do is make sure there is an archive, a collection, a place where you can go to see the incredible work going on in Scotland that you wouldn’t know of if you didn’t go to that specific open mic.
I want people to be able to do poetry sets and have those collected, shot beautifully and presented. I want there to be a special on Netflix or Amazon or BBC like a comedian would have; an hour of spoken word. If we can get more money in the scene and raise everything that would create more opportunities.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been spreading further out across Scotland. How and why did you start this?
The only reason we haven’t always done it is because it’s hard to do. I get why if you are in Edinburgh that you start a poetry night that would be mostly in Edinburgh. None of our team is originally from Edinburgh. And, in fact, most artists that I know that live in Edinburgh are not from Edinburgh. They’re here because there’s a big cultural scene, and that is kind of sad in and of itself. In Edinburgh, we’re like, ‘Why does everyone go to London?’ And if you’re in Aberdeen, you’re like, ‘Why does everyone go to Edinburgh?’ And down and down the chain it goes, right? The only way to address that is when you reach a certain threshold you try and extend that net as far as possible. And for us, that was Creative Scotland funding.
When you look at the scene post-pandemic, a lot of the nights disappeared. And by the nights, I mean the big Edinburgh/Glasgow nights. What didn’t disappear were the more regional open mics, like Speaking Weird in Aberdeen, Hotchpotch in Dundee, or Brave New Words in Dumfries. And I never see it as ‘extend the olive branch, take it out of the central belt for the rurals’ – it’s a boon to us. If I can go out and see more people perform, then I have more interesting lineups. I don’t need to book the same people over and over again, my audience is going to get bored of seeing and hearing the same voices. Instead, I’m going to be able to mix that up and stop the homogenisation of styles.
Poetry in Scotland is super diverse. Previously, you mentioned Button Poetry, and I think one of the problems with Button Poetry is that it has created the spoken word style and the poetry voice – you do not get that in Scotland to the same degree.
We have an online writing group as part of our Patreon, and it has people from all of the places that we partner with. What we suddenly have is a monthly meet-up of people from all over the country, sharing their style, sharing their poetry, and talking about the scene as a national scene, rather than disparate nights.
I feel like we’re seeing a lot of open mics and slams, but not enough programmed, regular poetry events. What barriers are there to creating events with selected poets, and how are you overcoming them?
It’s complex, complicated. Open mics are essential. What makes spoken word unique, and it’s to do with it still being an underdeveloped art form, is that there’s no other scene where the top tier and the beginner share the same space in the way that spoken word does. Beyoncé will not be at your local bar during the open mic, whereas we took Joelle Taylor – the Beyoncé of this scene – to a cafe in Dumfries. That is a huge gift for people who are looking to progress and develop, but also some people just want to share their poetry in a safe, supportive atmosphere.
It is also about the effort to find new people and attend other nights or jump on YouTube. If you’re not doing that then your lineups are going to be very stale. I’m not sitting waiting for people to find me. I am going to other places, and I’m putting a platform out there. We invite poets from elsewhere in the UK up, but how many Scottish poets get invited elsewhere?
There is this ceiling though, and there aren’t so many curated nights. One factor is money. Either you have to have an audience that will subsidise it, or you have to have institutional funding.
Some people have the opinion that if it can’t fund itself, then it shouldn’t exist.
Entertainment in general would never fund itself. I mean, the biggest football teams in the world are losing money. There is an intrinsic benefit to art that exists outside a monetary stamp. People will disagree with that, but those people would be very sad when all those things disappeared. When everyone was stuck in their house, it was the creatives that were keeping everyone sane, and not getting paid for it.
I Am Loud Productions Grand Final Slam is at Edinburgh Book Festival in August with a top prize of £3,000, Spoken Word Showcase is at the International Storytelling Festival 16th June, and their Poetry Slam Series is 17th June at Aberdeen’s Spin Bar & Diner