Ian Douglas chats with Neil Fulwood, the poet and performer behind the Open Book nights at the Organ Grinder...
For the uninitiated, what is Open Book all about? Please give us the full tour.
Open Book is a monthly poetry night. First Tuesday of the month at the Organ Grinder public house on Alfreton Road, 8pm start. It’s curated and emceed by yours truly. There are two - sometimes three - headline poets and an open mic slot.
How did you come to be a part of it?
After the lockdown, the Organ Grinder’s landlord Matt Fox proactively brought customers back into the pub by putting on regular events - a film club, northern soul nights, displays by young artists’ collectives - and he asked me if I’d be interested in organising a book group. I suggested a poetry/open mic night instead. The inaugural Open Book was held on 5 October 2021. We packed out the function room and I was given carte blanche to run the event on a monthly basis.
You’re a poet yourself, can you give us any tips of good performance poetry?
I always prepare a set-list in advance, practice and time myself. Obviously, I give myself some leeway in terms of what I’m going to read in case the audience are responding better to, say, the jokier pieces than the political stuff. I tend to start with a light, humorous poem. If you can make your audience laugh straightaway, that’s half the battle.
Could you name the prominent local poets who have appeared at Open Book?
I’ve been incredibly lucky in terms of poets who have supported Open Book. Big names include Martin Stannard, Gregory Woods, Rory Waterman, Cathy Grindrod, Jo Dixon, Maria Taylor, Jonathan Taylor and Manjit Sahota.
Describe the demographic of the typical Open Book audience. Do you ever get any hagglers? How are they dealt with?
They’re taken outside and it’s made to look like an accident. Seriously, though, Open Book has attracted a diverse and appreciative audience and I’ve not had to call in the heavy mob.
Is Open Book a good place to pull? (Asking for a friend.)
Depends how imaginative your chat up lines are.
We packed out the function room and I was given carte blanche
Can you share with us more about your own poetry?
I have four published collections with a fifth scheduled for 2024. No Avoiding It looks at work, class and environment; Can’t Take Me Anywhere is about movement, human idiosyncrasies and the small things that make life worthwhile; Service Cancelled was written during the lockdown and contains more meditative and internalised poems, many of them inspired by the sacred cantatas of J.S. Bach; and Mad Parade is a gloves-off collection of vicious political satires. As for the forthcoming book … well, watch this space.
I’d like to think that what connects the diverse subjects I write about is a direct and unpretentious style that is immediately accessible. Personally, I have little truck with poetry that is deliberately obscure and overtly academic.
Has anything ever gone spectacularly wrong on the night? If so, how did you cope?
The closest I’ve come to disaster was not being able to park anywhere near the venue one evening and having to make a half-mile sprint in just a few minutes to get there in time. Gasping out the introduction, sweat dripping into my collar, face the colour of a ripe tomato was not a good look for me!
What advice would you give anyone hoping to break into performance poetry?
Rock up at any and every event you can. Watch and learn from other performers. Don’t go OTT in your own performance - let the poetry speak for itself.
And how do you see the future of Open Book? Where would you like it to be in five years?
I’m a big believer in the doctrine of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Open Book has a great venue, a friendly and appreciative core audience and an informal vibe. In five years time, I’d like it to be right where it is now: at the best pub in Nottingham, providing a platform for the cream of the city’s poets, at whatever stage of their career.
What has been Open Book’s finest achievement to date?
What I’m most proud of is being able to give some incredibly talented up-and-coming young poets their first public platform.
Open Book runs at the Organ Grinder pub at the first Tuesday of every month.
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