Keeping spoken word alive. Part 1: Speculative Books

Over the past few years, the Scottish poetry and spoken word scene has grown on the back of buzzy and creatively nurturing nights based in local pubs, small theatres, and other small venues.

We sat down with Sam Small and Jack MacMillan from Speculative Books to talk about their weekly Poetry at Inn Deep events, and keeping things going during these strange times.

First of all, can you tell us about the roots of Poetry at Inn Deep

Sam: I started writing poetry to get better at songwriting; I used to play in a band. After I left the band I kept writing poetry. My friend opened a bar and needed someone to host the open mic night. So, I played guitar and sang at Inn Deep, that was about 5 years ago. I did that once a month for a while and it was dead, no one used to go.

I had started writing more and more poetry by this point and doing less and less guitar. I started booking all the people that I knew who did poetry – which wasn’t very many people. So I had to reach out to further afield to poetry nights in Edinburgh and got to know Rachel McCrum and Agnes Török from Loud Poets. I knew Kevin P. Gilday and Stephen Watt from another poetry night I used to go to in the Flying Duck, Free Chord Theatre

There were just a really good bunch of people who would come to my nights and I would go to theirs, and we all had a good wee scene going.

Jack: I moved to Glasgow from Fort William in 2014. I was doing a writing course in college. During the course we were doing things like script-writing and short stories; I started developing a writing practise that was quite bad, haha. I was looking at all sorts of literature events and poetry slams, or anything I could see going on in Glasgow.  Then I just started doing all the open mics, doing some stuff at the Fringe, all over the place. After a while, I started also doing some live art and live theatre as well as poetry. I am still at uni doing that now. 

Sam: Jack, when was the first time you started hosting Inn Deep?

Jack: I started when you went to Greece, so it used to be that I would do the ones you couldn’t do. We started co-hosting, especially when it got to like four or five events a month. At one point we were doing about twenty gigs a month. I started hosting around 2016/17. 

Poetry at Inn Deep is an incredible platform for both established and upcoming poets. Do you think it’s important to showcase such a wide range of talents? 

Sam: I guess we didn’t really put that much thought into it. It was just always whoever wanted to have a shot could have one. We still don’t ever ask to see anyone’s writing before they perform. If there’s a space we will let you on. I think it is really important that it is open like that.

There are times when we will ask specific people to come to the night because we want it to have a certain quality or a certain standard. If it was all open mic, every week, then we wouldn’t know if it was going to be a good night for everyone. But, it is important to have both people who know what they’re doing and people who have never done it before. It gives it a good vibe and a good atmosphere.

People are quite understanding and considerate when they come down, it’s always been like that. It’s always been free-in and ten minute sets – not just getting up and doing one poem. When it first began everywhere was into the American slam style. There would be hardly any poetry nights, so you would go and you’d get like a 3-minute space and there was nowhere to do long-form stuff or try anything out. But, yeah, we never intended it to be one thing or another, we would just take it as it comes.

Jack; I think, as well, the main benefit of having a range of talent – in terms of like having people who have done it before and people who have not; there’s an element of encouragement in the development of the artist. It’s giving people more opportunities and it keeps the night from becoming repetitive. This way there’s always someone new coming in, there’s a new vibe when people come and have never done it before. That helps add something new to the poetry scene. 

You’ve taken Inn Deep Poetry online recently. 

Sam: We have been doing a Podcast where we’ve been using old recordings from Inn Deep but were going to have to start making new ones soon. We have been chatting to Mark McGhee from You Call That Radio about doing an online open mic or something. We could record that and put it out as a podcast. There are all sorts of technical issues that I’ve not yet considered. I think it might be the case that we might do Zoom events or other live events online but keep the podcast at a higher audio quality. 

What else have you been getting up to during lockdown?  

Sam: I‘ve been finding it really hard to write, I don’t know why.  But I don’t think you can really be too hard on yourself during lockdown. 

Jack: I’ve actually been at uni for a lot of of it, studying Contemporary Performance Practice. I just finished this year. For that, I was making a spoken word theatre show over Zoom. I’m now working on another new project, which will be cool, but I can’t say too much about now.

How is Speculative Books doing while all of this is going on? 

Are you still releasing books? Can people still submit? 

Sam: I don’t think we’re doing badly, we had already planned out the Edward Morgan Collection and other releases. So we had the four months of lockdown already kind of planned out. We obviously suffered a little bit due to lack of the live gigs but the rest has sort of ticked over. I wouldn’t say it’s been bad for us but I wouldn’t say it’s been good for us either. There was a big delay at first because we weren’t able to get books printed and things but we managed to catch up with the physical side of it. 

Jack: We are still releasing books 

Sam: Yes totally, the way our submissions work is that they are always open for poetry and we look at them every 6 months. We’re trying to work, as a business, in 6 month chunks. Because we do a book every month, it’s quite hard to worry about the future when there is so much to do in the present. 

If people want to get involved or support your work, how can they do that?

Sam: I think Inn Deep is a cool thing. I like that it’s there, that there’s a space for people to stand up and read poetry. If you wanna come down and get involved, everyone is always welcome. If you want to support Speculative Books, you can subscribe via our website. You can use the code BOOKMARK to get your first month free. You’ll then receive a book of poetry through the post every month. 

Jack: Or if you can’t do that, for whatever reason, there’s the podcast. So however you want to or can do to support us, please do. Supporting independent artists is so important because they help support a scene and help to develop other artists. It all comes full circle; the more you support the artists the more art there is to support. 

speculativebooks.net

Read Keeping spoken word alive. Part 2: Sonnet Youth, here.

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