Saboteur Spotlight: Best Regular Spoken Word Night, Live from The Butchery (Digital)

Congratulations on your recent win at the Saboteur Awards Festival 2021! How did you feel when you found out that you’d been shortlisted this year?

Thank you! So exhilarated, we jumped around –  is the short answer!  The Saboteur Awards are important because they champion diversity and they are decided democratically, by audiences.  Because the Award is for Best Spoken Word Night, we felt it was round of applause from everyone who has been to our events, and the poets who have been part of Live from the Butchery over the past year.  It’s a collaborative effort, and we are so pleased to have everyone with us!

Do you feel the pandemic has impacted your work at all; made it harder, or perhaps even easier, to reach people and to promote what you’re doing?

Live from the Butchery began because of the pandemic, and we celebrated our first birthday in April 2021.  We didn’t intend to begin a series because, back then of course, nobody knew how long we would all be locked down for.  

Both Martin and Helen had new work to promote in 2020 and like most people, were beginning to have gigs cancelled. The whole thing started with Helen asking casually on Facebook: If Martin and I did a Zoom reading, would anybody be interested in coming?  Lots of people were interested – we were all captive in our homes and missing our poetry communities.  The Facebook thread was very long, with positive responses and the consensus was to put the event on a Sunday afternoon which was the quietest time of the week.  

We had an audience of eighty-seven people for that first event, and any poet will tell you – that is pretty much a stadium gig for us!  We were able to gather people together from all over the place and began to see the how live online events (broadband willing) could conquer geography and bring people together who wouldn’t normally be ‘in the same room’. We also began to see how the format could appeal to those who even pre-pandemic would find it difficult, for an array of reasons, to attend face-to-face poetry events.  At the end of our event – which wasn’t just us reading, we had a few lively chats about seasonal vegetables folk were growing, and such – we were asked whether we would put on another.  Zoom was a new platform we were all just discovering that could do something to simulate the sense of being in a room with other poetry people.  Of course we said yes!

The next event was done a month later in association with webzine Ink Sweat & Tears, and now Kate Birch, who is IS&T’s publisher, is part of the Live from The Butchery hosting team. Our first guest poets were Jo Young and Gail McConnell, who won the IS&T  Commission for new work, back in the good old pre-pandemic days. We then started publishing work from our guests on IS&T the day before each event and by the third month, we began to make it a ‘pay what you can/ if you can’ event. We were aware how many poets had lost income because of the pandemic and wanted to be able to make some amends. 

We can honestly say that if there had never have been a pandemic, there wouldn’t be a Live from The Butchery.   Now things are opening up a bit, we are playing it by ear to see if we still have an online audience.  We have programmed for the rest of the year and as long as we have a monthly audience of at least 40 people, we plan to continue bringing readers and audiences together from all over the world. Digital platforms have opened up so many possibilities and are one of the positive things to come out of this isolating and frightening time. 

Are you working on anything at the moment that you might be able to tell us a little about?

We have programmed so far till the end of the summer, and are very excited to announce the forthcoming events. 

Saturday 5th June: Christopher Reid,  Lesley Ingram,  Kymm Coveney 

Sunday 18th July: Roger Robinson, Anna Saunders, Sarah Westcott

Sunday 5th September: Raymond Antrobus, Carole Bromley, (3rd reader TBC)

NB: The first date deviates from Sunday for practical reasons, and we are breaking for August. 

We are yet to finalise the later part of the year.

We are also considering putting on an online weekend festival in late January with live readings and workshops.  We all tend to feel a tad meh, bleurgh and woebegone once we’ve put the Christmas lights away, so it seems like a good time to get together, have some informal social interaction and get down to some serious play. 

Of course, one of the real shortfalls of not being able to run a live awards show is that people miss out on the opportunity to share an acceptance speech. While you’ve got the platform to, is there anything you’d like to share with readers about your win?

We would like to thank everyone for coming to Live from the Butchery and keeping us company this past year.  And thank you so much for voting for us!  This is one of the best things to have come out of lockdown for us, and we are surprised and delighted by its success.  We want to continue to introduce emerging writers alongside more established ones and we are very open to the possibilities this kind of online platform opens up, both for poets and audiences. We really couldn’t do it without you!   

PS. . . .  Just in case anyone is bamboozled by the name of our event, we called that first event: Helen Ivory and Martin Figura . . Live from the Butchery because we were – we live at an old CoOp Butchery, and the name just stuck . . .

A huge congratulations again to the Live from the Butchery team for their winning the award for Best Regular Spoken Word Night! If you’d like to keep up with them and their news you can follow them on Twitter – @InkSweatTears – and access their Facebook page here.

Stay tuned later this week for the next in our spotlight series.